A week after it declared victory over Walt Disney Co., a leading Christian activist group has fired another missile in its long war against companies it thinks are destroying traditional American values.
The target this time is Ford Motor Co., which Christians should boycott as “the company which has done the most to affirm and promote the homosexual lifestyle,” the American Family Association says on a Web site it put up Monday, boycottford.com.
The AFA, the nonprofit group run by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, criticized Ford for donating money to gay-rights organizations (Ford offers to give up to $1,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for every Jaguar and Land Rover it sells to a member of GLAAD, the company said this week). The group also complained that had Ford sponsored gay pride celebrations, advertised in gay-oriented publications and was “redefining the definition of the family to include homosexual marriage,” Randy Sharp, the organization’s director of special projects, said Tuesday.
If anything, Ford says, the AFA is not giving it enough credit.
Marcey Evans, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an interview Wednesday that the AFA was misusing “diversity” by treating it as a code word for “homosexuality.” But “to Ford, diversity is a much broader definition than simply homosexuality,” she said. “Diversity is very important to Ford, and it goes beyond homosexuality.”
Thousands respond to call for action
Evans said it was “too early yet to know for sure” what impact the boycott might have. “We do know that some Ford dealers are getting calls, and we know our customer relations center is getting calls, but I don’t have a good volume,” she said.
The quantifiable impact of a boycott based on Christian principles is all but impossible to assess, but for the AFA, which has gone after scores of giant corporations for almost 30 years, they are an article of faith. By Tuesday afternoon, more than 54,000 people had signed the AFA’s online pledge to boycott Ford, Sharp said.
The organization usually starts with a letter-writing campaign, urging its members to contact executives, local franchisers and advertisers to express unhappiness with a company’s behavior. In what it considers intractable circumstances, the AFA will escalate to a formal boycott.
The campaigns are the AFA’s most visible activity by far. Through its main Web site and two affiliated sites, One Million Dads and One Million Moms, it can have a score of boycotts and letter-writing drives in play at one time.
The fight against Ford is just one of many it has going: As of Tuesday, it was calling for action against the Carl’s Jr. hamburger chain (to protest its racy new ad featuring Paris Hilton), Kraft Foods (for its sponsorship of the 2006 Gay Games), Mary Kay Cosmetics and Old Navy stores (for advertising on ABC’s prime-time soap opera “Desperate Housewives”) and NutriSystem Inc., the weight-loss company (for airing its own salacious TV ad).
Most recently, the AFA ended a nine-year boycott of the Walt Disney Co., which it launched because of what it felt was the company’s “attitude, arrogance and embrace of the homosexual lifestyle.”
The AFA said it was moving on because “we have made our point.” Disney said it never changed any of its policies, but Sharp pointed to an executive shuffle and the dissolution of Disney’s deal with the founders of the Miramax studio, which seemed to specialize in films designed to get Wildmon’s goat, notably “Kids,” “Priest” and “Dogma.”
‘Gay agenda,’ racy ads push hot buttons
The reasons for each boycott vary in the details, but the companies’ alleged zeal to push the “homosexual agenda” is a common theme, side by side with their sponsorships of television programs the AFA finds morally unacceptable.
There is plenty to go after, and the AFA has aimed its guns at so many companies that even it has trouble keeping track, Sparks acknowledged in an interview. There are so many letter-writing campaigns, in fact, that sometimes the AFA finds itself working against itself.
For example, the organization in mid-May blitzed Wal-Mart for approving a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affinity group for its employees, shortly after it lavishly praised Wal-Mart for matching donations to the Salvation Army over Christmas. In December, the AFA was praising Wal-Mart as a place where “Sam Walton’s legacy still remains in the minds and hearts of his company”; by April, it was urging Christians to consider taking their business elsewhere.
Other Christian organizations have tried similar tactics; most recently, a minister in suburban Seattle claimed credit for a decision by Microsoft Corp. to withdraw its support for a bill that would have extended Washington state’s anti-discrimination laws to gays and lesbians, a claim Microsoft rejected. (MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
But there is no other organization quite like the AFA, which in the past has taken on Crest toothpaste, Volkswagen, Tide detergent, Clorox bleach, Pampers, MTV, Abercrombie & Fitch, K-Mart, Burger King, American Airlines and S.C. Johnson & Son, makers of Windex, Ziploc, Pledge, Glade and Edge.
The current campaign against NutriSystem reveals how much the AFA relishes the battle. The company’s sin is to have aired a television ad that the AFA found “offensive and tasteless,” and to whet its followers’ appetite for battle, the AFA spares no detail in describing just how offensive and tasteless the ad is:
“A woman in black panties, bra, and high heels, is pushing a shopping cart through a supermarket aisle,” the AFA says in an Action Alert on its Web site. “A man stocking items seems to be lusting after her, as she pauses in front of him (shown from side angle). They zoom in on her stomach as the stocker glances up and down at her torso with a lustful smile. The panties are very low cut, [and] as she walks away it is in slow motion.”