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Ford sales hit by gay ad protest

Pastors are preaching against Ford in their Sunday sermons

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Excerpts from Ford -- and a critic

"The Ford Motor Company Fund is a charity. It has a community agenda, not a political one -- and it supports causes and people from all walks of life. In all areas, the fund, like the company, puts a priority on the support and development of organizations that promote diversity and inclusion," Cisco Codina, Ford's group vice president for North America marketing, sales and service, said in an April 24 letter to dealers.
"It appears that Ford is more willing to face bankruptcy than ending their support of homosexual groups and causes," Donald Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association, wrote in an April 18 letter to the group's members.

A conservative Christian group has seized upon Ford Motor Co.'s sponsorship of an upcoming gay pride event in Ferndale to intensify its call for a nationwide boycott of the automaker, and dealers in some parts of the country say the campaign is starting to hurt sales.

Pastors are preaching against Ford in their Sunday sermons. And some congregants have called and written dealers, saying they won't buy Ford cars until the company stops supporting organizations working to legalize gay marriage.

Ford responded last week with a letter to dealers, explaining that it supports a variety of charities and community events but doesn't have a political agenda.

But the automaker can't seem to extricate itself from the middle of a raging cultural war between Christian conservatives and gay rights organizations.

For a year now, Ford has been the target of an on-and-off boycott by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss., Christian group that claims more than 3 million supporters nationwide.

The AFA launched the boycott in response to what it considered obscene ads in Europe by Ford brands in gay-themed publications. The group started a Web site -- -- that catalogs Ford's advertising efforts and support of gay organizations.

Boycott gathers momentum

But it was not until April 18 that the boycott began to gain steam. The AFA sent an "action alert" to hundreds of thousands of supporters claiming Ford was sponsoring a "homosexual marriage" ceremony at the Motor City Pride celebration in Ferndale in June.

"This is a social issue that Ford really has no business entering into," said AFA spokesman Randy Sharp. "We're telling them, 'Make cars and sell cars.' "

The Ford boycott is featured on the home page of the AFA's Web site. In a letter, AFA founder and Chairman Donald Wildmon urged customers to pledge not to buy Fords and to call their local dealers. Wildmon also asks supporters to give money to support the cause.

Ford disputes claim

Ford says the AFA's message is blatantly misleading. The Ford Motor Co. Fund is a sponsor of the gay pride event, but not of the gay marriage ceremony. "The contribution is designated for children's education and a play area -- nothing more," said Ford spokesman Jim Cain.

The Triangle Foundation, which is organizing Motor City Pride, confirmed that Ford contributed $10,000 to the program, but also backed the automaker's claim.

"Ford is not sponsoring in any way at all the commitment ceremony," said Jeff Montgomery, the group's executive director. "It's a different event, at a different location on a different day."

Despite the distinction, the AFA's campaign against Ford is taking hold in places like Holdrege, Neb. The town of 6,000 boasts two dozen churches, two bars and one modest family-owned Ford dealership, Janssen & Sons Ford.

Dan Janssen has received several letters and e-mail messages from local residents concerned about Ford's support of gay and lesbian organizations. Some have come from longtime customers who vowed not to buy another Ford until the company changes it policy.

"It's something that's just kind of snowballing," Janssen said, adding it is starting to hurt business.

Clergy jumps into fray

In Carterville, Ill., the Rev. Todd Greiner is calling on his 850 congregants to join the boycott. "It's the only leverage we have," he said. "When we get serious about it, the dealers get serious about it."

The company continues to support gay causes, he said.

"The point is the blatant, shove-it-in-your-face approach that Ford is taking to promote the homosexual agenda."

Greiner has written to every Ford dealer in southern Illinois, explaining the boycott and his reasons for supporting it. He said some dealers have agreed to address his concerns with Ford.

Some dealers fire back

Others had a different reaction. The office manager of Kenny Shreve Ford Mercury in McLeansboro, Ill., fired off a letter in response to Greiner.

"Shame on you! To spearhead a smear campaign against one company; spending church dollars, resources and efforts that can be better focused in the community, is down right wrong!" wrote Sabrina Allen.

"While you have obviously spent needless time trying to come up with someone to persecute all in the name of God, did you also research the other automakers?"

Ford is not alone among automakers in supporting gay and lesbian organizations. DaimlerChrysler AG also is listed as a sponsor of the gay pride event in Ferndale. But the AFA's Sharp said his group has to pick its battles.

"We don't want to overextend ourselves," he said.

"Once you take on one company, you about have to make an example of them."

The AFA first took on Ford last May, after learning of the automaker's advertising in gay publications.

A month later, the AFA was contacted by a group of Ford dealers that asked it to suspend its boycott while they worked with the automaker to address the issue.

The AFA agreed to suspend the boycott for six months. That led to a series of meetings between Ford executives and the AFA. The last was in November. Both sides differ over what was agreed to in the meeting, but Ford said its brands, with the exception of Volvo, would not be advertising in gay and lesbian publications. At that point, the AFA called off its boycott.

But the cease-fire lasted only a few months. Having appeased the AFA, Ford quickly drew fire from gay rights organizations and risked alienating gay and lesbian consumers. In March, Ford reversed itself again, agreeing to place some corporate advertising in gay and lesbian publications.

This prompted the AFA to renew its boycott. The campaign seemed to be having little effect on Ford sales until the AFA seized upon Ford's involvement in the Motor City Pride event.

Ford reaches out to dealers

With the boycott becoming a growing concern, Cisco Codina, Ford's top U.S. sales executive, wrote dealers April 24 in an effort to put Ford's contributions to gay causes in context.

"From time to time, customers and others have had questions about charitable contributions we make and what guides our decisions. We know that just as it's impossible to support every cause, it's equally impossible to please every constituency," Codina wrote. "That said, the Ford Motor Company Fund is a charity. It has a community agenda, not a political one -- and it supports causes and people from all walks of life."

Some dealers, like Janssen, wish Ford would support less controversial causes. "They should sit on the sidelines and let the two sides fight it out," he said.
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