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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. Former GOP

    Billy Graham is the Christian equivalent of Mullah Omar (Taliban)

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • KH11

      Are you kidding me?? Last I checked, Billy Graham wasn't a member of a terrorist group responsible for killing innocent people. Disagree all you want, but at least take the time to make sure your reply isn't moronic before you post it.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  2. Dee Emm

    I think Dr. Graham's on the wrong side of this one. It's mostly just making mountains out of molehills anyway and the story will mostly be ignored. Now, Chick-fil-A's nutrition info is the real horror story of the piece – should be called "Cancer on a bun." Gay or straight, two legs, four legs, even eight or more or less, give your body a real break and stay away from all fast food!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      And give your soul a break and stay away from seexual impurity

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  3. Crusader10

    It's his company so it is totally his choice..... oh wait a minute.... what do you think 0bama? "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

    July 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  4. the_dude

    Maybe gays should find a chicken place where they are not treated like sick and diseased perverts.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Michael

      Hey "dude" maybe you should come out of your closet.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  5. *frank*

    I hope this jackass dies slowly and in tremendous pain.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  6. Mike Prather

    He's the last of God's original Giants...He will soon pass on right after we enter into unreturnable moral decay..and we are nearly there. His death will be the sign of the end of America as we know it. God bless you for holding up the word of God Reverand Graham. Gret is your reward in the Kingdom of God. Untold millions have been effected by your ministry..even my own kids who are less than 10 years old. God bless you, God bless chick filet...Everybody is not gay and agree with there agenda..It's a choice to be gay not a civil right..Even if it wasn't God's word and all other religions condemn it...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Smurfette

      One of "God's original giants"? More like one of God's original F*kktards. A man who based his life and teachings on hate.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dan

      If god is omnipotent why does he need a** holes like Graham to do his speaking? Why can't he do it himself? I also don't care what ANY religion condemns.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Dee Emm

      "...choice to be gay...??" Oh, puleaze. Welcome to the real world in 2012 Mike. I don't suppose you're a big Lady Gaga fan, but at least Google the lyrics – "..."It doesn't matter if you love him or capital H-I-M ... I'm beautiful in my way 'Cause God makes no mistakes I'm on the right track, baby I was born this way."

      July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  7. halfbakedlunatic

    Is there a car that comes with this airbag?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Oh, snap! Nice one!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  8. sftommy

    Moral Decay or God's will fulfilled?

    If you Billy chooses only some of Christ's teachings, mixed with popular prejudice, to espouse it his his soul that is in jeopardy.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  9. the_dude

    No one will ever be able to stop discrimination against other people. it is human nature. Oh so sorry gays.....you'll never be accepted as normal......never

    July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  10. Michael

    It's sad that people are attacking this business for thought crimes. I haven't read any reports anywhere that they do not serve gay people. If you personally don't wish to do business with them for what the owner thinks that's your prerogative. But to ban the company from operating in a city when they haven't broken any laws is just messed up.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Dan

      People have a right to criticize the business, just like they have a right to make bigoted statements

      July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      But politicians do not have the right to intimidate and block businesses based on thought or speech

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  11. amjp

    My respect for Billy Graham has decreased increasingly over the past few years. Believe what you will, but discrimination against people because of their personal preferences is in no way admirable. I also have a deep discomfort and disdain for people who claim to speak for God. They are neither Moses or Jesus. I haven't eaten in a Chick-fil-A since I first learned about their policies a few years ago, even though I like their menu.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • AllDebs

      Nicely said!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Michael

      Mr. Graham is nothing but an old, withered man with little joy in his life. He has no choice but to align himself (during the little time he has left) with the things that define him as the withered shell that he is now. I suppose that's all OK given he's so little time left on Earth. Soon, however, he will have to answer to his "god" on the goodness he did while on Earth. I wish him well in defending his position of hatred for God's unique creations.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      So you are fine with all people's personal preferences or just the ones that are palletable to you?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  12. Jeff Orlando

    Wow. All of this for a chicken sandwich? Look, people have the right to run their business as they see fit, as long as they do not refuse service in a discriminatory fashion. Likewise, Gay people have the right to avoid eating due to the outspoken CEO of the company. Problem solved. I wish Chik Fil A no harm, will cause them no disruption. I however will no longer eat there, I'll just pretend every day is SUNDAY. (They are closed that day).

    July 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  13. Tom Williams

    Billy and his son Franklin are one step away from Fred Phelps. Must be nice to enjoy that tax braek status while playing politics.

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

    Oh Lord is this geezer still around? Prop him up in the chair long enough for him to make some statement about a world he is no longer in touch with. Billy, just rest in your mansion and wait until your called to join that great Lawrence Welk Show in the sky.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  15. moderateray

    I respect Rev. Grahams right to his opinion and expressing it. Stating that, it is every bit as much the right of those with opposite views to express them with our wallets by not patronizing Chik-fil-A. Ironic that it was the Christian right that intiated commercial boycotts as a form of expression a few decades ago.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  16. Miriam

    As Christians we should be standing up for what God says is morally right. Morality is not supposed to be determined by the majority. And we shouldn't be attacked with name calling. The ones saying that Christians are being "intolerant" are the ones that are intolerant because they believe everyone has a right to their beliefs but us. I certainly will not be bullied by name calling.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Dan

      Why don't you stand up against divorce then? Face it, you just need someone to bully and gays are the last acceptable target

      July 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  17. Mary

    Of course the old fart agrees with them.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  18. Russ

    Billy should have died a long time ago. He wouldn't have embarrassed himself with such statements, if he did. His time has definitely gone. He was a preacher for the 50's, not the 2000's.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  19. DownWithIdiots

    Why would this mo ron Graham come to the aid of this restaurant chain? Is he supporting Christian Hatred on Gays? These chrisitans are so full of hatred for those not like them. Stop the crap.

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

      All Cathy did was make a comment that he believes marriage was between a man and a woman. How is that hate? Really, I'm hearing more hate and bigotry from the left on this subject than I have from the right.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  20. phoodphite

    Oh sure, with clear evidence in his earlobes of a life-long chicken McNuggets addiction, how convenient it is that he now chooses to hop over and support this chatty Cathy's evil cause!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 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.