Andrew Dys

Franklin Graham’s anti-gay moves anger York County civil rights activists

Mike Goforth, left, and Jim Strickland say their wedding vows.
Mike Goforth, left, and Jim Strickland say their wedding vows. Herald file

Jim Strickland is a proud Christian. He is a proud Wells Fargo bank customer.

His business, From This Moment, handles wedding planning and floral displays. If you are in the wedding and flower business, the month of June means you work until you drop.

He is also half of the first gay couple to be legally married in York County. He got hitched in November to longtime partner Mike Goforth. Strickland and Goforth were first in line.

So Strickland has a trifecta of concerns about the decision by evangelist Franklin Graham to pull the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s riches from Wells Fargo because of advertisements featuring a lesbian couple. Wells Fargo refused to cave in to Graham’s boycott threats against not just the bank but any business Graham says promotes sin.

Strickland said he’s a Christian, a father, grandfather and a businessman – but he’s no sinner for being married to a man he is in love with.

“I saw the ad, and I admired Wells Fargo for doing it,” Strickland said. “It makes me angry that (Graham) is using Christianity and money to throw around hate.

“That doesn’t seem very Christian to me.”

Graham has now moved his ministry’s money to BB&T, apparently before learning that bank once sponsored a gay pride event in Florida.

Gay marriage became legal in South Carolina in November. But for some, acceptance of gay marriage or of gay people in general will never happen. Graham’s decision comes after two states earlier this year tried to pass laws that would make it legal to not serve gays based on religious reasons. Fortunately, a loud outcry of opposition ended both attempts, as politicians are terrified of voters who have long memories.

There have even been attempts to allow judges and magistrates – who are supposed to uphold all laws – to not marry gay couples based on religious objections, even if the law says gay people have that right.

But Graham is not a politician or a judge. He is the CEO of the association that bears the name of his father Billy Graham, the most famous evangelist in the world.

Without question, his ministry’s philanthropic work in disaster areas and with the poor have helped uncountable people – likely in the millions.

In the 1950s, Billy Graham refused to allow his crusades to be segregated. Billy Graham stood up and said it was wrong to discriminate against black people. His integrated crusades met widespread opposition from those who refused to believe that blacks and whites were equal.

America changed. Billy Graham helped it change.

Billy Graham, now in his 90s and in poor health, has never supported gay marriage. By calling homosexuality a sin, Franklin Graham is not saying or doing anything this week that he has not been saying or doing for years.

And there are many people in America, of all colors and faiths, who still have concerns over gay marriage based on their religious beliefs. Many who want to be president oppose gay marriage or only in recent years changed their positions. Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was not in favor of gay marriage until recently.

The equality of all men and women of all colors and races is now – except for a few who have racial animus in their blood – widely understood to be right, thanks to men such as Billy Graham who refused to discriminate based on race.

In Rock Hill’s civil rights battles of the late 1950s and 1960s, boycotts were used as a tool against discrimination.

Brother David Boone of Rock Hill’s Catholic Oratory was one of only a few white people to support the rights of blacks in Rock Hill through civil rights crusades. In the late 1950s, Boone helped lead a boycott of Rock Hill’s segregated bus system, which forced blacks to ride in the back. That boycott forced the bus company to close.

Boone also helped the Friendship Nine and hundreds of other black protesters during the early 1960s sit-in movement at the city’s lunch counters, bus stations and more. He pushed for non-discrimination in schools, was instrumental in getting lifted a ban on blacks in city parks and recreation programs. He fought for non-discrimination in running water and sewer lines to black neighborhoods.

Brother David Boone has spent his entire life in Christian service and in fighting discrimination, and he disagrees with Franklin Graham.

Graham is seeking and getting publicity for his stance and calls for a boycott, not for inclusion – but exclusion, Boone said.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” he said. “It was wrong back then to discriminate, and it is wrong today. He is getting what he wants out of this – attention.”

Earlier this year, Rock Hill’s Friendship Nine protesters, who chose a month in jail to fight injustice, were honored by South Carolina for taking a stand for “equal rights for all.”

David Williamson Jr., one of the black Friendship Nine protesters jailed for a month in 1961 for protesting segregation, said there is no room for discrimination against any group for any reason.

John Gaines, another of the Friendship Nine who spent his life as a lawyer, said that for many, gay marriage is a religious issue that people have concerns about. Graham should focus more on bringing more people to the faith, Gaines said.

“You can lead no one to Christ,” he said, “by bashing them.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •