I try to stay apolitical in this space. There are plenty of other voices who are happy to give their opinions. And like hungry zoo animals, there are far too many people who are looking for their daily feeding of political red meat.
This is not what I’m looking for. Instead, this is a message about speaking truth when it needs to be told.
I do my best to bring the Words of Jesus into the modern space, to help apply the Red Letters of the Bible to our everyday living.
But I’m concerned about the influence that Rev. Franklin Graham, who by his very last name carries huge importance. He is often consulted by the media on his opinion and he speaks with gravity on domestic and foreign politics.
Through many of his sermons and discussions, he accurately speaks to traditional positions on theology, Holy Scripture, and Creator God. And for that, I am grateful.
It’s when he gets too close to politics that hurts the rest us. What he says is often interpreted as speaking for all of Christianity, causing the rest of us to scramble, recover and defend. And that is why I feel a need to write these painful words.
On the other hand, Billy
His father, Rev. Billy Graham, generally stayed far away from politics. He became a respected figure to senior leaders from both parties. Graham met with 12 consecutive occupants of the Oval Office starting with Harry Truman and ending with Barack Obama. He told CNN that he helped a young George W. Bush stop drinking.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to,” he told Christianity Today.
But in that same interview, he admitted he sometimes got too close to the political process – especially his involvement with Pres. Richard Nixon. He later wished that he hadn’t walked into those waters.
In the middle of the Civil Rights era, he fully integrated his revivals. He spoke directly into the issue, saying “Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world.”
He reached non-evangelicals, Catholics, and liberal Protestants. He didn’t directly denounce other faiths, simply preaching the truth.
Like any other man, he had his faults.
For the most, he was respected. He was called, “America’s Pastor” because he usually stood above the fray. He was a reasonable voice during the nuclear era, foreign wars and the communist threat.
When King David Sinned, Nathan Stepped In
If you are going to be invited to the table of the nations’ leaders, then you need to be able to speak the truth plainly. If there is sin, it needs to be directly confronted and not nuanced.
When King David secretly had Uriah killed on the battlefield so he could take Bathsheba into his bedroom, a bold High Priest named Nathan marched into the king’s throne and confronted him.
It led to David’s repentance and a change of heart, change of direction that blessed the nation.
So when I read Franklin Graham’s comments regarding accusations of President’s Trump’s cavorting with a porn star and subsequent hush money, I was more than a little uncomfortable.
He told Associated Press this:
“I don’t have concern, in a sense, because these things happened many years ago – and there’s such bigger problems in front of us as a nation that we need to be dealing with than other things in his life a long time ago. That doesn’t make it right. And I don’t defend those kinds of relationships he had. But the country knew the kind of person he was back then, and they still made the decision to make him the president of the United States.”
And then a CNN interviewer asking questions regarding the same matter asked, “do you think the ends justify the means?” And then he wonders, “Why (some) twist themselves into pretzels to excuse bad behavior.” The answers by Rev. Graham are painful and you can watch it here.
Look, I don’t know what happened. Politics on both sides are loud, bombastic, and full of cynicism. Exaggerations and lies are part of the modern culture. And President Trump is under intense scrutiny — much of it self-induced. But evangelical leaders should not be in the position where they have to defend sin with such nuanced language. You can support a leader’s policies without justifying their personal, moral behavior.
The covering for sin is not quite the language his father would have used. Billy said this,
“The good news is that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and the sins of the whole world at the Cross. If we will repent and turn to Jesus in faith, our sins will be forgiven, and we will receive the gift of eternal life.”
There is a specific disaster waiting for those who rationalize sin.
Doom to you who call evil good
and good evil,
Who put darkness in place of light
and light in place of darkness,
Who substitute bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5.20)
I have rationalized sin in my own life and it caused me deep consequences.
Contrary to public opinion, Evangelical pulpits usually don’t get political
I’ve been going to evangelical churches for 50 years. The churches ranged from simple mountain assemblies to suburban megachurches. I’ve had pastors of multiple races, backgrounds and age demographics.
Not one time have I ever heard a political message from the pulpit, with the exception of pro-life messages which didn’t speak to a candidate, rather an issue.
I’ve heard messages on finances, spiritual gifts, transformational living, recovery from addictions and even sex. But never politics.
The model of 99 percent of Evangelical churches is to simply preach the gospel and let the application in society work itself out. When we are called to be the light of the world by Jesus, the metaphor was for us to be a beacon of hope, of truth, and sanity in a crazy world.
Throughout time, the church has been the moral voice in society and culture. They have stood tall telling what needed to be said. It is only when the church gained too much money and power that it fell from its Christ-anointed role.
The last election was without comparison. To fault Christians for voting for a morally-challenged Trump over a morally-challenged Clinton is simply not fair. But neither do we have to contort to justify bad behavior. We can continue to support conservative positions and policies without excusing sin.
In just my lifetime, I’ve had my share of leaders who don’t live up to the Gospel’s standards, and yet I could (for the most part) support and pray for their efforts.
Quit feeding the stereotypes
There are stereotypes that media and social media continually portray, and bombastic statements simply feed those negative perceptions.
The popular culture already believes that the church is fake, exclusive, uncaring toward the community, critical, and narrow. That perception is wrong.
The church I know – and millions of others experience day in and day out – is authentic, open toward anyone who is looking for truth, passionate about the community they serve, understanding and willing to talk about the human condition.
Preaching the gospel, sharing the truth, and trying to tell my friends that Jesus is the answer is hard enough. Asking people to give up their burdens and their shackles is often stopped when simple hypocrisy from a prominent leader is dangled from the tree for easy pickings.
David French wrote a letter to Rev. Graham and others in the National Review that ends on this note:
“We live in a time of profound existential pain. Americans are dying deaths of despair at such a rate that our nation’s life expectancy is actually decreasing. Reality is revealing the moral rot at the heart of the sexual revolution. Christians have answers for this crisis. We have a message that can renew hearts and transform lives. But there are now millions — millions — of our fellow citizens who despise us not because we follow Christ (the kind of persecution we expect) but because all too many fellow believers have torched their credibility and exposed immense hypocrisy through fear, faithlessness, and ambition…It’s sin, and it’s sin that is collapsing the Evangelical moral witness.”
To those of you who are seeking, looking for answers, no man speaks for all of us. No man speaks for God.
Rev. Graham, let me use my small voice in this world of loud screams.