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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. Michael

    Hey did you guys hear about Chik-Fil-A being busted yesterday when they created a bogus Facebook profile to defend themselves on a forum? Someone busted the pictures as a stock photo, you know the royalty free kind where you pay a flat fee in order to use whatever picture you want.

    Thou Shall Not Lie?
    Thou Shall Not Bare False Witness?

    Going through this thread reminds me of that. Christians have absolutely no problem in breaking the most severe sins, those in the Top Ten, when it comes to justifying their hatred of gay people.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  2. Di101

    Religious leaders are free in this country to state their views on moral issues. People are free to accept them or to reject them. All this hatred does nothing but make all sides look like morons.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • sam stone

      all people are free to state their opinion on moral issues, not just "religioius leaders". this is called freedom of speech. religious leaders have no more idea of what god is than any other person

      July 27, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  3. Eat mur Chik'in

    Chick fil a president has to be the worst business owner in the US.

    Most second generation owners have no clue how to run a business. He is a shame to his family, I'm sure.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • myVu

      Actually, you're quite wrong. Chic-fil-A is thriving and about to get even bigger.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  4. Samuel Crane

    Oddly enough he supported equal rights in the past including gay rights (yes he did do some research). Strange that now he has "handlers" issuing statements and telling him what to do things have changed. They should be ashamed of using a poor senile elder to spread their lies.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • billdeacons

      i suspect a number of people would be more accepting of gays if it weren't for the militant extremism being used to advance their agenda

      July 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @billdeacons

      Hi Bill...

      You Said: " I suspect a number of people would be more accepting of gays if it weren't for the militant extremism being used to advance their agenda "

      *Militant Extremism* ? *Advancing their Agenda* ? How odd that a Christian would accuse a group that just wants to be treated equally, under the law, with the same rights, basically like everyone else, as *Militant Extremism* and *Advancing their agenda* !

      I would suspect, a number of people would be more accepting of evangelical right-wing christians if it weren't for the militant extremism being used to advance their agenda.

      Peace...

      July 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Braden

    Comment pages like this remind me of why I’m a misanthrope. These flame wars would be funny if they weren’t so pathetic.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  6. Maynard

    The moral decay of our society consists of hate. Gays are more full of hate than most people are willing to admit.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Dave

      Funny, an adherent of a religion that advocates human sacrifice, decrying anybody else's morals.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Michael

      The 113th time, that I know of, this phrase has been used on this forum. Let's go over them again!!!

      Gays are so intolerant of intolerance.
      Gays are so bigoted against bigots.
      Gays hate on haters.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Casey

      Maynard – It seems like it is the conservative Christians who keep telling gay people that they are going to hell who are spreading the hate.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • usef

      they're just angry that they're gay....

      July 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • sam stone

      more full of hate than those who purport to speak for god?

      July 27, 2012 at 5:58 am |
  7. jim atmad

    These rightwing politico-religious nuts need to stop hunting down a camera every time some bigot gets in trouble for being, well, a bigot.
    Defending bigots paints you as a bigot, Mr Graham. Shame on you for that.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  8. Jonster

    Gimme' that 'ole time religion...Altar call anyone?

    July 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  9. M Patel

    Dr. Graham is so right with his opinion. Just because he says what he believes is right according to the Bible he believes in does not give anyone the right to construe it as hate. All around us today there is rampant moral decay. If one stands up and proclaims that gay marriage is ok and hurts majority of the population it is not called hate whereas if anyone points a finger at the moral decay it is defined as hate.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Fn0rdz

      He's a crotchety old racist.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • M Patel

      Fn0rdz, brother, search your heart and you may see that you are pointing fingers at yourself. A little introspection always helps....

      July 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Maggie

      I totally agree with what you wrote. Our country is a mess and surly God will have His judgment when He decides it is time!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • sam stone

      when he uses it to deny citizens equal rights, it does become hate

      July 27, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • sam stone

      maggie: how would god feel about denying a group of people equal rights?

      July 27, 2012 at 6:01 am |
  10. Henderson

    I hope all the deviants and their lovers boycott Chick fill A because I can eat my food and not worry about a A1DS infested maggot eating next to me.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • John

      Oh! That say SO much about your character.. Henderson. I would hate to sit next to you!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Casey

      Henderson – If all the deviants boycotted Chick fill A, and by deviants you must mean BIGOTS, Chick fill A would go bankrupt in a week!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Bobby

      They ought to just turn Chick-fil-A into some type of gay hangout.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Maynard

    Forget religion and morals. Biologically, gay does not work. It is against nature.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Dave

      So, that which occurs IN nature is somehow...against nature?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • M Patel

      Dave, you just seem to want to justify your deviant behavior. What a surprise, to justify your deviant self indulgence you even question the existence of Jesus Christ. Funny indeed!!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Kansas1946

      That is not possible. If being gay were against nature, there would not be any gay people. Everyone living thing is a child of nature.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Dave

      There's no proof of the existence of Josh Christ. The very earliest mention of him, was nearly a century after his alleged suicide. As to deviant, I'm not the guy worshiping a barbaric death cult.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • sam stone

      M Patel: So, if a person is for gays having equal rights, they must be gay? Good logic.

      July 27, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  12. scholar

    Michael reported abuse on me so I have not been able to reply typical ...response when losing a debate.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • billdeacons

      typical leftist response. I hear he is applying as an intern for the mayor of Boston

      July 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Michael

      What are you talking about? I never did any such thing.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • sam stone

      billyboy: typical partisan f nut response

      July 27, 2012 at 6:04 am |
  13. Dave

    The funniest part is, even IF "jesus" ever existed, (there's not a single shred of proof he did), chances are he was gay. So Cathy hates his own "god".

    July 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • David

      What ignorant hole did you crawl out of? Eeven atheists scholars familiar with that time period have found sufficient evidence of a messianic character in that time period. Keep in mind Nero burned rome in 64 AD, only 30 years after Jesus, and recorded history indicates Christians were forced to confess they did it. The historian Josephus of that time period speak of Jesus as well. In short, there is plently of evindence within a relatively short time of Jesus time period to indicate he in fact existed. Wether you choose to believe what was written about him is an entirely different issue.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Dave

      The existence of people duped by the religion does not equate to the existence of the fictional focus thereof.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Dave

      Oh, and Josephus was nearly a century after Josh supposedly killed himself.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Christine

      Jesus is Alive. He suffered for you, shed His Blood for you, died for you. He loves you. He will forgive you your sins. You will meet Him. Yes you will. You will not be able to avoid that encounter. Just remember, He loves you. Only by His Blood will you be saved.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I'd rather not be saved by an evil diety like the god of the bible, thanks.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Michael

      There is that one "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved."

      We can take it two ways:

      "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved Even Though He Loved All Of Them We Will Just Point Out Again For No Good Reason Jesus Loved This Disciple Too And We'll Say It Every Time We Refer To This Guy"

      or

      "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved."

      July 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • sam stone

      More blah, blah, blah conjecture. This time seeping from Christine.

      July 27, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Dave

      Yes, it changes the carbon dioxide content in the air around the person doing it. Nothing more.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Hoos

      Sure it's not... that's why there are so few atheists in prisons....

      What's not good for any intelligent creature are supernatural beliefs they cannot prove.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Braden

      So which church are you from?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  15. goldbuck

    if you dont like them don't eat there if you do gobble down all the factory farmed chicken you want

    July 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  16. bj

    Thank you Chick-fil-A for sticking with your values. I will be supporting you on Wed 8.1. Jim Hinson Inc or anyone else can pull their support from you all they want, people will still buy your product for what it is. (The BEST chicken sandwich ever!) I don't understand why your stand on gay marriage has anything to do with the business of chicken sandwiches. People,if you don't like their beliefs, then don't go there. SIMPLE!!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Braden

      Much as I dislike evangelicals, I have to agree. This really isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  17. Seeker

    god?

    Is that the all powerful cloud thingy that just let 12 people die in a movie theater and gives little kids Cancer? He always seems to need money too. Oh him...yeah, he really 'loves us'. Bum

    God is not real.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  18. gt

    dont worry there is plenty of room in hell for all you non beleivers

    July 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Michael

      FYI: Anyone who remotely wishes another to burn in hell is going to find out first hand what that's like.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Braden

      See ya there!

      July 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  19. Miles

    Billy is an old, washed up bag of bones. He is so sensitive to gay issues because, like priests, he is a pervert pedophile.
    Very sick psycho man.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  20. Netcentric

    Billy Graham has been dead for years. I wish he'd stay dead.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.