Franklin Graham goes the Full Olasky

Franklin Graham goes the Full Olasky May 25, 2011

Bruce Watson of AOL asks “What Would the Rapture Do to Real Estate Prices?

In New York City, for example, a 49% drop would reduce the city’s population to 1910 levels. In the short run, this would cause property values to plummet in the city, but the effects would quickly spread beyond mortgages and rents. …

This is assuming a post-Rapture world in which the political and economic systems would remain relatively stable — admittedly, a somewhat unrealistic expectation. … However, even if everything else stays the same, one thing is clear: The Rapture would have an apocalyptic effect on real estate.

And in one loosely written column, Watson has already spent more time on post-Rapture world-building than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins spent in the whole of a 16-volume series.

Speaking of the Rapture …

The photo here looks like it might have been taken immediately following some mass vanishing event, but actually it’s from a huge tea party rally planned for South Carolina last week. Well, it was planned to be huge. They expected 2,000 people and wound up with 30. That’s not a rally. That’s barely enough for a soccer game.

Speaking of disappointing and woefully inadequate numbers …

Robert Parham says “‘Let the Churches Do It’ Is a Deceptive Myth.” He quotes Franklin Graham, among others, as a promoter of this deceptive myth. Graham said:

A hundred years ago, the safety net, the social safety net, in the country, was provided by the church. If you didn’t have a job, you’d go to your local church and ask the pastor if he knew somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, ‘I can’t feed my family.’ And the church would help you. That’s not being done. The government took that. And took it away from the church.

That’s got all the hallmarks of Marvin Olasky’s bogus mythmaking:

  • Laughably false and easily disproved claims about the Golden Age of the past? Check.
  • Attempt to spin the church’s abandoning its responsibility as a case of government usurpation? Check.
  • Ridiculously inflated claims about the scale, capacity and expertise of faith-based assistance? Check.
  • Deliberate exclusion of the opinions of those actually providing that assistance, both today and “a hundred years ago”? Check.
  • Fundamental confusion that imagines all duties and obligations as mutually exclusive? Check.

Yep. Graham is five for five. That’s the Full Olasky right there.

Parham then turns to Wayne Flynt to explain what this would mean, for example, for Alabama:

When Flynt started making speeches about a just tax system in Alabama, he was accused of wanting government to solve all the problems.

“When people insisted that I was a socialist, that I wanted government to solve all the problems, I would offer this alternative,” said Flynt. “OK, I accept your argument. There are 10,000 communities of faith – Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Shintoist – in Alabama… Let’s divide 10,000 communities of faith into the 740,000 [poor] people.”

He asked, “How many does your church get?”

The retired Auburn history professor pointed out that most of those faith communities had about 100 members. That meant that each faith community would get between 50 and 100 poor people to look after.

The “deceptive myth” Parham is addressing was most influentially promoted in a deceptive, mythmaking book by Olasky called The Tragedy of American Compassion. It’s a profoundly misled and misleading work that follows the basic outline above, portraying America before the Roosevelts as a paradise in which generous churches sufficiently cared for the poor with generosity and tough love and no one ever went hungry except lazy people who deserved it. For a useful counterpoint, see Norris Magnuson’s Salvation in the Slums: Evangelical Social Work 1865-1920. Magnuson covers the very same ground, but he provides an honest assessment of the actual scope of the poverty and deprivation of the time — most of which remained beyond the reach of the laudable, but vastly inadequate work being done by the churches.

More importantly, Magnuson cites the same primary sources as Olasky, but he does so in full and in context. That illuminates how selective and misleading Olasky’s use of those sources is. The devout believers Olasky cites to support his claim that the government has no role in helping the poor are nearly all revealed, in Magnuson’s book, to have been advocating and pleading for the larger government role that Olasky is arguing against.

Olasky is a partisan ideologue, but that’s precisely why I don’t think his mendacious book is evidence that he is lying. I think it’s a sad case study in what happens if one is, primarily, a partisan ideologue and the way that can blind one to anything one doesn’t wish to see. The tragedy of The Tragedy of American Compassion isn’t that Marvin Olasky is telling lies, it’s that he’s repeating lies he sincerely believes. (Call them “deceptive myths” if you’d prefer to be more euphemistically polite.) That and he’s trapped in an either-or framework of mutually exclusive responsibilities which prevents him from imagining that both the state and the church are responsible for those in need and that these mutual responsibilities are complementary, not competitive.

Anyway, speaking of Marvin Olasky …

The Randian Calvinist editor of World magazine belatedly weighs in on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s Love Wins, dubbing Bell an example of the “self-hating evangelical“:

Among the self-haters are those who display virulent opposition to the existence of churches that are not emergent, or don’t meet in a house, or are not radically redistributionist, or are not something other than standard.

Yes, “radically redistributionist.” He really talks like that. He really thinks like that.

And that’s what keeps him from realizing that what he describes here as “self-hatred” is actually pity and sadness for what people like him have become and the shame they’ve thereby brought to our evangelical family. I don’t hate myself, or my evangelical faith or heritage. What I hate is the selfish stupidity that people like Olasky foster in themselves and in their followers by using slogans like “radically redistributionist” as though they were quoting Jesus. I’ve seen how this weird devotion of theirs to an ideology of unbridled greed is a choice that makes smart people dumb, kind people cruel, good people bad.

And to paraphrase Dean Wormer, stupid and cruel is no way to go through life, son.

To be embarrassed by the enthusiastically stupid and cruel members of our evangelical family who have become our most vocal representatives doesn’t make me a “self-hating evangelical.” If Stephen Prothero is right, it puts me in the same camp as the Rev. Billy Graham. The iconic preacher and longtime friend of Jesus and Johnny Cash is now 92 and, Prothero notes, is suffering the indignity of having his eldest son going on TV and dragging the family name through the mud by spouting off the Full Olasky. “Franklin Graham is embarrassing his father“:

If you want to see how American evangelicalism has lost its way, you need look no farther than Billy Graham and his son Franklin. Billy Graham was a powerful preacher of the gospel. Franklin Graham is a political hack.

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