Last week, TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie was a headliner at an event hosted by Focus On The Family. According to Christianity Today, Focus On The Family is "working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa." Will canvas-footed progressives balk?
Since the departure of James Dobson, the group has modified their tone on polarizing topics, but not their positions on them: They still are anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-evolution, you name it.
"The media is having a tough time figuring us out," an official at the group's political unit told Christianity Today in the same July piece, adding that when "we are active in the defense of traditional marriage, which is seen by the media as hateful and homophobic, so they scratch their heads and say, 'Wait, I thought they were changing their tone.'"
There's nothing inherently political about distributing shoes to African children, of course. In theory, it's a good thing for Focus to spend less time trying to police sex and more actually helping people, but they've not really cut back on the former. And Focus On The Family isn't the only group TOMS could have turned to for collaboration, nor is it the only Christian group involved in charitable missions. It carries significant cultural and political baggage, for good reason. TOMS is at major risk of alienating a constituency that has enthusiastically adopted their product, including yours truly.
Notably, Mycoskie has, so far as we can tell, ignored early stirrings of that alienation. In a recent blog post, he responded in every single comment, complete with :) emoticon, until this one:
I was very suprised to hear that Blake has chosen to associate himself with a group called Focus on the Family.
FotF is a right-wing fundamentalist hate group which routinely lobbies for anti-gay legistlation, against women's rights, and against unions. I'm very surprised and disappointed that TOMS would allow themselves to associated with this kind of bigotry and extremism.
Please, Blake and TOMS - do some research on Focus on the Family and find out who they are and what they stand for. You are being used to legitimize this fringe group.
Two others respond with dismay, but no word from Mycoskie. He did, however respond to another subsequent commenter with, "Aubrey – So glad that you like the new glasses. What's your favorite style?!?!"
We've contacted TOMS and asked them to explain their thinking on this, and will let you know what we hear.
Update: TOMS responds.