Franklin Graham defends Chick-fil-A from conservative Christian crusade

'They haven’t changed who they are or what they believe'

Reports that Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain famous for closing every Sunday, has caved to gay-rights advocates, are greatly exaggerated, the Rev. Franklin Graham says. You might even call them "fake news."

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While the company is facing a firestorm of criticism from conservative Christians over halting financial support for three groups that oppose gay marriage, Chick-fil-A “has not changed who they are or what they believe,” Graham wrote in a Facebook post after calling CEO Dan Cathy to discuss the matter.

The company's actions ended funding from the Chick-fil-A Foundation that amounted to $2.4 million for the Missouri-based Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 2017 and 2018 as well as $165,000 for the Salvation Army. Nearly 100,000 critics have since backed an online petition, begun by the conservative American Family Association, seeking to clarify that the company still holds “to biblical teachings regarding human sexuality, marriage and family."

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For its part, the Atlanta-based company has characterized the moves, which may curb protests from gay-rights supporters and broaden its customer base, as an attempt to focus its charitable donations on groups tackling homelessness, hunger and education. Those goals are irreproachable, said Graham, whose father, the Rev. Billy Graham gained fame from broadcasts of his evangelical rallies and offered spiritual advice to every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

CHICK-FIL-A INFURIATES CONSERVATIVE CUSTOMERS BY CAVING TO LGBTQ PROTESTS

Chick-fil-A’s conservative Christian supporters have complained bitterly in the past week that the chain was abandoning them after they stood by the restaurant in 2012 when CEO Dan Cathy said in several interviews that he didn’t support gay marriage. In more recent interviews, Cathy — who is the son of Chick-fil-A’s founder — has reiterated his personal beliefs but says he treats all customers with respect.

DID CHICK-FIL-A FORGET IT'S CLOSED ON SUNDAY?

"The gay movement wouldn’t ever be happy with Chick-fil-A unless they were open on Sunday, gave all of their charitable donations to LGBTQ organizations, and flew the rainbow flag over their stores," Graham said Thursday.

[Reuters/Rashid Umar Abbasi]

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages, the unions are still opposed by some religious groups and Graham himself has criticized Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg's characterization of himself as a gay Christian.

Gay-rights supporters' "hatred for Chick-fil-A is rooted in founder Truett Cathy’s strong stand for biblical 'traditional' values and his desire to honor God," Graham said Thursday.

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After his message was posted, Facebook users fired back.

"What is this World coming to, Why can't we just Love one another and live and let live. Any Company, Business or private citizen should be able to support any group or organization they want without everybody getting into their business, it's their money by the way," one user wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.