NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–American Airlines no longer is one of the recommended airlines for travel to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Atlanta, two SBC Executive Committee officials announced Feb. 9.
At issue, the officials said, is American Airlines’ broken pledge to discontinue corporate support of homosexual activists’ organizations.
An announcement that American Airlines and Delta Airlines were offering discounted fares as the recommended airlines for the SBC annual meeting in June appeared in Baptist Press Jan. 29.
Bill Merrell, Executive Committee vice president for convention relations, said American Airlines last spring “gave explicit assurances to Southern Baptists and others of the evangelical Christian community that it would not lend support to movements destructive of the family and society.”
“Contrary to those assurances, American Airlines gave $50,000 to the media awards of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation [GLAAD], which incidentally was nominating the play ‘Corpus Christi’ for an honor. That play depicts Christ as engaging in serial homosexuality with the disciples. That is nothing less than blasphemous.
“American Airlines gave another $25,000 to the Human Rights Campaign [HRC], whose agenda includes legalizing same-sex marriage, removing legal obstacles to the adoption of children by homosexuals and granting special minority rights protection to homosexuals in housing and employment,” Merrell said.
Jack Wilkerson, Executive Committee vice president for business and finance, stated, “As physical arrangements planners for our annual convention, we try to assist those attending the convention to receive the most competitive pricing advantages available. For that reason, we agreed for American Airlines to offer discounted fares to those attending the convention in Atlanta.
“Previous to the agreement, American Airlines had assured responsible evangelical Christian representatives that it would not act to advance the agenda of anti-family organizations. Apparently, American’s declarations didn’t mean much; and they have not lived up to them.
“We would be unfair to our constituents if we remained silent about this breach of faith and wanted Southern Baptists to know we are not recommending they use American Airlines for their convention travel plans.”
Said Merrell, “Integrity requires consistency. We have no desire to indirectly benefit a movement we should not directly support. If American Airlines believes deeply in the rightness of such support, we are willing to be candid in declaring its wrongness, and in demonstrating that belief by our actions.”
Controversy between American Airlines and evangelical leaders erupted in 1997 when six evangelical leaders, including Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, appealed to American Airlines in a full-page advertisement/open letter in The Washington Times and Dallas-Fort Worth-area newspapers to abandon policies that “promote homosexual behavior.”
The open letter to Robert Crandall, then-chairman of American Airlines, expressed opposition to what it said were policies “that give preferential treatment to homosexuals” and “marketing programs that advance the anti-family agenda of militant homosexuals and sponsor events where dangerous and even illegal activities occur.”
The letter, published June 4, 1997, in The Times, listed several examples, including:
— officially sponsoring homosexual “circuit” parties that, according to The Advocate, a homosexual magazine, are AIDS fund-raisers in various cities that include open, illegal drug use and illicit sex.
— contributing to homosexual organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
— targeting the homosexual market, including providing discounts for “domestic partners” and for travel connected with homosexual celebrations such as Cherry Jubilee in Washington. (Although not cited in the ad, American was providing discounted air travel to Gay and Lesbian Day June 7 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and was listed as the airline of choice in an Out magazine ad for a party at Disney-MGM Studios that night. Out is a homosexual magazine.)
— instituting “sexual orientation” as a category, like race and gender, deserving protection in the workplace.
In addition to Land, the open letter was signed by James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Beverly LaHaye, chairman of Concerned Women for America; Don Wildmon, president of American Family Association; James Kennedy, president of Coral Ridge Ministries; and Gary Bauer, then-president of Family Research Council.
At the time, American Airlines issued a brief written statement in response:
“We are very sorry that these groups disagree with our company’s policy of treating all customers and employees with kindness and respect.”
In subsequent negotiations, however, an accord was reached.
But, in the February 1999 issue of the American Family Association Journal came the headline, “American Airlines Breaks Word.”
“American Airlines as a company looked us right in the eyes and promised to remain neutral on the issue of the gay agenda,” said Allen Wildmon, AFA’s director of public relations. In light of American Airlines’ recent support of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign, however, Wildmon said, “It has become quite clear now that American had no intention of working with us.”
While a group like the HRC boasts it has 200,000 members, the pro-family groups who have expressed concern to American Airlines represent 25 to 30 million people — and reach even more than that in their many broadcasting and media contacts, noted Bob Knight, Family Research Council director of cultural studies, in the AFA Journal.
“If they want to just market to homosexuals, they’re welcome to that market. It’s a free country, they can choose to favor that market over others if they want,” Knight said, adding, “But we’re free to fly another airline.”
Tom Strode contributed to this story.