Has Franklin Graham Gone Off the Rails?
According to many news reports, during a podcast interview with author Eric Metaxas Billy Graham’s son Franklin Graham said that opposition to President Trump is “almost demonic” and amounts to “spiritual warfare.”
This took me back, way back, to the days of the Watergate scandal when many evangelicals thought then President Nixon was the victim of a communist conspiracy and that his Democratic critics and opponents were evil. This opinion was loudly expressed in my own family. And yet I do not recall Billy Graham saying any such thing. In fact, once the secret tapes were revealed he went into retreat and only said that he felt betrayed—by Nixon.
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Even among evangelicals, playing the demonic card is a last resort. And it is usually reserved for only obvious cases where someone is doing or defending evil. Labeling opposition to Trump “almost demonic” and then adding that it is “spiritual warfare”—implying that the opponents are being manipulated by Satan—is extremely strong language. It smacks of fundamentalism and demagoguery. I cannot even imagine Billy Graham doing that except about, perhaps, communism.
Billy held strong opinions and was not hesitant to play the demonic card about sin, but so far as I can remember he never used it in the realm of American politics. During his later years especially he was extremely circumspect and irenic.
At a recent symposium celebrating Billy Graham’s centennial birthday a scholar who wrote a biography of Ruth Graham, Billy’s long-suffering wife, commented during a Q & A session that Franklin seems more like Ruth’s son than Billy’s son. That is, according to her, Ruth was a woman of very strong opinions who did not hold her tongue as cautiously as Billy did—at least in private. And, apparently, she inherited that trait from her father.
But it seems to me that now, with this comment, Franklin has gone off the rails of civility in discourse. It will be remembered as a mark against him and those in his circle of evangelicals (or fundamentalists) who continue to support Trump uncritically. In other words, it is not only uncivil but unhelpful—to him. It will undermine his cause.
But even more importantly, it contributes to the deep division that exists in America today. Many observers say that America is more divided today than since the Civil War. They may be right. Families and friendships are being shattered by arguments over Trump. Franklin has just poured fuel on that fire (to mix metaphors).
The question right now, into which Franklin spoke these divisive words, is whether President Trump is guilty of abuse of power, of corruption. The right thing to do is let the witnesses speak, the House of Representatives decide, and, if they decide for impeachment, let the Senate make the final decision. By declaring members of the United States Congress “almost demonic” in their proposed indictment of President Trump, Franklin has set himself up as judge and jury before the trial has even begun. And he has put himself in the place of God, or as God’s spokesman, by declaring Trump’s opponents demonically inspired (“almost”).
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