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. LU

    Billy Graham also said if God doesn't judge America soon, He'll need to apologize to Sodom & Gomorrah.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Brandon

    What is the #1 sign that your morally corrupt and on the wrong side of the issue? Billy Graham is defending you.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  3. fluke300

    Silly God, Trix are for...Oh wait...Silly Rabbit...not God.
    I get them confused, because they're both fake.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  4. ashfordcapital

    It is Dan Cathy not Don Cathy.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • phoodphite

      Chatty Dan Cathy evidently.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  5. Mclark

    A person can make big money and live quite well selling Jesus. Mr. Graham and his son proof.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  6. Dancinjansen

    If you want your business to serve the public, it's probably not a smart business move to alienate a segment of the public.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Peggy Munro

    And I used to really respect and look up to him as a true servant of God. What a disappointment.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • TXnBud

      LOL, and you still should! I think you might need to check yourself if your losing respect for that man.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • yardbird1

      why? Are you God and believe you should set your own morals? People move away from God because they want to decide what is right and wrong, as if they were God or the end all wise authority of what society should do. It is the height of arrogance in humans.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  8. Hypatia

    He would. Chiky Cathy is free to spout whatever he wants. It's simply a bad business decision if he alienates potential customers. *shrug*

    July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  9. Chris

    You can be diverse in Boston and Chicago as long as you do not hold to Christian values.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  10. the_dude

    Whenever someone says "you can't hate us" it makes me hate them even more. So sorry gays you will never be able to legislate acceptance or force it on normal people. The more I see stuff like this the more it makes me hate gays.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Erik in Houston,TX

      spoken like a new Christian

      July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • phoodphite

      I'm glad you said new. But unfortunately new really is anything from that politician self-proclaimed "apostle" Paul and forward where we see division, judgment, disenfranchisement, and all the weird stuff that the Catholics, evangelicals, bible thumpers, etc. start to corrupt the simple lessons of Jesus, regardless of how important a person you see him as.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  11. JJ

    "Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle," Sounds like Graham was describing self-righteous evangelicals.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  12. blam0h1

    Wait, you mean a old wackjob takes the side of hate and discrimination?! You don't say.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |

      Doesn't sound like hate to me, but rather standing up for what is a Christian value. Marriage is between a man and woman; just like you stated what you believe, we have a right and duty to stand up for Christian beliefs.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  13. gt

    amen,,,,,the truth shall keep america free.....thank you for telling the truth rev. graham...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Watchmanz

      Poor demented fool ......

      July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • jayh

      ummm, sure, ok, whatever....

      July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  14. LAinSA

    Does Billy even know who he is or where he is? Really Billy, do you realize that everyone is God's child? That makes them your brothers and sisters.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  15. Aristocles

    Is the left-wing so desperate that it has to resort to attacking a chicken restaurant? It seems that after failing to get guns banned, failing to oust the anti-union governor of Wisconsin, and failing to stop Defense of Marriage amendments in over 30 states (including North Carolina recently), they have resorted to making shows like the "New Normal", and attacking a good restaurant. Seriously, Chick-fil-A obeys the laws, pays its taxes, serves great chicken, and is expanding like wildfire. It should be left alone. You don't like it? Don't eat there!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • JG

      Sorry, it doesn't work that way. This is 2012 and you shouldn't have the right to discriminate against people, no matter how ignorant you are. Just as these people have the right to be bigots, we have the right to make fun of them.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  16. B Schmitt

    Kudos to Chick fil a President for standing up to what he believes.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • fluke300

      Yeah Kudos for standing up for that. Fine.

      But why does he feel the need to push his beliefs on the public? Do we NEED to know what HE believes?

      He didn't say what HE believed. He spoke on behalf of Chick-Fil-A and their thousands of employees who probably don't all share his biggoted belief system.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  17. Boston Guy

    There are people who will hate you because you do not live and believe just like them. Nothing you can do about it. Look at the Middle East for an example. It's funny how Muslims and Christians really do think a lot alike.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jeff Orlando

      Your comment rings true. These are the same hollow and hateful voices that kept blacks from eating at the Woolworth's lunch counters in the 1950s/1960s.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |

      and however way you found out what he believes, you just should've said....'oh well that's his choice'..and went on and ate the chicken.....all this ruckus about what this man believes makes him appear more important than what he is...we are heading toward a system of no more right to believe in God.. permanently..but to believe in another system..mark of man

      July 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  18. JB

    In regards to the Disney comment, do you really think that Disney put that Chick Fil A there? No, I don't think so. They don't even own the property...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Aristocles

      They allowed it to be there.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  19. Revelation

    billy graham just doesn't want to admit that hes gay...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  20. Jim

    It's ironic that Disney's Muppets would break off their relationship with Chick-fil-A yet Disney World has a Chick-fil-A restaurant right under the Magic Kingdom for its employees.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      It's the Bert and Ernie thing

      July 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • amjp

      There's no irony, Jim. Disney may have produced Muppets' movies, but it is the Jim Henson Company which created them and which announced it would have no further association with Chick-fil-A.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 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.