Regrets? He has a few.
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy admitted in a December letter to the American Family Association's Tim Wildmon that in redirecting funds given by the company's Chick-fil-A Foundation in November he had "inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations."
Although the company leader did not mention the organizations by name, they are understood to be the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), both of which do worlds of good but support traditional marriage. Those organizations were the most prominent among those the foundation said it would no longer support after pressure from LGBT organizations.
The letter in which Cathy expressed his regrets was released this week. It was in response to one Wildmon wrote him in which he asked two questions: "Will Chick-fil-A publicly state that it does not believe the Salvation Army and FCA are hate groups because of the ministries' beliefs about sexuality, marriage and the family" and "Will you publicly state that Chick-fil-A will not hesitate to fund these two ministries again, should the opportunity arise in the future?"
The carefully written response from the CEO, while including the regrets, did not directly answer the questions but did provide cover for the foundation's November change in strategy.
"As you have seen," Cathy wrote, "recently we announced changes to our giving strategy at the Chick-fil-A Foundation. These changes were made to better focus on hunger, homelessness and education. We understand how some thought we were abandoning our long-standing support of faith-based organizations. We inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations that have effectively served communities for years."
The Salvation Army, of course, is known for its focus on hunger and homelessness.
Nevertheless, Cathy said the company has not waned — as he said some have suggested — in its "commitment to our Corporate Purpose."
"My dad was deeply committed to his Christian faith," he wrote. "My siblings and I share his deep conviction to live out our faith by serving with generosity and humility in the marketplace. Since 1982, our Corporate Purpose daily reminds us that we are here 'To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.' Indeed, it is our faith and purpose that drives our mission for serving great food in a way that demonstrates care for you on a daily basis."
When the restaurant first came under fire for its philanthropy to various faith-based organizations who supported traditional marriage nearly a decade ago, Christians who appreciated the company's closed-on-Sunday stance and its orthodox values flocked to the chain. And they stood by it when the company changed its giving policy away from organizations that might be seen as anti-LGBT but kept the policy for its foundation. And they supported it as certain cities and airports shied away from opening restaurant units because of the controversy.
And while November's decision for the foundation to drop support for the Salvation Army and the FCA shocked many, company sales numbers haven't been revealed to show whether or not the changes made any difference.
"Most of the Christians I know love Chick-fil-A and want to trust the company to uphold scriptural principles," Wildmon wrote. "We have all been huge fans of Chick-fil-A, and want that to continue."
He said the American Family Association would "continue to monitor Chick-fil-A's corporate giving, at least for the forseeable future."
Cathy emphasized the company's future emphasis on hunger, homelessness and education, all of them biblically mandated.
"Chick-fil-A will give to faith-based and other organizations that we believe to be highly effective in a particular area," he wrote. "Grant recipients will likely rotate, as we assess from year to year partners who help us meet our stated goals. Also, our Operators in your community will continue to invest in local causes that are meaningful at their discretion. Additionally, our family will continue to fund and operate our family foundations and give to other charities of our choice. We have been entrusted with much to share and the needs are great."
We don't doubt the company's and family's commitment to worthy philanthropy, but Cathy's regrets to Wildmon for now are only words. They're akin to "I'm sorry I got caught" or "I'm sorry you feel that way."
As we concluded when the company stuck up for its giving, even when it included organizations supporting traditional marriage, customers are not likely to abandon Chick-fil-A's moist chicken sandwiches, largely efficient service and frequent "my pleasure" replies from staff members. But when or if it begins to open on Sunday, even as the country becomes more secular, people will understand it has lost what once was its heart.