SunTrust Bank will continue doing business with the Christian real estate entrepreneurs David and Jason Benham, reversing course in what the company called a misunderstanding with a vendor after protests from conservative customers.
"SunTrust supports the rights of all Americans to fully exercise their freedoms granted under the Constitution, including those with respect to free speech and freedom of religion," spokeswoman Beth McKenna said in a statement published by The Daily Caller
The switch came after twins David and Jason Benham, based in Concord, N.C., told the website that SunTrust had pulled all of its properties listed with the brothers and several franchisees across the United States.
That was nearly a week after HGTV canceled a home-renovation program featuring the Benhams set for this fall after a watchdog group disclosed their conservative views
on abortion and traditional marriage.
The brothers are sons of Flip Benham, who headed an anti-abortion clinic protest group called Operation Save America.
"We were caught off-guard with this one," David Benham told the Daily Caller in a statement. "Keeping us off television wasn’t enough, now this agenda to silence wants us out of the marketplace."
The Benhams said the news was "without warning or explanation from SunTrust and took place over a 15-minute period" on Thursday. They said they had a "mutually productive working relationship with SunTrust for many years" and held "preferred broker" status with the bank.
When they called SunTrust, the brothers said bank employees declined to explain why their properties were delisted, the Daily Caller reports
In her statement, McKenna did not disclose why the initial decision was made, only that it was made by a new third-party vendor.
"Mid-2013, we consolidated the management of certain residential assets with a third-party vendor, which has the relationship with Benham Real Estate," she said. "While we do not publicly comment on specific vendor relationships, we don’t make choices on suppliers nor base business decisions on political factors, nor do we direct our third-party vendors to do so."
Regarding the HGTV show, the cable network had planned to air a reality show — "Flip It Forward" — with the Benhams starting in October.
After the announcement, Right Wing Watch labeled David Benham
an "anti-gay extremist" and reported on statements he made against homosexuality and gay marriage.
Right Wing Watch said David Benham led a prayer rally in 2012 to "stop homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation."
The group said Benham publicly supported passage of a North Carolina constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
HGTV spokeswoman Audrey Adlam would not say why the show was canceled. The Benhams had planned to use their experience buying cheap homes and renovating them in their new show.
The brothers responded by saying that if their Christian faith led HGTV to cancel the program, "then so be it."
"With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles and dedicated professionals," they said in a statement last week. "If our faith costs us a television show, then so be it.
"As Christians, we are called to love our fellow man," the statement continued. "Anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying."
According to the local news website IndependentTribune.com, the Benhams own Benham Real Estate in Concord
, a full-service real estate company that specializes in selling bank-owned properties. The real estate division, Benham REO Group, has about 100 offices in 35 states across the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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