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July 9, 2011

TOMS Shoes Founder Distances Himself from Focus on the Family

Christianity Today recently published a cover story on Focus on the Family's shift away from politics back towards an emphasis on the family. Backlash, surprisingly, has come from a brief mention towards the end of the piece about its budding relationship with TOMS shoes, a company that donates shoes to children for every pair sold. After receiving criticism for partnering with Focus, founder Blake Mycoskie posted on his blog that "TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all."


Mycoskie partnered with Focus on the Family for a "Style Your Sole" event with about 500 people on June 30. Esther Fleece, who heads the organization's millennial outreach and gave CT permission to post the picture to the right, noted Focus's former dress code when she posted the picture on Facebook: "From panty hose and ties to staff in TOMS." Focus President Jim Daly is second to the left.

The partnership between Focus and TOMS prompted sites like Jezebel to question whether TOMS should partner with an "anti-gay, anti-choice group?" Ms. Magazine started a petition on Change.org that has received about 500 signatures, asking TOMS to drop its relationship with Focus.

Here's what Mycoskie posted on his blog:

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.

Furthermore, contrary to what has been reported, Focus on the Family is not a TOMS giving partner.

So there is no misunderstanding created by this mistake, let me clearly state that both TOMS, and I as the founder, are passionate believers in equal human and civil rights for all. That belief is a core value of the company and of which we are most proud.

To clarify, the CT report said that Focus is "working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa," not that it was already a distributor. Here's the full context:

As this issue of Christianity Today goes to press, the ministry is scheduled to highlight the work of Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, a company that donates shoes to an impoverished child for every pair sold.

"A year ago, they were like, 'Who's that?'," Fleece laughs. Now the company is working to become a TOMS international distributor in Africa. "We're making slow strides here."

CT has contacted Focus for its response. (Update: Focus responds here)

Mycoskie has been attending Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, led by Erwin McManus, according to a piece earlier this year from John Brown University's newspaper. In his TOMS role, he has partnered with other Christian organizations in the past. He recently did an interview with Catalyst's Brad Lomenick and will be a speaker at the October conference. He has also been a speaker for Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit. In his MySpace bio, his favorite books include the Bible, John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

CT included a section on Mycoskie in a feature on "The Foot-Washers in Ethiopia" in the May issue.

The next chapter of the story introduces Blake Mycoskie, a young entrepreneur from Texas who started a number of successful small companies and, with his sister, competed on the reality television show The Amazing Race.

In 2006, Mycoskie vacationed in Argentina. While admiring a local style of footwear he thought could be adapted to American tastes, he noticed poor children running around barefoot. As a Christian businessman, his compassion kicked in, and a business model emerged.

TOMS Shoes was launched with the promise that for every pair of shoes sold, another pair will be given to an impoverished child. The idea was an immediate hit.

Nowhere is the model more appealing than in Ethiopia, where a pair of shoes can change a life. After visiting Dembi Dollo, Mycoskie called Thomas. "I thought, if we all worked collaboratively, we could make a big difference," says Thomas. "There's so much yet to be done. How many times in this era do you have a chance to be a pioneer?"

TOMS targets its shoe distribution to the children of podo patients, who are five times more likely than the general population to get podo. Through Mossy Foot alone, TOMS distributes 10,000 pairs of shoes a month.

Some podo activists express some nervousness about TOMS. They give TOMS high marks for its willingness to flex and learn, but can't forget that TOMS is a for-profit company. TOMS brings resources that outstrip what small foundations, churches, and individual contributors can do. Some, like Thomas, are nervous that the charitable impulse might give way to the profit motive down the road.


Not a huge Focus fan, for many reasons, but I am thoroughly tired of cowardly philanthropist and their pathological fear of being branded intolerant. Come on Tons, why are you apologizing for doing something with Focus on the Family? It would appear that being praises by the "right" sort of people is a higher priority than helping the poor.

If Mykoscie wants the TOMS brand to represent anti-choice and anti-gay bigotry, he should pal around with Focus on the Family. But if he wants his brand to represent positive, progressive values, he won't get within 2 miles of FotF. I hope he's smart enough to see that FotF is attempting to use him to rehabilitate the terrible image they have.

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY is well known as a hate group. I accept TOMS apology, but let it be a lesson to any others who partner with such a group.

Everytime I hear s group like FotF being described as a hate group, part of me wants to laugh, and part of me is incredulous. The KKK is a hate group. To out FotF in that same category is bizarre to me. I don't follow them closely. James Dobson was a familiar name in evangelical circles. I think I found the material too issue focused, not enough gospel focused. And maybe they were a bit aggressive in that? Like I said, I don't follow closely enough to say for sure. But hate group? Chick fil a recently opened in my adopted home town of Chicago. Before it opened, it got a lot of protests for being a hate organization. At this rate, every church I've ever been to will eventually be labelled a hate organization. Did hate get redefined sometime when I wasn't paying attention?

Anyway, I have trouble believing Mycoskie didn't do the research on FotF. He probably did, but didn't know it was a "hate group" until he got all the backlash. Because, you know, that's not gonna show up on their website or anything...

This makes me wonder... How as Christians do we respond to the world's accusations in a way that advances the gospel? I'm gonna chew on that one for a while, just for my own sake.

It's a shame that people trying to come together to do good in the world would receive such a hate-filled response. This is the danger society runs when we brand people and groups anti this and bigot that. People are too blinded by true hate and name calling to see good being done. I applaud Mr. Mycoskie for reaching across the political spectrum to people on the left and on the right to further common goals. It is sad that many people are not as accepting as he.

Well-said. It seems some would like to redefine hatred as standing up for one's values.
Nazis were a hate group; KKK was a hate group. Placing Focus on the Family among such organizations is laughable at best and extremely dangerous at worst. At what point does the hatred of those opposed to the work of Focus on the Family define them as a hate group?

I cannot agree more with Sarah P. Bailey and Javier above! I would also like to add that it bothers me that some Podo activists are "nervous about Tom's being a for-profit company." Can't they just be lauded for doing something rather than nothing to help? It is the profit that allows them to do that.

I just had to repeat Bethany:
At what point does the hatred of those opposed to the work of Focus on the Family define them as a hate group?

Opposing homosexual practice and gay marriage does not constitute hate people. It constitutes a difference of opinion. I don't think the people at FotF hate gays or women who have had abortions.
I think the abortion mills are much more likely to be a hate group.

Gay activists are successfully blackmailing US society. Anybody (individuals or enterprises) who expresses disgreement with their lifestyle is considered a hate group or a member of a hate group. They complaint about their rights but where are my rights to think whatever I want to think and to say whatever I want to say? Do we have to be tolerant with blackmailers?

Perhaps the most appropriate response to people labeling Focus on the Family a hate group is for Focus on the Family to sue said individuals for defamation of character.

People who make such statements are not only defaming the characters of those the accuse of being hate groups, but are also attempting to violate the first amendment rights of Christians to freely exercise their religion.

These people want to do away with the thousands of years of religious history that declares that homosexuality, adultery, abortion, and many other deviate human act are a sin against God.

Ultimately, Christ will return and overthrow the wicked, and we will no longer need to deal with their hatred.

How many people will now go without shoes because of this?

Scott A Tovey:
Firstly Jews don't eat pork but are fine with beef and lamb.
Secondly, advocating for the preservation of traditional marriage is not hate. In fact it is an act of love. The Good Book says "they shall call good evil, and evil good." Christian teaching does not teach to hate gays, but it teaches that it is unredeemed behavior and as such not behavior that reflects the freedom from sin of a life in the Spirit.

Disappointing, but not entirely surprising given the vicious attacks that the totalitarian pro-GLBT activist movement now regularly perpetrates upon those who dare to hold to biblically orthodox views on biological sex, sexuality, marriage and family. TOMS has chosen to bow to the altar of political correctness and fears men more than God. I just pray that Focus holds to biblical truth and does not also start to cave. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mark 5:10)

Among refraining from pork, Orthodox Jews dont mix meat with dairy so Scott is correct in his analogy, albeit a strange one.

It's obvious that mycoskie regrets more the backlash he's received after this than ever partnering with focus in the first place.

So disappointed in Toms... FotF has helped so many people with their resources... Including me. They stand for the truth! We need that, not only in America but around the world. There is NO hate here only truth!

The incredibly disproportiate amount of political power GLBT activists have is absolutely mind-boggling. I'm convinced that, on a per capita basis, they do more political/economic bullying than anybody. The media, being totally on board with their agenda, doesn't report this. They have unethically tried to impugn Chick Fil-A and now they are doing the same to TOMS, except that TOMS has chosen to cave before finding out the facts...give the squeaky wheel the grease, even if it has no reason to squeak other than getting attention.

It's sad that TOMS, rather than defend the free speech right of Focus On the Family, decides to bow to the over-the-top pressure from what amounts to a paper tiger.

The comments I've seen from the rabid, Nazi-esce marriage redefinition crowd are more hateful than anything I've ever read from Focus on the Family. These folks have no shame.

Goodbye TOMS. Personally I think the shoes are butt ugly but if you feel like you're doing a good deed by supporting this hypocrytical company (Focus is a hate group and we hate them, won't associate with them until they change their evil ways) then by all means, carry on.

Why not just donate money to the cause of your choice and cut out the middle man? You don't have to buy TOMS shoes to help ANYONE.

Seriously, why did TOMS have to make this political? They've ruined a good idea.

As a boy watching western movies I always took the side of the good guys, and in those days the bad guys always lost. Today, a small group of "opinion shapers" decide who is right or who is wrong and have taken it upon themselves to castigate all whom they consider to be wrong.

Just imagine that in a so-called free society one cannot call homosexuality wrong or immoral, or even bad without these culture bullies wanting to lynch you or run you out of town. The day is fast approaching in the USA when to call homosexuality sinful will be to risk a fine, imprisonment or losing one's livelihood.

Under communism freedom of religion meant that if you were a religious person you were free to believe, and if you were a communist you were free to practice what you believed. The same seem to be true of these culture terrorists. They want people of faith to keep their beliefs to themselves and leave homosexuals free to change laws and ultimately shape society to their pleasing.

All those who oppose them are classified as fear-mongering, hate-filled, right-wing, conservative neanderthals. Like all school-yard bullies what they need is for someone to stand up to them. That is why they despise groups like FOF and that is why we need more faith based organisations (FBO)like FOF.

It is time the good guys start winning again.

Why is it that those who like to preach tolerance to others are so intolerant of any view other than their own?

How are they a hate group? Because they dont see eye to eye on your opinion? This is absurd

Because of their stand, many needy children will have to do without shoes. As this word gets out, many will stop buying Toms because of this, preventing them from giving more shoes. how sad! simply because of the opinion of a few. Pray for these people.

Shoe less children is Africa are the big losers here as Tom's caves in to the intimidation of the big bad (homosexual) wolf, huffing and bluffing...There is no common ground with them, you are either for them or against them, and they have no equal when it comes to spreading hatred and X-rated vitriol.

Letter to Toms

Your intolerance of Christians, and bowing (pardon the pun) to a bunch of narcissist sodomites will certainly deprive many children(your company says it cares for)
of Your shoes.
* “We partner with humanitarian and health organizations around the world. They can help us give shoes year after year, providing shoes to the same children as they grow.
* unless they disagree with sodomites*
Patrick Fitzmichael has put it well:
“If only I loved poor children as much as I hate Christians...”

“Thanks to all of you who signed the petition. TOMS shoes really heard us loud and clear! As I’ve said before, we have corporate America in our pocket. We say ‘jump’, and they say ‘how high?’ Just remember–eternal vigilance is the price of guilt-free sodomy!”
Think about it, you are bowing to a group of people who’s lifestyle leads to disease and early death, not only for their narcissist self’s (who choose this life-style) but to the innocent who are adversely affected.
Millions of children have been infected with HIV due to the homosexuals you are bowing to. Christian organizations’ help those children while your sodomites selfishly increase suffering and are a drain financially to medical research, while also increasing insurance costs.
You should look at these and re-think your position:

All anti-Christian, pro-perversion, pro-murder groups like the ones in this article are hate groups and should be referred to as such. In fact, all left-wing groups are hate groups that exist for no purpose but to crush dissent from their totalitarian agenda and molest the hearts and minds of any children who escape the abortionists' ongoing infanticidal Holocaust. The "tolerant" have earned their damnation in full for working in favor of the very evils they publicly denounce, such as bullying and oppression of the poor. "Tolerance" should be considered just another name for Evil.

@ Javier:

At this rate, every church I've ever been to will eventually be labelled a hate organization.

They already are, Javier.

Did hate get redefined sometime when I wasn't paying attention?

Yep. To the left, hate now means, "disagreeing with us".

As a senior citizen I've learned to identify hate when I see or hear it. People who demagogue FOtF are demonstrating their lack of knowledge and they are absolutely filled with hate!

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The controversy speaks for itself. What other businesses or corporations that have nothing to do with Focus, do you buy from anyway? The only loyalty that the Body of Christ has, is to Christ and to one another. Not being of the world, I personally have no idea about Toms or any other business, but I do know this; all businesses, as with all politicians, will say or do most anything to get dollars (or votes). They are "Christians" or "Gay", depending upon what the majority is made up of, at the time! We, the Body of Christ, purpose to separate ourselves from the world and the worldly (2 Cor.), and in doing so, we do not enable them any more than is absolutely necessary: I.E. Locate Christians who make shoes and buy those. Trying to negotiate with the worldly is futile.

It should be a lesson to any others who partner with such a group.

Hope he doesn't speak at a homosexual event because that would be discrimination against Christians...and since all people are created equal I'm sure that homosexuals would understand and be tolerant.

Amazes me how groups that champion tolerance are intolerant!

Two words....GROW UP

I find it disgusting that a person who claims to be a Christian is so easily swayed from supporting a ministry that upholds Christian beliefs for fear of losing popularity with the secular world. It is a sin to be gay, and abortion is murder. Period.