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Franklin Graham pulls Wells Fargo accounts over ad with gay couple

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 6/9/2015 Tim Funk
Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, addresses the crowd at the Festival of Hope, an evangelistic rally held at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Allison Shelley (HAITI - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT RELIGION) © Allison Shelley/Reuters Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, addresses the crowd at the Festival of Hope, an evangelistic rally held at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Allison Shelley (HAITI - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT RELIGION)

Franklin Graham is calling on Christians to boycott corporations that feature same-sex relationships in their commercials. And he says he'll do his part by moving all the bank accounts for his two ministries out of Wells Fargo because of its ad featuring a lesbian couple.

"This is one way we as Christians can speak out - we have the power of choice," Graham wrote on Facebook over the weekend. "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."

During an interview Monday, Graham - the CEO of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte and Samaritan's Purse in Boone - said he was not targeting companies that hire or serve gay and lesbian customers. "There's lots of businesses out there that do business with gay people," he said. "That's fine."

He wants Christians to stop giving their money to businesses, like Wells Fargo and Tiffany jewelers, "that use shareholders' advertising dollars to promote homosexuality. ... It's promoting a Godless lifestyle. ... A bank should be promoting the best interest rates they're going to give me and what they can do for me as a business. But they should not be trying to get into a moral debate and take sides."

Graham specifically objected to a Wells Fargo TV and online ad that features a lesbian couple learning sign language for their adopted daughter. "Hello, beautiful," the couple in the ad tell the little girl in sign language. "We're going to be your new mommies."

Reached Monday, a spokesperson for Wells Fargo said the bank has proudly supported the LGBT community for a long time - a commitment echoed by the ad.

"At Wells Fargo, serving every customer is core to our vision and values," said Christina Kolbjornsen. "Diversity and inclusion are foundational to who we are as a company. Our advertising content reflects our company's values and represents the diversity of the communities we serve."

Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, has its largest employee base in the Charlotte area.

Graham said in Monday's interview with the Observer that "we've decided" which bank will get the accounts the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse are moving from Wells Fargo. Based on their own reports, the accounts could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Asked whether he would identify the chosen bank, Graham said: "Not today because I haven't talked to that bank and I'm not sure they want to be part of your story."

Bank of America, Charlotte's other big bank, has not yet made commercials featuring same-sex couples, but it has run same-sex ads in programs for some events as well as in LGBT publications. Would that be enough for Graham to rule out Bank of America for the accounts leaving Wells Fargo?

"I'm not going to answer that question," Graham said.

Bank of America officials could not be reached for comment.

For now, Graham said, the closing of the Wells Fargo accounts is "in the works. To close these accounts, it may take 30 days."

The BGEA, started by Graham's famous evangelist father, spreads the Gospel via worldwide crusades and Charlotte's Billy Graham Library. In 2014, it received contributions and other income totaling $107.7 million, according to the BGEA's most recent ministry report.

Samaritan's Purse, a Christian charity that helps people cope with natural disasters, had contributions and grants in 2013 - the most recent report available - that totaled $460 million.

Banks would usually line up for those kinds of deposits. But Ken Thomas, a Miami-based independent bank consultant and economist, said the bank that receives Graham's bank accounts will have to answer some tough questions.

"The bank that takes this account will be in a higher visibility position because you're going to ask them, 'What do you think of that ad?' ...And they will face some potential reputation risk."

Banks, Thomas said, "don't like controversy and they don't like reputation risk."

Whichever bank receives these accounts will have to combat the perception that they stand counter to the ideals of Wells Fargo.

"It's one of the best-run banks in America," Thomas said of Wells Fargo. "To take your money out of one of the best-run banks in America, and for another bank to accept an account that came out of Wells Fargo, some people might ask questions like, 'Does your bank not agree with Wells Fargo?'"

Thomas said the unanswered question will be: "How many banks said 'no' to touching that account?"

Corporate America has increasingly come to the defense of the LGBT community. Governors and legislatures in Republican-leaning states such as Indiana and Arkansas retreated this year from legislation that would have permitted people to decline services to gays and lesbians for religious reasons. The reason: corporations in those states opposed the measures as discriminatory against the LGBT community.

In North Carolina, a similar bill went nowhere after it was opposed by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders in Raleigh.

Leaders of Charlotte's big banks played a visible role going back to the late 1990s on issues involving sexual orientation.

Ed Crutchfield's First Union, now part of Wells Fargo, and Hugh McColl's NationsBank, now Bank of America, amended their policies to state that no employee will be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. At that time, many other large companies in the area didn't use such specific language.

Also, after announcing in 1998 its merger with San Francisco's BankAmerica, which had domestic partner benefits, NationsBank agreed to offer the benefits to its employees.

Graham said in the Observer interview that he plans to compile and publicize a list of companies that feature same-sex couples in their advertising. "I want people to know," he said.

In his Facebook post, Graham singled out another company - Tiffany & Co., which sells jewelry - for advertising wedding rings for gay couples.

"There are plenty of other jewelry stores," Graham wrote.

Two others that have featured same-sex couples in their ads: Cheerios and Allstate.

It's too early to determine whether Graham's call for a boycott will have much impact.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 93,000 people had approved of Graham's Facebook message by clicking "Like." More than 41,000 people had shared his message with their own Facebook friends.

But Graham's call to "fight the moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business" also brought negative reactions on Facebook.

"In my opinion, moral decay is using the pulpit to spread bigotry and hate," wrote one Facebook commenter, who then alluded to Jesus's teachings in the New Testament. "Perhaps you should take some time and chip away at that block of wood sticking out of your own eye."

On Twitter, where Graham also announced that "we're moving all the @BGEA bank accounts from @WellsFargo to another bank," he got some supportive tweets.

"Yes, I have moved mine to another bank," wrote @garystreet1. "Not a lot but it will add up. It's time to move in unison!"

The ad also moved some viewers.

"@WellsFargo A commercial for a bank has never made me cry before. That was beautiful," wrote @CaitlinKimmet.

In recent weeks, Graham has been using Facebook - another gay-friendly company - to urge mass action against same-sex marriage. He called, for example, for Christians to pray for the U.S. Supreme Court justices - whose nine members are Jewish and Catholic - to make what Graham considers the right decision in what could become a landmark case involving the rights of gays and lesbians to marry their partners.

Graham said he uses Facebook because "it's free. ... I want to be a good steward of our monies."

Staff writers Sarah Chaney and Deon Roberts contributed.

Funk: 704-358-5703


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