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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. Brad

    No matter what generation you are in, you believe it "used to be better." Everything is declining. Technology is destroying our culture. Blah, blah, blah. When people get old, they get mad when things change and progress is made.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  2. David B

    Billy Graham is obviously too old to know any better. Jerry Falwell is waiting in the basement for you billy!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  3. Joe Pub

    It's a free market. Those that wish to buy chick fil a products have a right to do so. Those that do not wish to buy chick fil a products have a right to do so also.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      What if I want to buy Chik-fil-A in Boston?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Joe Pub

      Good point. Boston should butt out of the free market.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Jarrod

      True but if your a bigot you should be called out for what you are.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Dan

      If Boston decides to pass an ordinance banning the company from their city they will be well within their rights.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  4. Humberto

    I agree with Billy ! Boycott all gay and lesbien organizations!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • BobZemko

      You're a senile old bigot, too?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • tommytee

      I have to disagree with you. You are putting your beliefs ahead of reality and common sense.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Gerry Daley

    Well, of course the old bigot does. He could wait to put his stamp of approval on the most bigoted and utterly unnecessary anti-gay ammendment in the country. The Republicans wheel him out now whenever they need someone to justify their hate.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  6. joe

    Billy Graham is still alive?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • AK Sean

      If you call that living.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  7. jamy

    those who are bigoted.. JG.. are people like you.. We love all people..however, cannot condone their behavior..It would be a sentence that i choose not to have from my Judge.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  8. joels2000

    I support freedom of speech and freedom of private business to exercise freedom of speech.
    I do not support and will not support a company that promulgates discrimination. It's inevitable. People are disentangling
    themselves from the controlling aspect of the religious hierarchy. To pull out Billy Graham and to have him support a business in the name of God .... is showing the darker side of religion. It's inevitable. Chick-fil-A will pay dearly.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  9. bob

    I pass a chic-fil-a going to and from work every work day. Eat there an average of 3 times a week. Not eating there anymore.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Smarter than u

      Awesome. Good to hear you will boycott this whole.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  10. jamy

    JG.. wash your mouth out.. and clean your mind.. Mike your are looney..You can only dream to be 1/4 of the man Billy Graham is..

    July 26, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Dan

      Billy Graham is a con-artist

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  11. hubert39

    Billy Graham is not perfect. He can also hate. Let me add.....nobody is perfect.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Observer

      Calling sin what it is, sin, is not hate. Hate is an emotion, not a personal judgment about whether conduct is immoral. And everyone should discriminate on what is and is not moral behavior. Being discriminatory can be a virtue and is here.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Pete

      Trying to keep gay people from having the same rights as you just becuase they are gay and you are not is in no way moral behavior.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  12. Susan Raiser

    Maybe Billy Graham should look into what torture those chickens go through before they make their way to Chik-fil-A. Then he would see what true moral depravity is.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Norm

    EAT MORE REPUBLICANS!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      clever

      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  14. Joe Gerrity

    A bigot is defending bigots??!!?

    BREAKING NEWS!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • AK Sean

      Amen brother. Big freaking surprise.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  15. jamy

    Amen.. NM..

    July 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  16. David B

    Well of course an evangelical nut would come to their defense. Judge ye not Billy! I guess it is ok to discriminate in this country. It will lead to bullying in schools and cause many scars for many people but the hate fillled christians turn their backs on this of course. They are irrational people. I never ate there and never will. I do not think we have them here in AZ. I wish all the protesters of this company well and may join them in protesting this company.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Your business

      will not be missed

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • FSM

      There is one here in Phoenix. I've never eaten there and never will.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Funny David "may" join them. He's waiting for the new menu to see.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  17. Josh34

    The deviants tried their best to brainwash America into accepted their filthy lifestyle but the majority of the people did not fall for that. Nice try gays, your lifestyle will always be wrong in our eyes

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

      What country do you live in? The majority of Americans actually support gay marriage, and more and more people will over time.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Slovik

      Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Josh34

      The majority of Americans are against gay marriage. Gays have infiltrated different organizations. I have no issues with a national referendum on gay marriage. If the majority of Americans support Gay marriage than so be it. However I know gays don't support a national referendum cause they know they will lose.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • BobZemko

      What's that noise behind you, Josh34. Oh my, God!!! Run !!! It's dem qweers !!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  18. the_dude

    Gays it is so simple you go eat your sausages and leave the chicken for normal people.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • AK Sean

      The Dude would never think like that. You do a disservice to a film icon. Perhaps you meant to write "the duped"

      July 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  19. Mike

    Graham is also an anti-semite. Given half a chance, he would have defended the Holocaust.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • K from AZ

      Everyone has a right to be stupid: you, however, are abusing the privilege!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • KRHODES

      That is funny..you should like him then..liberals are big anti semites...they just claim they are "pro palestinian."

      July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  20. JG

    Quite honestly, just more religious garbage. The foundation of ignorance. It's so pathetic that it's humorous. WWJD? He wouldn't be caught dead with these ignorant, bigoted, evangelical fools.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:38 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.