Evangelist Billy Graham defends Chick-fil-A
July 26th, 2012
02:18 PM ET

Evangelist Billy Graham defends Chick-fil-A

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN)– Billy Graham, the dean of American evangelists, has once again broken his usual silence on hot-button issues, defending the president of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain for his opposition to same-sex marriage days after issuing a letter decrying what he sees as the nation's moral decay.

Earlier this year, the ailing preacher publicly endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay unions in North Carolina, raising eyebrows among many who'd watched Graham studiously avoid thorny social issues for years.

On Thursday, he issued a statement of support for the popular fast-food chain. Many people have slammed Chick-fil-A President Don Cathy for saying his company backs the traditional family unit and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

Graham praised restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy and son Don Cathy, the company's president, "for their strong stand for the Christian faith."

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"I've known their family for many years and have watched them grow Chick-fil-A into one of the best businesses in America while never compromising their values," Graham said.

The Chick-fil-A controversy reflects what many see as America's deep cultural and religious divide. The company's position on same-sex marriage doesn't sit well with Jim Henson Co., whose Jim Henson's Creature Shop toys have been served in Chick-fil-A's meals for children.

Jim Henson Co. is named for the creator of The Muppets. However, the company transferred The Muppets' rights and ownership to the Walt Disney Co. in 2003, according to Jim Henson Co.

"The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over 50 years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors," the company said in a posting on its Facebook page.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 GOP presidential candidate, is backing Chick-fil-A. He urged people to turn out to Chick-fil-A restaurants on Wednesday to show their support for what Cathy had to say about marriage.

Graham says he appreciated Huckabee's leadership and plans to visit a Chick-fil-A on that day, August 1.

"Each generation faces different issues and challenges, but our standard must always be measured by God's word. I appreciate the Cathy family's public support for God's definition of marriage."

On Tuesday, Graham leveled deep criticism at the United States. He compared the country to Sodom and Gomorrah, the Biblical cities synonymous with sin.

"Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle," Graham writes in the open letter released by his organization this week.

He blasts what he sees as efforts to keep references to Jesus out of the public sphere.

"Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone - except God. Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control," he writes in the letter released Tuesday.

Graham, 93, has preached to untold millions over six decades, and provided counsel to generations of U.S. presidents.

His open letter also contains a fund-raising appeal and a notice that Graham's son Franklin, himself a major evangelical figure, is launching a new effort to "bring the Gospel into neighborhoods and homes in every corner of America next year."

Randall Balmer, the chair of the religion department at Dartmouth College, suspects the motivation for the letter is at least partly political.

"It's hard for me to believe that this letter does not have political intent," he said.

Its move to decry what he would see as moral decay "would be tied to the Obama administration," he argued, asking rhetorically why Graham would not have issued the statement in response to an event like the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

In response to the controversy, Larry Ross, Graham’s spokesperson, said that “the letter does not address timely issues.”

“‘My Heart Aches for America,’ was written 6-8 weeks ago – long before recent current events, such as the tragic shooting in an Aurora, Colo movie theater, or the ongoing Chik-fil-A controversy,” Ross said in an email to CNN. “He is responding to general struggles in our culture and a moral decline that has existed through his public ministry.”

At the same time, Ross said that Graham is keen on the idea of eating Chick-fil-A next Wednesday.

“Considering Mr. Graham's age and limited mobility, his statement today was more an expression of sentiment and solidarity with the Cathy family and their cause than actually a commitment to go to a Chik-fil-A himself,” Ross said. “But he does plan to ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ on Aug. 1, which I expect someone will be able to get for him to enjoy at home.”

Balmer said that evangelicals would take note of the letter, though Graham has largely retired from the public eye in recent years.

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"There is certainly admiration for Billy Graham, as there should be," Balmer said. "There is lingering respect for Billy Graham and I think that people will take notice."

But he said the comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah - which Graham attributes to his late wife Ruth in the letter - was startling.

"When Billy Graham came to Madison Square Garden in 1957, he made comments comparing New York City to Sodom and Gomorrah and was roundly criticized for it," Balmer said. Since that time, Balmer said, Graham has largely avoided making the comparison to the Biblical cities.

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • Food

soundoff (2,864 Responses)
  1. Cuervo Jones

    intolerance is required if you live in NC, although it must all be concealed in a layer of sweetness. home of my sister with her also married to a minister adoptive mother, (we were adopted separately)are the only people i ever heard use Jesus and Ni##er in the same sentence.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  2. Gary

    Mr. Balmer's inference that Mr. Graham timed is comments out of political motivation is an undeserved insult.
    Mr Graham has been the friend of many presidents of both parties and has always sought to rise above party.
    From what position of moral authority does Mr. Balmer cast judgement on Mr. Graham's integrity? If the world could see of Mr. Balmer's life but a fraction of what it's seen in Mr Grahams, maybe we'd understand how he would interpret his statement this way.
    By implying Mr. Graham is blindly prejudiced by selecting this over any number of other notorious sins (something we all do!) Mr. Balmer is using a rhetorical trick common in sleazy political campaigning.
    Whether conservative or liberal, please search for a more thoughtful commentator. Thank you.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Pete

      Graham has earned any insults he recieves.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  3. Debbie

    I'm not backing down from what I believe (ever)...I just know when to say I agree to disagree....don't want to perpetuate the discord that this issue brings. Everyone sees this issue from their own cultural and spiritual lens.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  4. Rajeev G

    I hate people who think they are the morale compass of the country or its people. The reason being that they exclude so many groups of people. God (if it exists) is for inclusivity. He loves everyone irrespective of their beliefs.
    If Bill Graham was so wonderful then why his son was a drunkard loser before he found religion (or in my opinion money). Looks like Mr. Graham did not have that Bible environment in his own household to raise a son with so many problems. This is the same son who put down Muslims... Again... God if he exists is all inclusive...He does not exclude Muslims or any other religion.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • womanity

      "God if he exists is all inclusive".......... – what confusion

      July 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  5. GianCarlo

    Is this Nut evangelist still alive? When is he going to die so that we can get rid of his HATE! These hating vermins should be stopped every time they spew their hate. Last time I checked this country is a Republic and not a theocracy. Why don't these religious zealots move to Iran, I'm sure they would be very happy there.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • MHB

      Hate? You talk of hate with comments like these. Look in the mirror you fool.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  6. EABOD

    Peolple should be free to pursue whatevever lifestyle they want in America....unless you believe in Christianity and the Bible. Oh the hypocrisy... A man can marry a man, but a private busuness owner can't close on a Sunday and believe in Christ. I love when people who preach tolerance of a lifestyle but can't tolerate anyone elses.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Andrew

      It's not that he believes something, it's that he's using the money that people buy their food with to fund hate-mongering fundies.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Are you being stupid on purpose?

      Of course people should be able to marry whom they wish to marry, can't you? And of course a business can choose to be dismissive of the ho mo se xual lifestyle, and people who know their stance are free to take their business elsewhere. Duh.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Andy

      The issue is that gays don't yet have the right to marry everywhere. They can also still be fired in many states on the sole basis of their orientation. You act as though gays have already achieved equality, but sadly this isn't the case.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • EABOD

      Sorry, didn't realize it was Chix Filets resposibility to fight for gay rights.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • yardbird1

      Amen- the intolerance and actually disrespectful posts. If anyone were to post nasty comments about anything else they would be called a bigot, racist, etc...Our country was founded on peoples freedoms- two are freedom of speech and another is religion.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • renatot korona

      I am appealing to all peace loving people of the world, Please STOP buying Chinese communist products and outsourcing your product production in China. The more they get rich the more they will have the means to bully small countries in Asia. Help save small and poor countries in Asia.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • sam

      So...let me see. Being intolerant towards christians who are being intolerant...whoops, it's going to happen. Sorry.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • JKhur

      No one said Chick Fil A must fight for gay rights (although that woiuld be the right thing to do). It's when they support groups that campaign for the denial of civil rights to your fellow citixen's that they go too far.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • We Dont Want it Here

      The Vote Proved we dont want it here, WE DONT WANT IT HERE, Go To Boston Or Chicago. Why do you continue to push your values on Us , Guess what, WE DONT WANT IT HERE, Can you smell what the rock is cooking. we are happy here knowing our children grow up, eating big buckets of popcorn in the movies, drinking big sodas and believing a marriage should be between a man and a woman So What - . we don't want Transgenders and you don't want Christians Go ! We will survive fine and so will Chick-fil-A We are not asking you to Stay

      July 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  7. dkeeber

    I believe that Chik-fil-A has the right to take this position. So too do those whose choose to not support them because of that stand. It seems that we believe that we need to win, one side versus another. Truth be told, we won't easily change people's mind on something they believe. This is done over a long period of time. But, having the conversation is something we in the nation do (or should do) in order to be engaged, connected with our fellow citizens. The trouble is that when we express ourselves we do so at the top of our lungs and get frustrated when we don't convince the opposition. Sometimes we just have to be satisfied with having spoken to the other side and expressed ourselves, as do they.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • QS

      I get your point, but there is a difference between simply stating your beliefs even though others may not agree, and actually giving money to organizations that then use that money to try to pass laws that discriminate against "the opposition".

      July 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • dave

      Very well said dkeeber. So much hate on this page. And we wonder why World is so messed up. God help us all.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  8. Andrew


    July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Sir God will Not Die But You Will

      Billy Graham is The Messenger My Brother , Jesus Will Never Die But You Will, Are You Ready. ARE YOU READY

      July 26, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Pete

      Jesus died more than 2000 years ago.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  9. sftommy

    Billy & Nixon used to pray together – doesn't seem to have done much for either's soul...

    July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. rrdreyna

    Chick-Fil-A stand your ground and I praise you for your right as an American to voice your opinion. This is a test and it will pass. I will eat Chick-Fil-A today, tomorrow and next week!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Andrew

      And I hope you have a heart attack from all that grease...wait, you have to have a heart to have a heart attack...

      July 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Tom

      "Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle," Graham writes in the open letter released by his organization this week.

      Billy, you prayed with Richard Nixon. Do any of your words ring familiar with your beloved "Tricky Dick"? If not, you are a moral hypocrite and this nation's leading nightmare.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • myVu

      Andrew, and you're saying YOU have a heart by wishing someone else a heart attack???

      July 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Heather

      I have not had Chick-fil-a in over a decade and don't plan to eat at their establishment in my lifetime again.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Kevin

      Yes Andrew.. .and when they rush him to the hospital.. and a GAY doctor is there to save his life.. Let's see if he says.. No.. let me die.. You're gay!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Donald

      In twenty years, gay marriage will no longer be a social issue. It will be accepted and legal nationwide. If you compare the states that banned interracial marriage to those that have banned gay marriage, you'll see that general voting is the same. No one wanted interracial marriage because it was against God and the bible. Eventually, the federal government legalized it nationwide. The same will happen with gay marriage.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Andrew- Way to Spread Tolerance

      Very uplifting and I thank you for that – I thank you for your random quotes and I find true inspiration – As a Christian, I have change my views based on Your View And Will No Longer eat At Chick-fil-A based on Your Very Deep Prospective. Very Deep Indeed

      July 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  11. Havanas

    So as Greenland melts , many of America's Chrstians remain fixated on God, guns and gays. Funny if it weren't so pathetic.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  12. jwpoe

    Screw God, screw Don Cathy, screw Billy Graham. My mythological creature beats Christianity's mythical creature. All hail the mighty Pegasus!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • BobZemko

      Sign me up!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • e141

      Ha! Awesome!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • maybe You should go to the movies

      Hmm, Maybe we should start with investigating how you guys start in the blogs before you send 6k rounds to your house – Signed , Another Christian banning a response to this worthless blog setup by CNN to give a pulpit to haters Looking Forward to My Chick-fil-A on Aug 1 Ban this Blog Support Chick-fil-A on Aug 1

      July 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  13. Solar System

    Graham can go to hell

    July 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Umadbrah

      beta phaggot, u better pepper your angus, im going in dry.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  14. Nietodarwin

    Billy Graham vs The Muppets. I'll take the Muppets no matter the odds.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • QS

      Good call!

      July 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • JFCanton

      I'm not sure why the Muppet have a dog in this race-you hook your product up with a company run by devout blue-law Christians, and this is what you expect to get, right?
      Although they do operate in a universe in which a pig and a frog get married...

      July 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  15. wally

    Dear Reverend Grahm,

    Shut the hell up, nobody with more then 4 teeth in their head cares what you have to say.

    Thank you.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Umadbrah

      funny joke, millions of people do

      July 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Andy

      No one with an above-average IQ cares

      July 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  16. Tom

    Only the haters will positively respond to what this out of date has been has to say. He is irrelevant

    July 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • dk

      well you guys vehemently criticizing him for expressing his opinion, whilst it is different from yours – does it occur to you that you appear just as or even more hateful?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  17. rob

    The religious nuts in this world, especially the U.S., are getting crazier by the day. We need to rid society of this dangerous vermin.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Religious nuts are getting crazier by the day so you opt for genocide? O.k. then.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • JFCanton

      What does this have to do with a restaurant that has never pretended not to follow a fairly strict brand of religion? It's closed on Sunday! Do you think that they approve of, say, Kim Kardashian's marriage either?

      July 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  18. Erik

    "If one chooses to be "Gay" so be it,"

    Being gay is not a choice science, in fact, is actually not in dispute on this matter.

    All major medical professional organizations concur that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed, from gay to straight or otherwise. The American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and European Psychological, Psychiatric, and Medical Associations all agree with this, as does the World Health Organization and the medical organizations of Japan, China, and most recently, Thailand. Furthermore, attempts to change one's sexual orientation can be psychologically damaging, and cause great inner turmoil and depression, especially for Christian gays and lesbians.

    Reparative therapy, also called conversion therapy or reorientation therapy, "counsels" LGBT persons to pray fervently and study Bible verses, often utilizing 12-step techniques that are used to treat sexual addictions or trauma. Such Christian councilors are pathologizing homosexuality, which is not a pathology but is a sexual orientation. Psychologically, that's very dangerous territory to tread on. All of the above-mentioned medical professional organizations, in addition to the American and European Counseling Associations, stand strongly opposed to any form of reparative therapy.

    In my home country, Norway, reparative therapy is officially considered to be ethical malpractice. But there are many countries that do not regulate the practice, and many others that remain largely silent and even passively supportive of it (such as the Philippines). Groups that operate such "therapy" in the Philippines are the Evangelical Bagong Pag-asa, and the Catholic Courage Philippines.

    The scientific evidence of the innateness of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is overwhelming, and more peer-reviewed studies which bolster this fact are being added all the time. Science has long regarded sexual orientation – and that's all sexual orientations, including heterosexuality – as a phenotype. Simply put, a phenotype is an observable set of properties that varies among individuals and is deeply rooted in biology. For the scientific community, the role of genetics in sexuality is about as "disputable" as the role of evolution in biology.

    On the second point, that there is no conclusion that there is a "gay gene," they are right. No so-called gay gene has been found, and it's highly unlikely that one ever will. This is where conservative Christians and Muslims quickly say "See, I told you so! There's no gay gene, so being gay is a choice!"

    Take this interesting paragraph I found on an Evangelical website: "The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch. An American Psychological Association publication includes an admission that there's no homosexual "gene" – meaning it's not likely that homosexuals are 'born that way.'"

    But that's not at all what it means, and it seems Evangelicals are plucking out stand-alone phrases from scientific reports and removing them from their context. This is known in academia as the fallacy of suppressed evidence. Interestingly, this is also what they have a habit of doing with verses from the Bible.

    This idea of sexuality being a choice is such a bizarre notion to me as a man of science. Many of these reparative "therapists" are basing this concept on a random Bible verse or two. When you hold those up against the mountain of scientific research that has been conducted, peer-reviewed, and then peer-reviewed again, it absolutely holds no water. A person's sexuality – whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual – is a very deep biological piece of who that person is as an individual.

    The fact that a so-called "gay gene" has not been discovered does not mean that homosexuality is not genetic in its causation. This is understandably something that can seem a bit strange to those who have not been educated in fields of science and advanced biology, and it is also why people who are not scientists ought not try to explain the processes in simple black-and-white terms. There is no gay gene, but there is also no "height gene" or "skin tone gene" or "left-handed gene." These, like sexuality, have a heritable aspect, but no one dominant gene is responsible for them.

    Many genes, working in sync, contribute to the phenotype and therefore do have a role in sexual orientation. In many animal model systems, for example, the precise genes involved in sexual partner selection have been identified, and their neuro-biochemical pathways have been worked out in great detail. A great number of these mechanisms have been preserved evolutionarily in humans, just as they are for every other behavioral trait we know (including heterosexuality).

    Furthermore, there are many biologic traits which are not specifically genetic but are biologic nonetheless. These traits are rooted in hormonal influences, contributed especially during the early stages of fetal development. This too is indisputable and based on extensive peer-reviewed research the world over. Such prenatal hormonal influences are not genetic per se, but are inborn, natural, and biologic nevertheless.

    Having said that, in the realm of legal rights, partnership rights, and anti-discrimination protections, the gay gene vs. choice debate is actually quite irrelevant. Whether or not something is a choice is not a suitable criterion for whether someone should have equal rights and protections. Religion is indisputably a choice, but that fact is a not a valid argument for discriminating against a particular religion.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      I agree with what you wrote Norway, but you are addressing Americans (many with far too much Attention Deficit Disorder and many who are religious and like simple little phrases.) Not proud to admit it as an American, but there it is.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  19. TimTripod

    Balmer doesn't appear to know what's he's talking about. Most people would probably agree that torture (i.e., in the case of Abu Ghraib) is something to be avoided, and there's certainly no culural push to make it an acceptable practice in society. That's not the case with same-s3x marriage, which people are trying to be normalized on every front, and this is more than enough reason for Graham to issue a statement about it. "Political intent," my foot.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  20. DeeCee1000

    Boycott the Berenstein Bears!

    July 26, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
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