Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham and on of the Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, implied in an interview this week that he thinks attempted rape doesn’t matter. Graham is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization.
Asked by a Christian Broadcast Network reporter what he thought about the attempted rape allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Kavanaugh, Graham said that what Kavanaugh did as a teenager is simply “not relevant.”
He then added “the woman said ‘no’ and he walked away.” The reporter clarified that the Ms. Ford’s claim was actually that she said no and she had to “flee the situation.”
Graham’s easy dismissal of rape charges against a nominee to the highest court carries disturbing implications for our democracy.
Most important for faith communities, Graham’s remarks carry heavy implications for American morality, the Christian faith and well being of our children. The easy dismissal of sexual violence against women perpetuates violence. It signals rape is acceptable. And it makes all of our children, girls and boys alike, vulnerable to sexual violence.
Faith communities have long been remiss in educating their flocks about sexual violence as evidenced by scandals now rocking both Catholic and evangelical institutions. The widespread nature of sexual violence, even in faith communities, can’t be denied or ignored. Christian leaders have a moral responsibility to condemn Graham’s response and educate their congregations.
Our children are growing up in an America where the President of brags in a Hollywood Access tape about assaulting women. Now the head of one of the largest Christian charities in the nation, the son of the late Bill Graham, is minimizing an attempted rape charge. If we do not condemn attempted rape as immoral and abnormal then we make it the norm — we essentially condone it.
Graham’s interview is telling. First, he denies the importance of the allegations. Women have long been dismissed or penalized for coming forward. Then he appears to justify the alleged actions with a “boys will be boys” approach.” This normalizes violence against women. Last, he acts as though actions committed long ago do not speak to character. If true, Kavanaugh didn’t cross the line by trying to have sex as a teenager – he tried to rape someone. He committed a felony.A recent study commissioned by Sojourners, We Will Speak Out and IMA World Health revealed that 90 percent of pastors report that they have encountered domestic or sexual violence situations in their work as pastors. Yet only 45 percent feel that they have adequate training on how to respond. As Eugene Hung concludes in his reflection on these results, “If almost every pastor will encounter this type of violence, then every pastor must be trained on how to respond.”
Fortunately Graham does not speak for all Christians. Many religious leaders are calling on the public to take allegations against Kavanaugh seriously, including evangelical women like Rachael Denhollander who led hundreds of women to speak out against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Denhollander tweeted: “I’m watching it again. Conservatives, you are yelling from the rooftops that you don’t care what the truth is, and you aren’t safe, and you’ll attack a victim any time it would cost you to care. And that’s shameful,” she wrote. “You can, and should, do better.”
If we remain silent at such a time as this, we are complicit. The good news is that we are in a position to make a difference. So let’s make it happen.
Edited to add: Faith in Public Life is circulating a statement, already signed by hundreds of faith leaders, supporting the survivors of sexual violence and calling on the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh to be fully investigated before his nomination goes forward. I hope you can join us in signing as well.