Franklin Hophni Phineas Graham continues his personal crusade to destroy every decent remnant of his father’s legacy:
“Gays and lesbians cannot have children,” Graham says, “biologically it’s impossible.”
Let that slide. Franklin Graham is the product of an evangelical education, so it would be unfair to expect him to understand reproductive biology. But he follows that misstatement with a nasty lie that he knows is a nasty lie, and he visibly delights in the nastiness of it.
“They can adopt …” the interviewer says, and Graham cuts him off.
“Yeah, they can recruit.”
The interviewer hesitates. He apparently wasn’t expecting Graham to publicly admit to promoting long discredited anti-gay propaganda from the 1970s. “Recruit?” the interviewer asks. That’s short for, “Did you really just say that out loud? Are you really that much of a lying sack of …?”
And here Graham reveals everything you need to know about his character and his utter lack thereof. He grins — more of a smirk really, but his whole face lights up with the joy of this game he’s playing. This is not the face of a man who believes any of this — who genuinely believes that he is “protecting children” from the insidious threat of Gay Recruitment. This is not the face of a man who is in any sincere way worried about the well-being of children — fearful that something bad is or might be happening to children. This is the face of a politician — the face of a man who is saying something he knows is untrue, but which he believes will score points and scare the credulous into writing checks in response to direct mail fundraising.
“Yeah, sure,” Graham says, smirk-grinning. His response isn’t an attempt to convince the interviewer that this “recruitment” slur is true, or even to convince the interviewer that he really believes what he is saying. It is, rather, an appeal to the interviewers’ sophistication. The sense is, Yeah, I went there — I’ll go as far as I need to go to win. He’s proud of that.
Unfortunately for him, the interviewer isn’t wowed by this sophisticated display of political cynicism. The interviewer, instead, follows up with a clarifying question — either to give Graham a lifeline back to the shore, or to give him more rope with which to hang himself.
“What’s the difference between recruit and adopt?” the interviewer asks. That’s short for “People are going to see this interview, you know. Do you really want to go all-in with this Fred Phelps garbage?”
Graham is caught off-guard by this. He’s not sure what to do or to say when interacting with someone who doesn’t share his joy in anti-gay slurs, or with someone who isn’t impressed by the “political hard-ball” skills he’s so evidently proud of. Graham gets flustered and starts stammering, badly. The interviewer hasn’t actually said anything more probing than, “What do you mean by that?” but Graham was still completely unprepared to respond.
Some intern is gonna get fired for arranging this interview.
“Well … you can adopt a child into your marriage, but you can also recruit children into your cause,” he finally says, his eyes unable to meet the interviewer’s until he regains his footing with a bit of boilerplate from his standard talking points. “I believe in protecting children, OK? From exploitation — all exploitations. So that’s, that’s, that’s all that is about.”
“Exploitation” is a category, apparently, that does not include the crass recruitment of those same children as political pawns to be used as rhetorical human shields whenever someone tries to make you justify your ugly slurs. That’s apparently not a form of “exploitation,” that concerns Franklin H.P. Graham.
But Graham can’t help himself — he can’t leave it there. He keeps talking and keeps digging: “I agreed with Putin. I think protecting his nation’s children I think was probably a pretty smart thing to do.”
If I were directing the biopic on Franklin Graham, I’d want to explore this further with the actor playing the lead. Billy Graham was a staunch Cold Warrior, what do you think Franklin Graham’s fascination with a former KGB-head might reveal about his relationship with his father? What does Franklin’s enthusiasm for Putin as a kind of surrogate father-figure tell us about his disappointments or resentments in his own father?
Graham is a bit defensive about his man-crush on Putin, getting a bit agitated and animated on the subject: “I was very clear I supported Putin in his decision to protect his nation’s children, and I think our Congress needs to do more in protecting our nation’s children.”
He doesn’t say what it is that these children need “protecting” from. But he’s clearly not talking about Ukrainian nationalists or all-female punk bands. He means from gays and their “cause.” And he means that he thinks America should, like Putin’s Russia, outlaw the public display, acknowledgment and existence of anyone or anything that scores above a zero on the Kinsey Scale.
Graham goes on to discuss the “gay agenda.” This is, he says, an agenda to push this agenda. And then he says “agenda” a bunch more times. If you had the word “agenda” in the Franklin Graham Interview Drinking Game, you’d be unconscious by the 2-minute mark in this video.
“That’s enough on this issue,” Graham says, segueing into a discussion of the constant religious persecution that he — the eldest son of Billy Graham — experiences here in America.
“I’m attacked all the time because of my religious beliefs,” Graham says. “For what I believe and what I say.”
Graham makes no distinction, you see, between being criticized for saying nasty things and being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
And then he says the following. Bear in mind that this starts two minutes into an interview. Graham spent the entire first two minutes of that interview explaining that gays are a menace, a threat to America’s children. America needs a strongman like Vladimir Putin, Graham says, to “protect” children from the threat of these diabolical gays and their evil recruitment. Gays, he has just said, for two whole minutes, are a threat to children, a menace to children, a danger to children. He has just called on Congress to pass laws to limit the freedom and the civil rights and the public presence of LGBT people because, he says, such laws are necessary to protect children from the danger that such people pose just by existing.
And now, after all that, Franklin Graham says this:
There are people who are very quick to demonize you if you disagree with them. The Left. The gay lesbian movement. If I disagree with a gay person, then I’m a homophobic. It’s not that I’m a homophobe, I’m not afraid of ’em. I’m not intolerant — I just have a different opinion.
Right. It’s just a simple difference of opinion. Gay people are of the opinion that they’re equal citizens who deserve equal rights, while Franklin Graham is of the opinion that they are a menace to our children whose visible presence in society must be outlawed by Congress. Can’t we just agree to disagree?
The best one can say about Franklin Graham in this interview is that he is utterly lacking in self-awareness and perspective. But I don’t think he’s as dumb as he would need to be for this just to be ignorance. I saw that mischievous gleam in his eye when he dropped that word “recruitment” and I saw how flummoxed he got when he was politely challenged to defend such slurs.
This is the man that white evangelicals have been cheering this week. This interview will do nothing to detract from Franklin Graham’s standing as a pillar of white evangelicalism. Brian McLaren is “controversial.” Rachel Held Evans is “controversial.” Rob Bell is beyond “controversial” — he’s a lost cause. But Franklin Graham, defender of children from the gay-agenda agenda of recruiting children for the gay agenda, is not at all controversial. He’s celebrated. White evangelicalism thinks of him as a good person. Sure, he can’t talk to a newspaper interviewer for more than five minutes without repeating several vicious lies about our LGBT neighbors, but he’s only telling those lies to defend the authority of the Bible and the proper biblical “stance,” so it’s all good.
Franklin Graham did not hesitate for even a second to jump in to condemn World Vision for the possibility that it might allow LGBT Christians to serve openly. Graham was, instead, “quick to demonize” World Vision — racing to urge white evangelicals to cut off their support for World Vision and redirect it to Samaritan’s Purse, the charitable agency his father put him in charge of years ago in the hopes that involvement with such work might, somehow, help his son to become the decent human being he has never managed to be.
Franklin Graham is free to exercise his religion however he sees fit. It’s sad that his religion is an unrecognizable caricature of his father’s faith, but that doesn’t change the fact that Franklin is free to practice it, free to preach it — and even free to embody it as a warning sign to anyone else who may have once found it attractive.
Franklin Graham is free to have and to express whatever opinions and views he likes. This is America — Fred Phelps lived and died a free man, and Franklin Graham is free to follow in his footsteps. He is free to be a hateful, lying, opportunistic jackwagon, and white evangelicals are free to celebrate him for being a hateful, lying, opportunistic jackwagon. (That’s why it was a banner week for Samaritan’s Purse. (You say despicable opportunism, he says cha-ching!)
But the rest of the world is also free to acknowledge the undeniable fact that Franklin Graham is a hateful, lying, opportunistic jackwagon. And we are free to say so, too.
That ain’t “persecution.” That’s just honesty.