Wells Fargo's gay couple ad sparks evangelist protest

Evangelist pulls Wells Fargo accounts over LGBT ad
Evangelist pulls Wells Fargo accounts over LGBT ad

Christian Evangelist Franklin Graham has sparked an angry Facebook debate about gay rights when he announced he is pulling all of his organization's millions out of Wells Fargo accounts in response to the bank's recent ad campaign featuring a lesbian couple.

"Have you ever asked yourself--how can we fight the tide of moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business, the media, and the gay & lesbian community?" Graham wrote in a Facebook post on June 5. "At the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, we are moving our accounts from Wells Fargo to another bank."

That new bank will be BB&T, the association confirmed. But social media users were quick to point out the North Carolina-based bank is a sponsor for Miami Beach Gay Pride, an annual festival celebrating the LGBT community.

In response to Graham's decision, BB&T's chief corporate communications officer, Cythina Williams, issued a statement saying the bank "embraces diversity and inclusion for our associates and in all aspects of our business" -- but the company declined to take a formal position on gay rights, saying its sponsorship of the gay pride event does not imply an endorsement.

Graham's association is moving forward either way. A spokesperson confirmed the organization has begun the 30-day process of moving its accounts, which could total more than $100 million. According to the most recent financial disclosure forms available for the nonprofit, BGEA was worth $128 million in 2013.

Graham is the 62-year-old son of famed televangelist Billy Graham, who became internationally known in the 1950s for his large religious rallies and radio/TV sermons. The younger Graham now heads the North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- which continues to broadcast sermons, coordinate community service and offers a $99 online school of Evangelism.

In addition to closing his accounts with Wells Fargo, Graham wrote that he plans to boycott Tiffany & Co. (TIF) in response to an ad the jeweler released in January that shows two men getting engaged.

franklin graham
Franklin Graham is the president and CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Graham's Facebook (FB, Tech30) post received more 95,000 likes and 42,600 shares, but not all responses were positive. Its 11,000-plus comments contain a slew of angered users that disagree with Graham's stance.

"It is so hypocritical of him and so many others to pick just the one rule from a plethora of rules that allows them to discriminate against a group of people that they consider less than," one user, Betty Miliano, wrote in a recent comment. "They know that they have lost this battle and are on the wrong side of history."

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Wells Fargo (CBEAX) stood behind its ad campaign and issued a statement saying its support of the LGBT community "reflects our company's values."

"We were not naive to think that there would be no negative responses," Wells Fargo spokesperson Valerie Williams said. She added that the vast majority of reactions to the ad were not in line with Graham's, and overall the response was "overwhelmingly positive."

Tiffany & Co. also responded to Graham's post. Spokesperson Carson Glover said, "We want everyone who shops with us to feel welcome and appreciated." He also pointed to a February press release from the company saying the nontraditional couples depicted in the ad "represent the spectrum of people who visit Tiffany every day."

Graham is also the president and CEO of the $200 million humanitarian aid nonprofit Samaritan's Purse, though a spokesperson for the organization said its finances are handled by a different bank.

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