Search Results for: chick-fil-a

Don’t have a cow over Chick-fil-A, man!

My post on the unlikely friendship between Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy and Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer prompted GetReligion reader Joel to comment:

I’ve seen it pointed out that these days, the real story is to be found in the comments on a story. The comments on the HuffPo piece seem to bear that out depressingly.

I replied:

I don’t know about that philosophy, Joel. My motto is: “Never read the comments.” Except on GetReligion, of course.

I was half-joking but half-serious.

The journalism website Poynter.org noted this past fall that NPR and other news organizations were tightening comment moderation to improve conversation.

In a survey of readers, NPR received this feedback on comments:

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‘Loving the sinner’ in Chick-fil-A gay marriage flap

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An outspoken gay-rights activist and a traditional-marriage-advocating fried-chicken magnate walk into a crowded football stadium and … wait, wait … enjoy the game together.

Huh!?

As the ole cliche goes, life sometimes is stranger than fiction.

A first-person Huffington Post piece by Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, has gone viral this week on Facebook and Twitter, at least in the conservative Christian circles in which I hang. The article’s title certainly is catchy:

Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A

Windmeyer provides a behind-the-scenes account of his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, who became the subject of a media storm last year when he said he supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

With apologies to chickens everywhere, Windmeyer’s piece is filled with religious beef. Consider this section, for example:

During our meetings I came to see that the Chick-fil-A brand was being used by both sides of the political debate around gay marriage. The repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides. As a result, we agreed to keep the ongoing nature of our meetings private for the time being. The fire needed no more fuel.

Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.

And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.

In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me — and that love extends to my husband. My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.

On Facebook, one friend suggested:

I believe that this is what Jesus would have done. This is what Dan was doing — modeling Christ.

Another chimed in:

Maybe Shane was modeling Christ.

In either case, there’s a religion angle here, right? Given how much news the Chick-fil-A controversy made last year, I wondered if the mainstream media would pick up on Windmeyer’s commentary.

The answer: Sort of.

A front-page story Tuesday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chick-fil-A’s hometown newspaper, reported on the fast food giant’s sales growing last year. The headline:

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MSM’s upside-down Chick-fil-A sandwich

YouTube Preview ImageRemember when pickles, buttered buns and fried chicken filets were all we could talk about over the summer?

I’m referring, of course, to the big brouhaha over Chick-fil-A (catch up here, here, here, here and here if you happened to be stranded on a deserted island during that time).

Now comes an update from USA Today.

The headline:

Chick-fil-A thrives because of support for families

The top of the story:

Chick-fil-A has something not all that surprising to crow about.

Consumer use, visits and ad awareness were all up measurably in the third quarter, at a time the chicken chain enjoyed a remarkable outpouring of support from consumers, reports research specialist Sandelman & Associates.

Intense national media and social media attention — much of it positive — was heaped on the chain three months ago, after President Dan Cathy told a religious publication that his company was “guilty as charged” in supporting the biblical definition of the family unit.

Supporters of the Atlanta-based chicken chain caused long lines and traffic jams across the country as they rallied for Chick-fil-A. At the same time, a few gay rights groups called for boycotts, but company executives reiterated their long-standing love and appreciation for all customers — even those who disagree with Cathy’s position.

Oops! I am messing with you. That is not actually how USA Today reported the story.

Here is the actual headline:

Chick-fil-A thrives despite gay rights issue

And the actual lede:

Chick-fil-A has something unexpected to crow about.

Consumer use, visits and ad awareness were all up measurably in the third quarter, at a time the chicken chain appeared to be taking a public relations drubbing, reports research specialist Sandelman & Associates.

Intense national media and social media attention — much of it negative — was heaped on the chain three months ago, after President Dan Cathy told a religious publication that his company was “guilty as charged” in supporting the biblical definition of the family unit.

Many gay rights groups called for boycotts, and company executives seemed to be put on the defensive. At the same time, supporters of the Atlanta-based chicken chain held rallies outside stores. The national media couldn’t get enough of it.

Hmmmm, not much subtlety in the worldview of the reporter cranking out that version of the story, huh?

A few journalistic questions: Who is the source on Chick-fil-A’s success being “unexpected?” At the closest Chick-fil-A to my office (and yes, I live in the Bible Belt), the drive-thru is a madhouse every day. Folks in orange vests direct traffic in the parking lot, and runners zip back and forth between the long line and the window swiping credit cards and delivering bags full of delectable chicken sandwiches.

Concerning “public relations drubbing,” again, who is the source (besides the bias of the writer and his editor)?

About the “negative” social media attention, any statistics available on how many folks tweeted and Facebooked positive posts about Chick-fil-A vs. negative messages? Or is this a simple case of a MSM bubble?

Later in the story, there’s this:

Chick-fil-A declined comment.

Last month, the chain seemed to soften its tone. “Our intent is not to support political or social agendas,” Steve Robinson, executive vice president for marketing for Chick-fil-A, said in a statement. Chick-fil-A’s culture, he said, “is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

That softened tone sounds familiar. It’s almost as if the company said basically the same thing more than a year and a half ago before this latest controversy started. From a January 2011 statement by Cathy:

In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay. We have no agenda against anyone. At the heart and soul of our company, we are a family business that serves and values all people regardless of their beliefs or opinions. We seek to treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, and believe in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

We also believe in the need for civility in dialogue with others who may have different beliefs. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.

Keep reading, and PR execs quoted by USA Today try to figure out how Chick-fil-A overcame such a dreadful “PR disaster.”

Yeah, I wonder.

Image of Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day via Shutterstock 

Remember Chick-fil-A? Still making news!

Even as we head into beautiful fall color changes, we’re still talking about Chick-fil-A apparently.

No news becomes news apparently, if you read this Associated Press report that spends most of the story rehashing what happened earlier this summer.

Chick-fil-A is once again in the public relations fryer.

The controversy flared up this week when a Chicago politician said the company was no longer giving to groups that oppose same-sex marriage, angering Christian conservatives who supported Chick-fil-A this summer when its president reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage. Civil rights groups hailed the turnabout, yet the company never confirmed it and instead released two public statements, neither of which made Chick-fil-A’s position any clearer.

The events suggest the Southern franchise may be trying to steer clear of hot-button social issues while it expands in other, less conservative regions of the country. In its statement Thursday, the Georgia-based company said its corporate giving had for many months been mischaracterized.

Or here’s the headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Chick-fil-A vows to stop donating to anti-gay groups” that tmatt went over yesterday.

Perhaps there’s a style question going on, but does Chick-fil-A consider the groups “anti-gay”? I highly doubt they would use that language. Also, “vow” is a pretty strong word. So let’s look at what CFA actually said:

A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A’s giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas.

The LAT story has a funny attempt by the reporter to gauge all of social media’s reactions:

On social media, reaction was split.

“Yes, Chick-Fil-A was wrong but they’ve changed their policy and I think they should be thanked for that,” wrote user DoubtcastFletch.

But Twitter user Glam_Star77 accused the company of trying “to play neutral.”

“I feel like I’ve been betrayed,” the user wrote. “No integrity or ethics!”

An editor should have deleted that whole section. Why would you use 10 second reactions from Twitter instead of talking to real people on the street? Why not go to a food court and find out whether people choose or don’t choose Chick-fil-A? The social media plug screams laziness.

Hey, here’s an idea: Call real sources on the other side of the issue. It’s like these journalists were thinking, “Oh dear God in heaven, don’t make me talk to a religious traditionalist of any kind!”

Meanwhile, Focus on the Family released a CitizenLink story correcting media reports saying CFA would be stopping its donations to groups like Focus.

Contrary to reports first made by the gay-activist group The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) on Tuesday and later picked up by mainstream media outlets, Chick-fil-A and its charitable-giving arm, the WinShape Foundation, did not agree to stop making donations to groups that support the biblical definition of marriage in exchange for being allowed to open a franchise in Chicago.

…Moreover, many news agencies reported that Chick-fil-A had specifically agreed not to give money to Focus on the Family or the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM said Wednesday it has never received money from the foundation. Focus on the Family has.

This time it looks like the media is fishing for stories, pouncing on ones that seem to obvious. Sometimes the story isn’t as juicy as it appears and could be left alone. Remember, the Internet often honors stupid stories, so it takes discipline to resist them.

LATimes on Chick-fil-A: Where’s the journalism?

A long, long, time ago — almost a decade, in fact — there was a Los Angeles Times editor who wrote a letter to his section editors in which he defended solid, old-fashioned American journalism. You know, the kind that strives to accurately quote informed voices on both sides of controversial issues, perhaps even in a way that promotes informed, balanced, constructive debate and civic life.

The editor’s name was John Carroll. His famous memo started like this:

I’m concerned about the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, “politically correct” newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.

The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring “so-called counseling of patients.” I don’t think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it “so-called,” a phrase that is loaded with derision.

It was clear that most mainstream scientists were, at that time, discounting the abortion-breast cancer link. The issue, for Carroll, was that his staff made no attempt to talk to mainstream scientists who did support this stance. Of course, there were scientists — then and now — who believe they have evidence for this stance.

Instead of talking to scientists about science, on the pro-life side of the debate, the Los Angeles Times team elected to go in other directions. Carroll wrote:

The story makes a strong case that the link between abortion and breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers, but I wondered as I read it whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who believes in it.

Such a person makes no appearance in the story’s lengthy passage about the scientific issue. We do quote one of the sponsors of the bill, noting that he “has a professional background in property management.” Seldom will you read a cheaper shot than this. Why, if this is germane, wouldn’t we point to legislators on the other side who are similarly bereft of scientific credentials?

It is not until the last three paragraphs of the story that we finally surface a professor of biology and endocrinology who believes the abortion/cancer connection is valid. But do we quote him as to why he believes this? No. We quote his political views. Apparently the scientific argument for the anti-abortion side is so absurd that we don’t need to waste our readers’ time with it.

But why does this matter? What’s the point? For Carroll, the ultimate journalistic goal was to produce coverage that accurately and fairly represented the views of stakeholders on both sides of the debate. His bottom line?

We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times.

I’m no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same.

I am well aware, obviously, that Carroll no longer edits the Times and that there have been many changes in that newsroom in the years since then.

Still, I would like GetReligion readers to think about the points that Carroll made while reading the following Los Angeles Times report about the decision by Chick-fil-A executives to go silent on issues linked to centuries of Christian teachings on marriage and family. As you read the story, search for representative, informed voices speaking for religious traditionalists — in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. — who would be troubled by this decision.

You do remember the case, right? Here’s the update:

Chick-fil-A will no longer donate money to anti-gay groups or discuss hot-button political issues after an executive’s controversial comments this summer landed the fast-food chain in the middle of the gay marriage debate.

Executives agreed in recent meetings to stop funding groups opposed to same-sex unions, including Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, according to Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.

Earlier this summer, Moreno became a key critic of Chick-fil-A after the Atlanta company’s president, Dan Cathy, said in an interview that his business was “guilty as charged” of supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

When you click the “comment” option, please avoid several non-journalistic issues. We are not here to discuss the newspaper’s use of the term “anti-gay” to describe the nondenominational groups that received money from this foundation. Also, it is clear that pro-gay rights groups had every right to protest the religious beliefs and activities of Chick-fil-A leaders. The corporation’s leaders had every right to respond to the resulting media tsunami in the way that they did.

No, the purpose of this post is to ask if the current Times team produced a journalistic product that attempted, in any way, to take seriously the views of stakeholders on both sides of this debate. Find the conservative voices in this piece and compare their offerings, in size and serious content, to those of the gay-rights supporters who are asked to discuss this decision.

In light of the Carroll memo, what kind of news story is this? How seriously does this take the serious religious and legal arguments on both sides?

Good luck with that.

For Chick-fil-A boss, guilt by insinuation

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Who is Dan Cathy?

What makes him tick?

For the hometown newspaper of Chick-fil-A, those seems like reasonable questions to ask about the chicken sandwich chain’s president and chief operating officer.

Unfortunately, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s quasi-profile of the man whose comments on marriage have made so many recent headlines falls short, particularly when it comes to providing an authentic portrait of Cathy’s critics.

On the positive side, the story published Sunday does a nice job of portraying why those close to the Chick-fil-A boss — and even some who have brushed paths with him only briefly — admire Cathy and regard him as a leader who stays true to his Christian values.

The top of the 1,400-word feature:

The business was doing OK, but at a price. Jack Hayes was tired of operating his massage-therapy clinic seven days a week, juggling employees’ and clients’ schedules, missing his wife.

In late 2008, Hayes asked for help. He composed an email to another businessman who’d managed to make ends meet with a six-day work week. Hayes’ request was simple: Should he close on Sunday, too?

Two days later, the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, business owner got a response. In an email, Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, cited Proverbs 3:5-6:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Up high, the story boils down the recent controversy in an accurate, evenhanded way:

Those who know Cathy say he’s a businessman who believes the real business of life comes from following the Bible, even if it angers others.

Cathy’s beliefs have recently put him to the test. On a national radio show, he said advocates of same-sex marriage are “inviting God’s judgment.” In another interview, he affirmed his belief that marriage should be between a man and woman.

Cathy’s statements set off a debate that’s played out in talk shows, on opinion pages, in blogs and in Chick-fil-A restaurants everywhere. On Aug. 1, thousands of people crowded Chick-fil-As across the country in a show of support for Cathy. Two days later, supporters of same-sex marriage held “kiss-ins” at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide.

The Journal-Constitution quotes Christian leaders and ordinary people who provide enlightening anecdotes and insight into the character and approach of Cathy. The firsthand accounts make for great reading.

So, what’s the problem?

One is that the paper can’t resist — in the form of “background” material in the article — referencing vague charges by vague opponents of Chick-fil-A. To wit:

The controversy echoed another sparked a year ago when critics attacked donations from WinShape Foundation Inc., Chick-fil-A’s charity, to organizations that critics say promote hatred of gays.

Some business experts questioned Cathy’s judgment, saying it was pointless for a high-profile executive to embroil his entire business and well-developed brand in the middle of national dispute.

Who are these anonymous critics and business experts? What organizations are accused of promoting hatred of gays? Do the actual facts bear out these criticisms? Readers who see only this article have no way of judging these vague claims.

Another problem: Rather than quote a critic who actually has firsthand (negative) experience with Cathy, the paper turns to someone who has started a petition drive in light of the recent headlines:

Such personal accounts of Cathy don’t resonate with everyone.

Marci Alt would like to share her story with Cathy. She’s married to a woman, has two children and recently started an online petition inviting his family to dine with hers. “I’ll even make matzo ball soup for him, like a good Jewish girl.”

Alt said she supports Cathy’s right to speak his mind, but is opposed to the chain’s WinShape Foundation funding groups that she termed anti-gay. “It angers me that he’s so close-minded that he all he can see is himself,” the Decatur resident said. “Aren’t we all God’s children?”

Again, there is an anonymous reference to vague “anti-gay” groups. That’s followed by an accusation that Cathy is “so closed-minded that all he can see is himself.” Where are the details to back up that claim?

Near the end of the story, there’s a strange anecdote involving a critic who has dealt with Cathy personally:

Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, recalled Cathy spending the night at the shelter and pledging financial help. He cutoff his support after giving the task force more than $200,000, but officials expected as much as $500,000 more.

“We were disappointed,” said Beaty, who’s filed a lawsuit contending business leaders and others conspired to close the shelter by cutting public funding and private donations. “We were expecting him to make good on his pledge.”

She believes Cathy folded under pressure. In a 2010 deposition, Cathy said he did talk with business leaders about his support.

“Billionaires are people too,” said Beaty. “They want to be appreciated by people who are important.”

Huh? Did Cathy pledge to give $700,000, then only give $200,000? That seems to be the claim, but the paper stops short of saying that. The only thing that’s certain is that he gave $200,000 to a charity that’s upset it did not receive more.

Then there’s the vague reference to Cathy folding under pressure and billionaires wanting to be appreciated, too. Again, I must ask, “Huh?” If that scenario is important to the story, surely theJournal-Constitution can do a better job of explaining the complaints and Cathy’s response to them.

By all means, read the whole story and tell me if I’m being overly critical about an otherwise balanced report.

The above video is cited in the story critiqued.

An appetite lost over Chick-fil-A and food ethics

The entire Chick-fil-A mess was one of the most depressing stories of the summer.

Really, Syria’s a mess, people are recovering from mass shootings, some of us are trying to appreciate international beauty in the Olympics, but instead the nation (based on my unscientific observations of Google searches, Facebook, and Twitter trends) appears pretty wrapped up about a fast food restaurants views on marriage. It was mind boggling, everything from how it started to how it was perceived to how mayors reacted to how fans reacted to how everyone and their mom just had to have an opinion. I just want to be able to eat without it saying something. Is that really possible anymore? It’s honestly really unclear. Would you like fries and a side of politicized rage with that?

Anyway, I committed to reading nothing more about CFA unless it was actually revealing something new and fresh about the human condition and how we think about food, religious freedom, mayoral power, the free market, why people feel so strongly about a fast food restaurant, or something. Mostly, though, I just covered my ears, shielded my eyes, and tried to shut my mouth.

Then my eyes almost popped out of my head after reading a brief post from Jim Romenesko about the New York Times‘s Mark Bittman, a food journalist whom I read and generally admire. I think it does reveal something about unfiltered blogs, how we treat people after death and a paper’s duty to ensure ethics across the board. For background purposes, earlier this week, he posted this (which was later edited):

Sysco is the latest food giant—it’s the largest food distributor in the country—to come out against gestation crate confinement of pigs. The National Pork Producers Council’s communications director was quoted in the National Journal saying: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.” Really.

Speaking of pigs, the VP of PR for Chick-fil-A dropped dead of a heart attack the week after the chain’s latest homophobia/anti-gay marriage scandal. Here’s an obit, and here’s more about him. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A had record-breaking profits after its President, Dan Cathy, drew a line in the sand over same-sex marriage.

I’ve learned a lot from people like Bittman about food ethics and journalism, why what we eat and where it comes from matters. Based on the reporting Bittman and others have done, I’m a wanna-be local food, fair-trade, organic vegetarian but I’m not quite there. In fact, I ate a fast food something yesterday (ducking). Authors like Bittman seem to take ethics very seriously, and I appreciate how they bring a set of careful thinking into the food we consume.

But since when is it okay to call someone who has died a pig?

Okay, maybe Bittman wrote it with a glass of wine in hand, a brief lapse in judgement. Here’s his brief update:

In a recent blog post, I used an inappropriate phrase to refer to the late VP of PR for Chick-fil-A. My choice of words did not rise to either my own standards or to The Times’s, and the phrase has been removed from the post. I regret this lapse.

Not to be all picky, but I don’t see an apology anywhere except that he seems afraid for his job and platform. But, ultimately, since when is it okay for the New York Times to leave that blog post published for four days?

Frank Lockwood, from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette commented:

At most reputable organizations, this would be cause for dismissal. Certainly, if Mr. Bittman had directed this kind of venom at, say, the ACLU or the Kennedy family or the spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, he’d already be in the unemployment line.

As I’ve said before, social media and blogs help us see real people behind the media, identifying biases in reporter’s unfiltered, unedited postings. On one hand, it’s interesting and helpful. On another hand, it’s a little scary. There is a reason why editors are so essential to the media process. At their best, editors filter content through a journalistic, ethical lens. They also make sure you don’t say pubic instead of public, but really, editors are the gatekeepers the internet doesn’t seem to value when it comes to traffic goals.

It’s unclear what the standards are at the Times for blog posts, since they vary from publication to publication. For instance, does Bittman publish straight to the web and then his posts are overseen by someone later who can flag something that isn’t per the Times standards? Something like that would never go into print, which is filtered through many, many layers. The problem is, people on the internet can’t necessarily tell the difference between edited and non edited when it’s under the Times banner.

Let’s look at the post again. I’m not shocked that Bittman, in his view, would believe that a man who endorsed and publicized such views as marriage as between a man and a woman would be bad, since he would apparently go directly against Bittman’s beliefs about the way the world should work. I’m also not shocked that Bittman would portray him as homophobic, since if you hold certain beliefs about marriage that don’t include gay marriage, that’s how you might get painted. Is it fair? Is it accurate? I don’t think so. Are people who oppose gay marriage really homophobic or against gay people at large? If so, that would represent a pretty wide range of people, from Muslims to Mormons to Catholics to, well, a lot of religious and even nonreligious people. We have to be precise and fair in our language.

Questions about word choice are so important to religion coverage because it’s so important to characterize even people we disagree with in a way that is journalistic and ethical. It’s not rocket science. If you’re going to talk about food ethics, you have to start with a basic ethic of how we should treat one another and how it applies to journalism, even on your little blog.

The beauty of the internet is that you can have longer headlines, you can have longer stories and phrases that flesh out someone who opposes gay marriage instead of just calling them “a pig” or “homophobic.” There is no reason why a blog post, with the infinite space, could not be more careful and thoughtful. And there is no reason why the Times could not have hit delete earlier.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Did Billy Graham really back Chick-fil-A?

You may have heard, already, that the Rev. Billy Graham joined millions of other Americans by eating a symbolic Chick-fil-A sandwich on Wednesday.

Here’s the question that appears to be bothering some commentators in the mainstream press, if one reads between the lines: Did the Rev. Franklin Graham feed this Chick-fil-A meal to him, involuntarily?

There are those who are convinced that the patriarch of world evangelicalism has not, in fact, been speaking out in favor of the biblical definition of marriage in recent months. Instead, they believe that his often blunt son has been writing these press releases and putting them out in his name — taking advantage of his father’s advanced Parkinson’s Disease.

In short, some people are are saying that the 93-year-old Billy would not make POLITICAL statements of this kind, as opposed to DOCTRINAL statements on these matters. Billy, in other words, would choose to be silent.

Unless I have missed the hard-news coverage (I am in the North Carolina Mountains, not far from Graham’s home, and have little access to wifi), most of this discussion is taking place in commentaries. This is regrettable, in my opinion. If you have facts on a story this important, they need to be stated and attributed.

Here is neutral, modest example of the discussion, care of a pre-sandwich “She The People” feature by Mary C. Curtis of Charlotte, N.C., published at The Washington Post:

After stepping away from speaking out when politics meets faith, letting his son Franklin take over that often contentious role, the 93-year-old Billy Graham is back in the spotlight, by signing on to a call from former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee for an Aug. 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. His vocal support for the “biblical definition of marriage” and opposition to same-sex marriage have put him there.

Graham is vowing to let his appetite do the talking to support Chick-fil-A’s founder Truett Cathy and his son and company president Dan Cathy, who, after publicly confirming beliefs that echo Graham’s, has been denounced and praised.

And then later:

This follows Graham’s outspokenness on a primary ballot measure that in May added an amendment to the North Carolina’s constitution declaring marriage between one man and one woman the only valid domestic legal union. He strongly supported the measure in full-page newspaper ads across the state.

It’s a shift for the elder Graham, who in recent years preferred to act the quiet statesman, especially since the 2007 death of his wife, Ruth. …

Franklin Graham’s statement on the Chick-fil-A controversy is notably more heated than his father’s: “The restaurant chain has been, and continues to be, under a concerted attack from same-sex marriage advocates,” he said. “In the words of the bold, biblical prophet Daniel who refused to bow to the evil culture of his day: ‘The people who know their God will display strength and take action.’”

But while the tone may differ, father and son have found an issue that unites them in public and private. On same-sex marriage, Billy Graham is once again culture warrior, and he’s leaving no doubt where he stands.

Then there is the polar opposite, care of The Huffington Post. In the references I have seen to the author, Steve Knight is being identified (and validly so) in terms of his past connections to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, where he served as webmaster for a time.

The problem is that Knight is currently working with one of the culture’s most consistently liberal Christian bodies, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In other words, Knight certainly appears to have changed doctrinal sides.

Does this invalidate his commentary? Of course not. It simply means that his point of view needs to be fleshed out a bit. Why? Because what he is saying is strong stuff.

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. …

When you see an ad such as the pro-Amendment One ad (designed and placed by BGEA representatives), or read a BGEA fundraising letter, or a personal statement issued on official BGEA letterhead, you might question how much Billy Graham has to do with any of these things anymore. I worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for six years (2000-2006), and I know something of the inner machinations of this multimillion-dollar ministry.

My concern is that here’s how things like this continue to work: Franklin Graham (or Franklin and his sister Anne Graham Lotz) have an agenda (in all three of these cases, “traditional marriage”), they get a BGEA copywriter to draft the text, then a BGEA graphic designer does the layout (in the case of the ad), Franklin approves the copy and/or design, then Franklin drives out to Little Piney Cove (Billy’s cabin home outside of Asheville, N.C.) and holds the piece of paper in front of Billy and asks, “Daddy, can we publish this?” And Billy nods (or whatever he’s capable of doing at this point in his life), and Franklin goes back and publishes this stuff with his good father’s name all over it.

Knight contrasts his take on this Graham family dynamic with that of scholar William Martin of Rice University, the author of one of the best books ever written on the evangelist, “A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story.” I would like to note that Martin, a sociologist who knows the evangelical world inside out, also happens to be — the last time I checked — a mainline Protestant.

At the time of the Amendment One statement, the Associated Press reported:

William Martin … couldn’t recall another effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association like the one the ministry plans in support of Amendment One. The elderly evangelist preached often on the need for sexual purity, but rarely spoke about same-sex marriage, Martin said.

“I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand,” said Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University. “In the past, I have heard him say with respect to homosexuality, there are greater sins. Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.”

So am I saying that Martin is right and Knight is wrong? Am I saying that the commentary by Curtis is valid and Knight’s is not? No and no (although Martin’s standing as an authority on Graham speaks for itself). What I am saying is that journalists need to approach this hot-button topic as news and, when doing so, clearly attribute their information and do everything that they can to describe, for readers, the backgrounds of the sources.

In other words, try to produce on-the-record information, not statements of personal opinion. Try, just try, to report some news instead of settling for mere commentary.


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