Franklin Graham moving accounts to BB&T, which sponsored Miami Beach gay pride fundraiser

Evangelist Franklin Graham speaks in Erie, Pa., in this 2014 photo. Graham has told a conservative radio program that he’s chosen BB&T bank to get the accounts he’s moving from Wells Fargo to protest that bank’s ad featuring a lesbian couple.
Evangelist Franklin Graham speaks in Erie, Pa., in this 2014 photo. Graham has told a conservative radio program that he’s chosen BB&T bank to get the accounts he’s moving from Wells Fargo to protest that bank’s ad featuring a lesbian couple. AP

Franklin Graham has told a conservative radio show that he’s chosen BB&T bank to get the accounts he’s moving from Wells Fargo to protest that bank’s ad featuring a lesbian couple.

Graham’s decision to go with the Winston-Salem lender comes even though BB&T sponsored a gay pride festival fundraising reception this year in Miami Beach.

BB&T spokeswoman Cynthia Williams said in a statement to the Observer that the bank “has a strong history” of sponsoring community events to help the lender reach prospects and clients. “This does not imply endorsement of these organizations’ positions on any or all political or social issues,” she said.

“Our mission is to help our clients achieve economic success and financial security regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. … BB&T embraces diversity and inclusion for our associates and in all aspects of our business. However, we do not take formal positions on non-banking or social issues.”

Graham disclosed his chosen bank during an interview on “Washington Watch,” a radio program broadcast by the Family Research Council – a conservative group that applauded Graham’s decision to leave Wells Fargo.

“At the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, we’re closing our accounts at Wells Fargo and we’re moving it to another bank here in North Carolina, BB&T, that is a good bank,” Graham told the show on Monday. “We’ve done business with them at Samaritan’s Purse for many years. And just a good solid bank that’s very good at banking.”

Graham also said the switch will save the BGEA money – $100,000 a year – because of BB&T’s lower service charges.

Asked by the show’s host, Craig James, if he had spoken with Wells Fargo before deciding to close the accounts, Graham said BGEA sent letters to Wells Fargo’s board chairman in San Francisco and its vice president in North Carolina who is responsible for the accounts.

Graham said his message to Wells Fargo in the letters was: “Because of their decision, we’re making a decision … to take our money elsewhere.”

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.

Graham and BGEA officials had no comment Tuesday on the switch and on BB&T’s involvement in the gay event in Miami.

The fundraiser was held at a BB&T branch, where a male couple who had been together 55 years were married.

The fundraiser was designed to honor the Legacy Couples program established during the first Miami Beach Gay Pride in 2009. Legacy Couples are featured guests of the Miami Beach Gay Pride parade who have had committed relationships of 10 years or more.

“For more than 140 years, BB&T has supported the goals of our clients, friends and neighbors by sharing financial knowledge and guidance,” Arthur Costa, BB&T’s regional multicultural markets officer, said then in a news release announcing the fundraiser.

“We also support the individuals and organizations that broaden our perspectives and strengthen the diverse fabric of our communities. That’s why BB&T is proud to be a part of this day of pride and celebration of the 2015 Legacy Couples.”

Miami Gay Pride spokesman Richard Murry said Tuesday that his organization is proud of its long-standing partnership with BB&T.

“Their support of our event (enhanced) the positive and uplifting experience we were able to provide over 130,000 spectators this year,” Murry said. “The surprise wedding that took place at their South Beach branch … was one of the most heartwarming moments during our Pride season this year.”

BB&T ranks highly on the Human Rights Campaign’s buyers guide – the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization’s ranking of businesses by workplace equality.

A score of 80 to 100 is given to businesses the rank the highest for workplace equality. BB&T’s score is 80, below Wells Fargo’s score of 100.

On Monday, Graham told the Observer that he was not targeting companies that hired gays and lesbians and served LGBT customers. His objection, he said, was to Wells Fargo and other companies using shareholder money to pay for advertising featuring same-sex couples.

In a Facebook post last weekend, Graham urged Christians to stop doing business with Wells Fargo and with Tiffany, the jewelry company, because it advertised wedding rings for same-sex couples.

In the Monday interview with “Washington Watch,” Graham added some other gay-friendly companies to the list, telling listeners that “we don’t have to do business with Starbucks, we don’t have to do business with Nike.”

Also in the radio interview, Graham disputed the charge that he bears ill will toward gays and lesbians. “Of course we love them,” Graham said. “We should love them enough to warn them that, if they don’t repent and turn from their sin and receive Christ … they will spend eternity in hell.”

On Tuesday, Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, put a 2-minute audio clip of Graham’s radio interview on its web site. The full version is at the Family Research Council site.

While BB&T has become an LGBT-friendly company, its executives have championed conservative thinking when it comes to other issues, such as free markets.

Under its past CEO, John Allison, BB&T became known for its efforts to introduce college students to the writings of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy promoted self-interest and limited government.

Allison stepped down as CEO in 2008. While he was still with BB&T, the champion of free-market capitalism would give senior managers a copy of Rand’s free-market manifesto, “Atlas Shrugged.”

Also under Allison, BB&T’s charitable arm awarded millions of dollars to various colleges, including in the Charlotte area, to support the study of capitalism from a moral perspective. In some cases, the gift came with the stipulation that “Atlas Shrugged” be required course reading. Rand, who was born into a Russian Jewish family, later became an atheist. She died in 1982. The Miami Herald contributed.

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