Exclusive: Focus on the Family Responds to TOMS's Founder Apology
Focus on the Family still hopes to broadcast an interview with TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie after the entrepreneur distanced himself from the organization yesterday. In an apology to some upset that he would partner over an "anti-gay, anti-choice" group, he said, "TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all."
Focus President Jim Daly recorded an interview with Mycoskie in front of about 1,500 people on June 30 in Orange County, California at a "Style Your Sole" event.
Daly said he hopes to still be able to broadcast the interview. "By contract, TOMS has the right to block broadcast of the program," Daly said in a statement sent to CT. "We hope they won't do that, but we have yet to hear directly from Blake or anyone at TOMS about this situation." As CT reported in its July cover story, Focus was applying in May to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa. (Update: A spokesman told CT by mutual agreement, Focus set aside the idea of becoming a distributor before the California event because it did not have the capacity to meet the volume requirements for TOMS distributors.)
After groups that disagree with the ministry over same-sex marriage and abortion criticized Mycoskie for appearing at the event, he apologized, saying, "Had I known the full extent of Focus on the Family's beliefs, I would not have accepted the invitation to speak at their event." Mycoskie was not specific in what policies he disagrees with Focus on.
Focus's daily broadcast reaches about 2 million listeners in the U.S, according to the organization. "We interviewed Blake because we thought his story would inspire other Christians to act on their faith like he has and to help others in need," Daly said.
Mycoskie attends Los Angeles-based Mosaic Church, led by Erwin McManus, according to a recent report. He has partnered with other Christian organizations like Willow Creek and will speak at Catalyst this October.
TOMS held a "Style Your Sole" event at Texas-based Abilene Christian University (ACU) last year. ACU was featured in a New York Timesfeature in April headlined "Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity." The university had declined to allow formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance.
In 2009, Mycoskie visited the White House to meet with President Obama's administration and other business leaders on U.S. economic policy. The for-profit company donates shoes to children for each lightweight pair sold, reaching its millionth pair donated milestone last year.
Focus has kept its stance on same-sex marriage while shifting its emphasizing to more of an advice and counseling ministry on family, parenting, and marriage. For instance, its recent broadcasts include "Keeping the Romance Sizzling" and "Nurturing God's Gifts in Your Child."
"Yes, we believe marriage is a sacred, lifetime union between one man and one woman. Yes, we advocate in the public policy arena for laws that uphold that truth," Daly said in the statement. "But the same Bible that tells us God's design and intent for marriage tells us all people are created in His image and are worthy of dignity and respect."
The organization's tone has shifted since its founder James Dobson left in 2010 and set up his own radio program Family Talk with his son, Ryan. Dobson continues to warn his listeners of the political climate.
"At stake are policies that should concern millions of Americans, including federal funding for abortions, amnesty for illegal aliens, open homosexuality in the military, further assaults on religious liberty, and universal health care legislation amounting to rationing and the denial of medical services for older Americans," Dobson wrote in a newsletter last year. "The possibility of 'death panels' looms before us."
Daly's response in this case illustrates that shift in tone.
"While we may disagree with those who spearheaded this effort to get TOMS to distance themselves from us, our desire is not so much to defeat them at the ballot box as it is to bring them closer to the heart of Jesus Christ – the only hope any of us have for the forgiveness and overcoming of our sins," Daly said.
This statement contrasts some of the reactions to President Obama's election. Just before the 2008 election, its policy arm published an article suggesting terrorists would strike four American cities, a nuclear bomb would hit Israel, and gay marriage would be legal in every state.
Daly said Mycoskie's apology was an "unfortunate statement about the culture we live in, when an organization like ours is deemed unfit" over beliefs about marriage. "It's also a chilling statement about the future of the culture we live in," he said.
Other Christian organizations have run into recent roadblocks over their positions on homosexuality and/or same-sex marriage. Apple pulled apps for Exodus International and the Manhattan Declaration after petitions from Change.org, and Equality Matters targeted Chick-Fil-A for being connected to "anti-gay" ministries.
Image: TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie (far left) appears at Focus on the Family's "Style Your Sole" event with Esther Fleece (fourth to the right), head of millennial relations at Focus. Used with permission from Focus.