Players: TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, which describes itself as a "Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive"; Jezebel and its commenters. Last week, Mycoskie headlined an event hosted by the Christian group. That week Christianity Today reported that Focus on the Family was "working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa."
Opening Serve: After getting word of the unlikely pairing, Jezebel's Irin Carmon questioned TOMS's partnership with a group that's anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-evolution--basically anti-everything a lot of TOMS wearers believe in. Alienated commenters on one of Mcyoskie's blog posts noted their disappointment, but the founder didn't respond, even though he engaged with other non-Focus on the Family related comments--including one about his eyewear.
Jezebel reached out to TOMS, asking Mycoskie to explain his decision. Mycoskie responded, distancing itself from the group. In a statement posted on both Jezebel and his blog, he denied the partnership with the organization and expressed his regrets for speaking at their event, claiming he didn't know the full extent of Focus on the Family's anti-progressive beliefs:
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. It was an oversight on my part and the company's part and one we regret. In the last 18 months we have presented at over 70 different engagements and we do our best to make sure we choose our engagements wisely, on this one we chose poorly.
Jezebel and commenters on the TOMS founder's blog both seem skeptical of this excuse: Mycoskie couldn't have done a quick Google search?
Return Volley: After attacks on their political views and Mycoskie's statement, Focus on the Family's president, Jim Daly responded, with a philosophical retort on their site, questioning what TOMS pullout says about our "culture:"
This is an unfortunate statement about the culture we live in, when an organization like ours is deemed unfit to help children in need simply because we hold to biblical beliefs about marriage and family. It's also a chilling statement about the future of the culture we live in. We have to wonder: What will someone decide we're unfit to do next?... 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.
Focus on the Family wonders why their beliefs should get in the way of their humanitarian efforts. They recognize that they fall on different sides of the political spectrum, but they're not trying to push their political views anyway: they only want to bring people "closer to the heart of Jesus Christ."
What They Say the Fight's About: Those against TOMS affiliation with the group are disappointed in the company for aligning itself with am extreme right-wing group. Mycoskie claims he didn't know the extent of Focus on the Family's fundamentalist beliefs. Offended by Mycoskie's reaction, Focus on the Family doesn't think they're differing political views should get in the way of their common goal: to shoe the world's shoeless.
What the Fight's Really About: If both TOMS and Focus on the Family both want to help those in need, does it matter how far right Focus on the Family falls on social issues? TOMS customers seem to think it does--even if it means a child in Africa will go another day barefoot. Focus on the Family sees that as a fundamental problem with our culture: Just because they believe marriage is for men and women only, that shouldn't mean they're deemed unfit to help the world.
Who's Winning Now: TOMS likely alienated some of their customers and Mycoskie got caught. Either he didn't do his research or he made a bad call by working with an organization many of his fans would find unsavory. Focus on the Family, on the other hand, only wanted to provide fashionable canvas shoes for those in need. And even if they hate gays and science, shouldn't they be able to do some good, too? They seem to be coming out ahead so far, if only because they, unlike TOMS, haven't made any obvious PR blunders.