A long time ago, a man named Billy Graham was considered America’s pastor. He was a moderate among evangelicals, the kind of stand up guy who supported integration in the 1960s and once bailed Martin Luther King, Jr. out of jail. Traveling all over the country to appear on radio broadcasts, television shows, and hold revivals in sold-out stadiums, he garnered a level of recognition beyond that of any other televangelist, becoming the first (and only) clergyman to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in ministry, noting to the L.A. Times in October 1989, “I am not a televangelist.”
But it wasn’t just Hollywood fame, of course. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Dr. Graham has met with every single U.S. President in some capacity since 1950. In 1979, he outright refused to join with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, stating, “I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. . . . Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left.” In a world of the emerging Christian Right© and big-haired televangelists, Billy Graham tried to separate himself above the fray, spreading a message of Christ’s love and revival in every sermon.
But, as can happen to people who gain notoriety and success and wealth, even with the best of intentions, their kids can turn out to be dicks.
Franklin Graham has served as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 2000, and has been a source of controversy since taking on this role. Where Billy Graham eschewed the Moral Majority, Franklin Graham thought it didn’t go far enough, stating in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in November 2012, “We need someone like a Jerry Falwell to come back and resurrect the Moral Majority movement where you get people that have a moral background who are willing to come together and vote for moral issues that are important to this nation.”
Franklin Graham’s ideas of what constitutes morality, however, is questionable.
Here are some of the things he has said about Islam:
“True Islam cannot be practiced in this country. You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.” (CNN, December 2009)
“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country. We have these people advising our military and State Department. We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries.” (Newsmax, 2011)
“The deluded, false theology of Islam motivates and compels radical Islamic terrorists to murder, rape, pillage, plunder and wreak havoc and destruction in the name of their god.” (Charisma News, 2015)
“I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name.” (CNN, 2010)
“It’s the progressives, whatever you want to call them, that are trying — and the president is into this and the attorney general is into this 100 percent — and that is, forcing on the American people a new morality. And it’s a morality that does not include God or His standards. That’s what we’re facing today.” (CNS News, 2015)
“Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has taken a lot of heat from the media for his remark that he’s not sure if President Obama really loves America. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that the president defends Islam and chastises Christians, rebukes our allies and befriends our enemies, and fully supports gay marriages and abortion but denies the religious freedoms of those who don’t agree. Our nation is ridiculed abroad and morally crumbling within. We are in trouble. We have turned our back on God.” (Facebook, 2015)
“Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own? In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues.” (Decision Magazine, 2014)
“There is no way you can have a family with two females or two males, if you just think biologically how God made us our plumbing is completely different.” (CBN News, 2012)
“I love them enough to care to warn them that if they want to continue living like this, it’s the flames of hell for you.” (Watchmen on the Wall National Pastor’s Briefing, 2014)
With heavy influence over much of the evangelical right, he has turned himself into a leader and a figure who will actively be involved in politics next year, announcing yesterday that he will embark on a supposedly bipartisan 50-state “Decision America Tour” where he will hold prayer rallies and encourage Christians “to cast their ballots for candidates who uphold biblical principles.”
In his home state of North Carolina, Charlotte recently rejected several non-discrimination ordinances that would have led to inclusive accommodations for LGBT individuals - in part, thanks to Graham’s fear mongering “bathroom safety” argument, which has been thoroughly debunked.
It’s this sort of power that makes Franklin Graham so dangerous, and it’s these kinds of statements that make him so popular, too. On March 12, he wrote a racially-charged Facebook post which said that people should try to avoid unnecessary police shootings by submitting “to your leaders and those in authority.” This post has been shared over 84,000 times and has received over 200,000 likes. Though it prompted a strong response from Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, Graham never attempted to apologize or retract his comments. He very rarely does, with one notable exception being when he called President Obama’s Christian faith into question in 2012.
Of course, Franklin Graham can easily choose between those he condemns to hell and those he considers friends. While Islam and homosexuality seem to draw most of his ire for being “unbiblical,” he doesn’t speak up about Scientology, for example — perhaps due to his close friendship with Fox News anchorwoman Greta van Susteren. He famously deleted any negative references to Mormonism from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website after Mitt Romney won the Republican candidacy for the 2012 election, who he (and supposedly his father) openly supported.
Perhaps most unsettling, he seems to have become a mouthpiece for his father, using his legacy in order to spread his political views. Billy Graham is 96 years old and currently in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease and has suffered with hydrocephalus in the past. Steve Knight, a former employee of BGEA, stated that “it was well-known that all of his sermons, articles, letters and books were ghostwritten — and had been for quite some time.” So when Billy Graham supposedly ran a full page ad urging North Carolina to vote for an amendment that would allow marriage to only be legally recognized between a man and a woman, many wrote that Franklin was using his father as a puppet for his own opinions.
Franklin Graham has a history of having pushed against his parents’ wishes. A week and a half before her death in 2007, Ruth Bell Graham stated she wanted to be buried in the North Carolina mountains. Franklin, however, wanted both of his parents to be buried at the site of the Billy Franklin Library in Charlotte. Causing a family disagreement between Franklin and his brother, Ned, Ruth and Billy eventually signed a document stating that they would agree to be buried at the library.
Basically, Franklin Graham is kind of a dick.
While he does also serve as president of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief fund charity that operates with a 95.90/100 rating from the Charity Navigator website, he is mainly known for his outspoken prejudice against Muslims and the LGBT community. Though he claims to espouse Christian values, he has yet to speak out against the immense greed of corporations and politicians or prejudice with the same intensity, which, unlike the topics of homosexuality and Islam, were subjects that Jesus actually spoke about.
As the 2016 election circus looms near, I would encourage my fellow Christians to ignore Franklin Graham and his attempts to bring conservative politics back into the limelight of our faith. Don’t listen to him when he says that Muslims are ushering in the apocalypse and don’t listen to him when he says a transgender woman is going to sexually assault little girls in the bathroom. Don’t listen to him when he says people he doesn’t agree with are going to hell. And don’t let him speak for us; don’t let him claim that conservative values are the same thing as Christian values.
After all, it was Billy Graham who said, “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”