Monday, October 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Franklin,

As a lifelong admirer of your father,  I was interested in seeing him back in the news again after years of a well deserved sabbath. I’m referring to his recently agreeing to have full-page ads published (with a picture of a younger Billy Graham) that are designed to support Mitt Romney’s candidacy and are being paid for by unnamed friends.

While you may argue that neither of you is thereby endorsing any presidential candidate, I’m reminded of the dictum that “any difference that makes no difference is not a difference.” The ad constitutes an endorsement, pure and simple.

Having said that, I totally support your father’s right to do this, and I myself aim to be a Christ-following and compassionate conservative on issues like legalizing same sex marriage and abortion. I do question, however, how this lines up with many of your father’s previous statements, or whether, at nearly 94, he has actually changed some of his earlier positions.

In 1960 your father opposed the election of a Roman Catholic president even though that church’s support of marriage and opposition to divorce has been consistently stronger than that of most Protestant denominations. He later became much more tolerant of Catholics, a good thing in the eyes of many, and has blessed them and worked closely with them on many issues.

When it comes to Biblical marriage, of course, the Bible has sadly sometimes been used to support positions other than “one man and one woman for life,” as have statements in the Church of Latter Day Saints’s other inspired book, Doctrine and Covenants (132:61-62) which support polygamy.
Thankfully, though, most of us are now on the same page in our definition of heterosexual marriage, the kind that is relevant to well over 95% of us, just noticeably silent in dealing with the epidemic of broken homes and families all around us.

On the issue of making cause with the religious right, your father, as you know, declined to join Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in 1979,  saying: "I'm for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future."

On a related issue, you have been widely quoted as saying you believe Islam is “an evil religion.” I’m certainly no advocate of the Muslim faith, but that seems so unlike your father’s Christ-like spirit, which has always been warmly invitational toward people of all faiths, never hostile or adversarial.

I do note that you recently wrote a piece in which you explain why it is now OK to vote for a Mormon to be president, and I have also learned that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, under your leadership, has since removed its statement about cults from its website, as follows:

"A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith. It is very important that we recognize cults and avoid any involvement with them. Cults often teach some Christian truth mixed with error, which may be difficult to detect... Some of these groups are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritists, Scientologists, and others."

At one level, this could be welcomed by many as an expression of a new found tolerance on the part of the BGEA, but one might at least expect some consistency here. Is Scientology next on your list of approved faiths for evangelical believers?

But the real bottom line here is that elections are not to be about issues of faith. According to the US Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

On the other hand, each of us do need to apply a values test. Unfortunately, this and all elections pose impossibly difficult choices for believers who are pro-life, in that support of things like obscenely bloated military budgets, drone strikes, the proliferation of assault weapons and handguns designed primarily to kill people, capital punishment, and the crying needs of millions of hungry and truly needy human beings at home and abroad are all profound life and death issues.

In short, I find myself completely agreeing with your father when he said, “(M)orality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice.”
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