My critique of Rev. Franklin Graham (Christianus rectus) might appear predictable, although he excels in making himself an easy target with his wholesale approval of the president. As a Christian progressive and a frequent detractor of "Billy's Boy," it also might appear as if I simply enjoy throwing stones. I do not.
In our American tribal culture, many evangelical friends--my tribe--feel that challenging any evangelical leader borders on heresy. Attention, friends and neighbors! Franklin Graham is not and never will be either the church or its head. Not even the esteemed and beloved Billy Graham could've claimed that title, though his diplomacy and graciousness appealed to the masses.
On my spiritual journey I have learned and grown tremendously from theological and political conservatives. I also have been a lifetime fan of Billy Graham and, once upon a time, a fan of the entire Graham family.
One Christmas, as a junior at Harding University and a devoted member of the Church of Christ, I responded to a chapel challenge to stuff a shoebox full of Christmas gifts for Franklin's Christian relief agency, Samaritan's Purse. I made a quick Walmart run, then mailed a Nike box full of toys and chocolates to a deserving Appalachian orphan.
Some time later, after coming to grips with my conviction that Christianity was bigger than the faith group to which I belonged, I looked beyond my fundamentalist roots to the greater evangelical Christian culture. Enter Billy and Franklin Graham. They had "personal relationships" with Jesus-- something I'd never been taught. I developed my own connection with the Lord when I transitioned from fundamentalism into evangelicalism and reveled in my newfound association.
My mother, who would have given her eye teeth for me to enter a Church of Christ building every Sunday, understood my need to pursue a more inclusive ecclesiastical family. She surprised me by sandwiching a copy of Franklin Graham's Rebel With A Cause between several Max Lucado books I received from her as a Christmas gift.
I devoured it.
Franklin's autobiography exhilarated me. His love of the North Carolina mountains spoke to my child-of-the-Ozarks heart. His adoration of his strong Southern mother reminded me of my own. His affection for the economically impoverished resonated with my social worker heart. His modern-day Prodigal Son stories of rebellion and finding his own way in the shadow of his larger-than-life father appealed to me as a fellow preacher's son.
For a season, I felt like Franklin Graham was a kindred spirit. Although he was always as reliably Republican as I was staunchly Democratic, I still respected his faith and his nonprofit work. I held my nose and rationalized when he endorsed various political conservatives whose policies I felt hurt instead of served "the least of these." But I had many salt-of-the-earth conservative friends who believed and voted similarly. Maybe I was just too new to evangelicalism to understand, I reasoned.
A visit to Dr. Billy Graham's Charlotte museum a few years ago familiarized me with his multiple friendships with U.S. presidents, but where Billy took pains to avoid politics, Franklin spotlights his own ideologies with unrestricted glee. Therein lies my problem--the gravel in my theological shoe.
Following the recent impeachment vote, Franklin callously outed his father (conveniently unable to defend himself from the grave) and claimed that Billy voted for Donald Trump, a move unlikely to bolster the president but possibly--and sadly--destined to remove some of the bloom from the rose of a most beloved American Christian figure.
Interestingly, every other member of the Graham family who has spoken out pushed back on Franklin's claim. Graham grandchildren Boz Tchividjian, Tullian Tchividjian, and Jerusha Duford have all released statements in opposition to their Uncle Franklin.
Oddly, Franklin never addressed any of Christianity Today's arguments with any specificity. Instead, as has been his habit, he tried to ride Daddy's coattails once again: Look, dear ol' Dad voted for Mr. Trump--must be a God thing, y'all. The usual blather about this economy and that judge and the other something followed, all the while sliding his oily moral compass right past porn stars, disgusting video tapes, Hall of Fame international policy gaffes, possible treasonous conduct, and--undeniably--"The Donald's" inclusion in the Only-Three-of-Us-Have-Been-Impeached Club. Not once in his unending defense of the current occupant of the Oval Office did Franklin Graham, the pastor, mention any of the following: integrity, honesty, veracity, dependability, loyalty, fidelity, kindness, compassion, or repentance.
Honest to God, Mr. Graham, take a cue from your mother, who reportedly kicked your father under the table when he opened his mouth to speak partisan politics at the risk of losing the attention and respect of half the country! Listen to your niece and nephews as they attempt to protect the Graham name as well as the future of American Christianity. You have every right to speak your mind and to be politically active, but don't insult the intelligence of those of us who, in good faith, disagree with you and agree with Christianity Today.
James Seawel of Maynard is an Arkansas-licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and a Christian counselor.
Editorial on 01/02/2020