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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. BobZemko

    When the Blacks were freed, when women and Native Americans got the right to vote, when society was desegregated and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed, many people thought society was doomed. Someday, the bigotry against civil unions for gays will be as dead as those who opposed freeing the slaves.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  2. Scamtannehill

    This guy was proven a bigot when he was caught on Nixon's white house tapes degrading the Jewish people of America. Why are we still listening to him. He is not a moral com puss he is a Nazi.

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

      i think you are a nazi, Graham knows what he's talking about. To compare the marriage of gays to cicil rights for blacks is outrageous–not at all the same. No one said thatey are not welcome to eat there or be there, he simply stated his religious view–his right, as you have the right to disagree,

      July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • BobZemko

      Hey, Scamtannehill, I guess that you and I are Nazis. Sieg Heil !!!

      July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  3. not surprised

    Just because you are old and near death does not make you right. This same man when he was younger didn't bother to support the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr... he was careful not to make a statement for fear of making his people mad at him.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  4. Jeff--Tacoma

    Chick-Fil-a makes a good sandwich...I'm going to miss them.

    Mr Graham is just another old bigot that will be dead and gone soon, I won't miss him nearly as much.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  5. jim tom

    Billy Who? Sorry, I didn't care when a bunch of my friends tried to get me to go to some gospel rally of his when I was in middle school. And I don't care now.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  6. Drew

    If they support gays or not there chicken sandwiches are amazing. Ill eat there regardless. Who cares what he supports and doesn't support. I don't see how that affects anybody.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • tribecagal

      Supporting bigots by spending your money with them is not cool.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • BobZemko

      I see that proper spelling and punctuation never caught on with you.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  7. Ronda in Houston, TX

    The fruit don't fall too far from the tree. Oh, excuse me..that should go the other way around regarding his son.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  8. Lee from Rochester

    That makes Billy Graham indefensible.

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

    Who cares what this senile, racist, bigoted old fool has to say?!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  10. The Guy

    What a dip.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  11. T. Sutherland

    We are one of few remaining countries in the world which still allows freedom of speech. I absolutely stand behind the president of Chick-fil-A and his statement. It seems to me that it is time for Americans to stand for what they believe in. Thank you for your courage and your leadership.

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

      I love freedom of speech too.

      Eat s***, bigot

      July 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • BobZemko

      Sorry to tell you, they believe in bigotry.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • jamy

      Good comment T. Sutherland.. The other people who responded are the trash I believed they were.. so sad...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Tony29inDallas

      Well said Sutherland. Well said.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Matt

      Few remaining countries? Please name this short list.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  12. Dale

    I just don't understand why the owner of Chick-Fil-A had to come out and say this in the first place. This for all we know will cause riots and people getting hurt due to someone not believing that a gay couple shouldnt be married? I thought for the most part we were getting past this nonsense. I hope no one gets hurt over this. I'm not gay, but I'm almost to the point where I think religion is just pure evil.....

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

      Nonsense? When someone in America is not allowed to voice a historical, Biblical, longstanding belief, that is now out of vogue, this is the real nonsense. Do you see Biblical believers starting riots and causing unrest. We may disagree, without being violent. You want freedom of speech ...for your opinion only– Lets rally around real freedom of speech, and the freedom to disagree with what's in vogue.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  13. awasis

    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.

    Because Billy hates gays and Muslims.

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

      Because gays are an easy target for evangelical bullies

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

      awasis.. say's who.. He's never acted or said he hated anyone.. you could be sued for slander.. you better watch your mouth..

      July 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  14. Deva

    Preachers of the Gospel should never be dabbling in politics, especially politics in the public arena. A preacher can have his / her own individual political leanings. This applies even to the Rev. Graham, please keep your political views to yourself. Rev. Graham, you must remember the occasion (in 1957) when you came to India on a Crusade, and while speaking to the crowd there, you said that the Hindus could do better if they would kill the cow and eat it rather than worship it; and you'll remember how the Christians in that Country reacted to your statement!!!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  15. Charles

    For all those don't like the place, don't go there. I will support it for you.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  16. Doc_77

    Oh.. the man who called the Jews a "the synagogue of Satan". Yes, he has credibility.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  17. Ok whatever

    Billy why don't you stick to what you know, stealing donations from old ladies and cheating on your wife. What a charlatan, Jesus would be ashamed of your actions.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • dave

      when someone has no real answer, they turn to making up accusations against someone they don't even know

      July 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  18. Sarah

    I support Chic-fil-a. In the light of eternity morals are important.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Dan

      In the light of eternity maybe you can realize just how transient and worthless your beliefs are.

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

      I didn't know that bigotry was moral.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • The Guy

      You believe in one of hundreds of religions that have treaded over this earth. Yours is just in season. Get over it and try living a good life instead of wasting it.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  19. Gerry Daley

    Hey, Billy...how many marriages have been "preserved ansd strengthened" in North Carolina since you put your stamp of approval on Ammendment 1?

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  20. 2020

    we can debate till the cows come home.

    The fact is if God thinks as we think, HE will never send Jesus, his Beloved Son to this World, nothing but fillthy sinner.

    Bill Graham went to Russia for evangelical events, people comdemed him. He went anyway, Christians now congregate. Same as in China.

    We are the tools of God, we are not God.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • jamy

      thank u 2020.. you are so true and right..

      July 26, 2012 at 5:55 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.