Let me tell you about Billy Graham, just as he is, because based on what I experienced working for the man for six years, two statements issued under his name last week (and one earlier this year) significantly collide with the well-established values of this great humble faith leader.
The first statement I am referring to is the fundraising letter for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) that quoted Billy's late wife Ruth as saying, "If God doesn't punish America, He'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." The letter goes on, in Billy's alleged words, "My heart aches for America and its deceived people."
The second statement is Billy's statement of support for "my good friends [Chick-fil-A founder] Truett Cathy and his son Dan Cathy ... for their strong stand for the Christian faith." The statement actually continues, in Billy's voice, to say, "As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to 'Eat Mor Chikin' and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday." (Update: BGEA issued a revised statement clarifying that Billy now "plans to enjoy his chicken at home.")
The earlier statement was a full-page ad for Amendment One and the North Carolina state constitutional amendment stating the only valid and recognized domestic legal union to be "marriage between one man and one woman." The ad was emblazoned with Mr. Graham's distinguished elderly visage, and appeared in 14 North Carolina newspapers in advance of the May 8 vote that established the amendment as N.C. state law.
At the time of the Amendment One ad, official Billy biographer William Martin told the Associated Press that he believed the words were not those of Billy's son and current BGEA President Franklin Graham: "Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will."
I believe Martin was wrong then, and I'm even more convinced now. Mr. Graham had never made political statements like this in the 62-year history of the ministry, and BGEA's evangelistic crusades have never partnered with corporations like Chick-fil-A, although they easily could have. (Evangelist Luis Palau, a disciple of Billy's, uses corporate sponsors for all of his city-wide events these days.) Now, to have three of these statements come out in the past three months — and a very obvious commercial for a fast-food chain — causes me to wonder if this trickle will turn into a flood, right at the end of Billy's life.
I’ve been a fan of Chick-fil-A for a long time. Their food is always great, their service is impeccable (almost to the point of being a little creepy), and the restaurants are squeaky clean.
It’s not every day that you can enjoy a fast food restaurant where you actually feel like you’re putting something reasonably good for you in your body. Well, at least not as bad as some.
But the point is, I have always liked them. And if I like them, my wife, Amy is practically a Chik-fil-A disciple.
We’ve planned meals on the road around their locations. Sure, I’ve known Chik-fil-A was a Christian-based organization with some values that leaned farther right than my own, but I respected their business model and ethic. Plus, I’m used to having fellow Christians to my right.
And then I saw this video:
So, I kicked the hornets' nest with my recent piece in The Atlantic, "In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A." The comments were brutal, with most excoriating the chicken chain and rejecting my argument that boycotts such as this are a waste of time. I've received many emails about this, and a few issues have been raised that need addressing.
First, is the matter of Chick-fil-A's funding. Critics claim that they have donated millions of dollars to "hate groups." A report by Equality Matters serves as the basis, but a deeper look at the actual numbers tells a different story.
Yes, Chick-fil-A donated money to "pro-family" groups, but most of them — with the exception, perhaps, of the Family Research Council, which received a paltry $1,000 from the fast-food company in the year cited — don't deserve the derisive title.
Included in the list are organizations such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes. If you know anything about FCA, you'll agree that labeling them "anti-gay" is flat out dishonest. Regardless of your stance on gay marriage, I encourage you to investigate EM's report and do your homework on what the groups on this list actually stand for and work toward. You be the judge.
Underlying the question of funding is a fundamental distinction that too few Americans fail to recognize. Our society must begin to recognize that being "anti-gay marriage" is not the same as being "anti-gay." Chick-fil-A's top executives and perhaps the corporation as a whole might be classified under the first label but not the second.