James Werrell

Do boycotts like Graham’s accomplish anything?

Franklin Graham speaks at the annual send-off for the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child program in 2009.
Franklin Graham speaks at the annual send-off for the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child program in 2009. THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

You might say Franklin Graham is just a dim shadow of his father. And you would be right.

But Franklin, son of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, is the heir of his dad’s evangelistic empire and, as CEO of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte and Samaritan’s Purse in Boone, N.C., he holds the strings to accounts that potentially total hundreds of millions of dollars. So, when he decides to move that money from one financial institution to another, the collective ears of the banking industry perk up.

Franklin Graham seems more inclined than his father to get down in the trenches in the nation’s culture wars and less reticent about making outlandish statements to get the attention of the media. His call last week for Christians to boycott corporations that feature same-sex couples in their commercials might be another such stunt but, as noted, he can back it up with serious money.

Graham pledged to do his part by moving all the bank accounts for his two ministries out of Wells Fargo because of a TV ad the bank ran featuring a lesbian couple. In the ad, the couple had learned sign language to communicate with their adopted daughter.

“Hello, beautiful,” the women tell the little girl in sign language. “We’re going to be your new mommies.”

Many might find the ad touching. Franklin Graham calls it “promoting a godless lifestyle.”

So, he will move his ministries’ mountains of money to BB&T in Winston-Salem. One problem: BB&T sponsored a fundraising reception for a gay pride festival this year in Miami Beach.

Apparently finding a bank that is willing to condemn the gay lifestyle, in general, and same-sex marriage, in particular, is going to be harder than Graham thinks. This is business, and no bank wants to alienate such an affluent customer base.

But the younger Graham soldiers on: “This is one way we as Christians can speak out – we have the power of choice,” he wrote recently on Facebook. “Let’s just stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards. Maybe if enough of us do this, it will get their attention.”

Some might mock this approach. But at least some people who are diametrically opposed to Graham’s point of view also think it works.

Many will recall that in 2012, the corporation in the spotlight wasn’t a bank that promoted same-sex couples but rather a restaurant chain that demonized them. Chick-fil-A found itself at the center of a tempest after its CEO Dan T. Cathy made a number of public statements opposing same-sex marriage.

It already was well known at the time that the billionaire family behind the Chick-fil-A chain was ardently Christian. Its stores close on Sunday so that employees can attend church.

But Cathy’s statements brought new attention to the chain. And the controversy expanded when it was revealed that the family had donated millions to organizations that opposed LGBT rights.

Soon, students at a number of colleges and universities launched a campaign to boycott Chick-fil-A and remove its restaurants from their campuses. Some corporate sponsors ended their relationships with the company.

But a movement to counter the boycott was launched, with customers showing their support nationwide by purchasing chicken sandwiches. Public figures such as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee came to Chick-fil-A’s defense.

A USA Today poll conducted at the time found that 53 percent said they would boycott the chain; 43 percent said they would continue to patronize it; and 5 percent were undecided. (The undecided might well have included some who supported LGBT rights but really, really liked the sandwiches.)

The net result? Chick-fil-A sales soared, increasing 12 percent that year.

Nonetheless, Cathy decided the best strategy was to leave the politicking to others and concentrate on selling food. The family also quit donating to anti-LGBT organizations.

So, both the boycott of Wells Fargo proposed by Graham and the attempted boycott of Chick-fil-A by supporters of LGBT rights raise the question of whether such efforts are a legitimate form of protest. Couldn’t they actually do unintended harm to innocent employees and shareholders of those corporations?

Then again, if a company is going to adopt a particular political point of view, doesn’t that make it a legitimate target for those with opposing views?

Another question altogether is whether such boycotts work. In the case of Chick-fil-A, the result of the boycott was booming sales.

Franklin Graham might want to ponder that. Some of his millions soon could be helping to promote gay pride in Miami.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.