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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. Smukers

    This guy (Wllly Graham) is a Load of Crap!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Max

      What an immature thought.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  2. Tian Ti

    I read the bible cover to cover growing up- find it so holy that all others has no merits, truth or beauty. I learned all the hatred then( I love how they shamelessly say we love you but not your sins!) how WE christians are so Great, so holy, so true and THEY are not !
    I quit, learn to love human beings, eat no chickens and my God is my pet toad. Very simple and beautiful.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  3. Fly with me

    The Chick-fil-a down the street had protesters outside when I drove by today.

    Can you say bad businesses decision?

    July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • usef

      protestors or supporters??

      July 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  4. Tim

    F@#$ Billy Graham. Need I say more.

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

      You're not criticizing Billy Graham, you are criticizing God's Word and beliefs. So take it up with God,
      Billy is just doing his job.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • kris

      JR:

      So funny. But you guys don't talk about the ones that have much deeper meaning in the Bible or other related literature. It is impossible to get the whole idea of what God wants you to know if you follow some Bible passages literally and do not care to know the meaning of numerous other allegorical passages.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  5. Conerstone American

    I guess chick-fil-a can at least run the kitchens of a group of churches after this fallout.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  6. vincent

    I grew up believing GOD loves all of us. I never believe in any book whether it is the Bible Quran etc. Because those are not GODS words those are stories told to keep order in a chatic period. Mostly written by kings to keep peace in the Kingdom. So everyone just love everyone and there would be no violence ever. but that will never happen because minds are so weak they have to refer to a book to tell them how they should act when the book itself is flawed.

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

      Most Excellent!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  7. John

    Here's a suggestion for those that disagree with the Rev. Billy Graham/Chic-fil-A stance.
    Take for f..... money somewhere else and stay the hell out their restaurants.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Smukers

      I do stay out of their bigoted/racist restaurants!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • sjenner

      If only it were that simple. Chik-Fil-A is using its corporate funds to finance bigoted laws and politicians. That's to my disadvantage, whether I shop there or not. Staying out of Chik-Fil-A's business presupposes they stay out of mine.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Lovechicfila_but_lovequalitymore

      II will.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  8. roland

    It's a historical fact that Jaysus served chik-fil-a at the last supper. Take that you heathens!

    July 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Smukers

      Prove it!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  9. roland

    Give me some of that old time Jaysus chicken!!!!

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

      If I have de coupon, mark me in line!

      July 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  10. MacSeain

    I apologize if this comes across as rather ignorant... I could honestly give a s*** what Chik-fil-A believes in, as long as it involves bringing me my damn waffle fries. I didn't pay for an opinion, I payed for a chicken sandwich-hold the mayo- ; If I seek philosophical advice it sure as hell won't be from a fast food drive thru. I am pleased that their corporation has some level of faith and conviction, but that hasn't a thing to do with my sammich.

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

      I agree 100%. A companies opinion does not change my mind about what I purchase.

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

      MacSeain – Would you still eat at Chick-fil-A if the owners actively worked to take away your rights?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  11. Sweet Valley High

    When will this saintly company come out against people that engage in premarital s ex????

    A lot more of those "sinner"...why are they so worried about such a small group of gays?

    July 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  12. Maynard

    Apparently, Dave is not educated enough to spell correctly.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  13. myVu

    The CEO of Chic-fil-A disagrees with Gay Marriage and that is his free-will choice.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  14. ron

    If you don't want your money to go to hate groups, don't eat at chik-fil-a. There food is delicious, but they are a bunch of bible thumpers.

    July 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  15. Steve

    You Bible beaters are far out of touch. That's right, you have the correct religion. The correct book. The correct God. All others are damned. You're religion has not been around so long, how can you say you are right? What about Hinduism and the Vedas? What about Buddhism? Paganism? Christians are SO narrow minded.

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

      Disagreeing with Gay marriage does not equate to hate. You keep saying because we say that gay marriage is wrong that we hate you and nothing could be further from the truth. We do not hate you, but we are compelled to tell you the truth from the Word of God.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • roland

      And what about those of us who don't accept the word of your God? Heard of the Establishment Clause?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • kris

      I agree with you. I've had discussions with evangelical christians, and I felt that they behave in a polar opposite manner to what Jesus Christ asked them to do. I like Christ and even have a cross that came to me out-of-the blue, and I am not even a christian. God has given the necessary resources to all human beings via His teachings by enlightened prophets at different ages. All human beings can reach God, if they have a true Guru (for christians Christ; Krishna, Rama, etc for Hindus), and follow their teaching faithfully with full devotion to God.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  16. Patricksday

    Jesus please help Reverend Graham, and his followers.

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

      Amen

      July 26, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  17. Mario

    Does this really surprise anyone, he's a gay bashing creep who uses his religion to justify his hate. He should put a bumper sticker on his car that reads "God told me to hate you".

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

      He doesn't have to hate "you". He just hates the sin. There's a difference.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  18. goldbuck

    I just don't care if anyone is gay or if someone hates gays just let live

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

      no approving of gay marriage doesn't = "hate"

      July 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • amazed2

      usef I'm sitting here thinking the exact same thing.... wrong is wrong. Hate isn't a part of that common sense equation.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • goldbuck

      I don't believe in state run marriage but as long as that will never happen let them marry who or as many as they want
      a church that don't believe same as me should never be forced to mary them though

      July 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Casey

      If someone was giving financial support to groups that wanted to deny or take away your rights, would you still not care?

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  19. usef

    you're correct. sandusky is, um.."straight" in a rock hudson sort of way of course.....

    July 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  20. Harry

    I don't give a sh.t what Billy Graham has to say!

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

      Which explains why you're commenting here.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • CC

      Braden- Good point! lol

      July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Braden

      I should probably be doing something better with my time as well. But it's like a car accident, I can't look away.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:54 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.