Wednesday, February 22, 2012

franklin graham's mistake: why it matters, but not as much as you think

The Internet and cable news were all abuzz yesterday and today concerning remarks made on Morning Joe (MSNBC) by Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and head of Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse.  Graham, in an interview with co-host Willie Geist and other panel members, seemed to suggest on the one hand that a person's true faith in Christ is known only to them, but then on the other hand expressed far more certainty regarding the Christian faith of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich than that of President Obama.  He said that Mitt Romney is not a Christian, but a Mormon (for more on what Christians mean when they say this, please visit my previous post here), but that he would be a good President and leader.  He also criticized what he considered to be the inaction of President Obama in urging certain Muslim nations to cease persecuting Christians, citing in particular the situation of persecution of Christians which currently exists in Egypt. 

Graham said faith is something determined in one's heart and one has to ask a person about their faith to know if they are a Christian.  The sticking point for many people regarding Graham's responses when asked about the faith of each candidate is that he then sought to judge the hearts of all of the men involved (as he had said he could not do).  The second sticking point is that Graham suggested that faith is revealed by actions (a very Biblical statement, by the way), but that he seemed to ignore actions that didn't support his case.  President Obama didn't support the social issue stands most important to Graham, ergo, President Obama may or may not be a Christian.  Gingrich had engaged in moral failure, but did appear to be a Christian, according to Graham.  Why not call into question Gingrich's faith, due to his adultery, if actions are the measure of faith?  Why only subject President Obama to hesitancy regarding his faith? 

To be fair, Graham was in a no-win situation from the moment he was asked about candidates' faith.  The best scenario for him would have been to comment equally on all of the candidates that God alone knows their hearts.  He should have stayed out of the politics of it.  He should have done this because the dipping of the toe into partisan politics tends to discredit those who seek to serve the Lord in ministry.

Understand, I am not saying that pastors cannot talk about social issues and call people to repentance.  It is essential that they do so.  But getting into a situation where they are called upon to endorse or repudiate specific candidates is polarizing and gets in the way of their message.  This is why as a pastor, I never publicly encouraged people to vote for any particular candidate.  However, I was firm in my teaching on social issues such as the need of caring for the poor and needy, the importance of stopping genocide, the sin of abortion, and the wrongness of acting on homosexual impulses.  When it came to politics, I would engage in collegial discussions with congregation members, assuming that Christians who believe strongly in God's Word come to different conclusions on how to live it out the teachings of Scripture.

As you can imagine, my views did not place me firmly in either party, and I suppose that helped when it came time to lead a congregation.  I could see different points of view in terms of how we accomplish the goals we are called to as Christians.  For example, Republicans believe that the poor are better helped by a social policy that limits government intervention; they believe that one gains self-esteem from working hard and rising in success based on their own merits.  They do not believe that government money legitimately helps the poor, except in the most dire of cases.  Now, it is perfectly possible to be a strong Christian and hold this perspective.  Of course selfishness can come into play, but so can selflessness.  Many Christians believe that if they are not taxed at a high rate, they will have more money to give to charitable endeavors.  This may not always work, but if an individual is seeking to live out these ideals and help in a more personal way than the government can, we should applaud them for living out their faith.  Conversely, many Democrats believe that the poor are better helped by limiting the opportunity of our human nature to resist sharing. They believe that a free society has a responsibility from all of its members to care for the poor and needy and so they believe in higher taxation to provide the funds for this care.  They believe that the government has a more direct role to play in providing for the poor.  Such beliefs easily hearken back to Old Testament Law in which the whole society was responsible to care for the poor and needy amongst the people.  I believe either position can be reached through serious interaction with Scripture.  Now, is it important for a pastor to stand up and say: "The only viable way for us to see that the poor are served and cared for is _________"?  No!  Furthermore, no method will be perfect, for we live in a sinful world.  But simply because our methods are imperfect, we are not "let off the hook" from trying.

As long as a Christian is in the Word and tries to think about the world from God's perspective, he or she can seek to do good in either (or no) political party.  As the old saying goes, "there is more than one way to skin a cat."  We need to respect that others may have different methods of achieving Biblically-sound goals of good for society and the world. 

The problem is not whether Franklin Graham privately reflects on where he thinks each candidate is at spiritually.  As he pointed out in the interview, evaluating faith and calling people to come to Christ are "his business," just as news is the media's business.  The problem is that Franklin Graham proclaimed publicly what he thought the status of each man's faith was.  Now, how will Franklin Graham be able to preach the Gospel credibly to any of the candidates?  How will he be able to encourage them in faith?

I am hesitant to be too hard on Franklin Graham, however.  We often forget that even pastors are human and liable to make mistakes just like the rest of us.  When they make a mistake, they are reduced to that misstep alone and their finer deeds are ignored.  Franklin Graham was all but crucified on the internet and in the press in the past 24 hours.  And his very real accomplishments on behalf of the poor and vulnerable in the world were ignored.  He was relegated into a very narrow box of what the world thinks a Christian is.

Chuck Todd, political analyst for MSNBC and host of The Daily Rundown, tweeted yesterday morning, "Franklin Graham has a lot to learn from his father."  Fair enough.  But we often forget that Billy Graham also landed himself in political hot water from time to time.  On one occasion, Graham was accused of being a propaganda tool of the former Soviet Union, an accusation not entirely unwarranted, despite his good intentions.  William Martin wrote in Christianity Today: "[Critics] pointed in particular to a 1982 Moscow 'Peace Conference,' which did indeed have a strong anti-American slant, and after which Graham made some inadequately considered—and inaccurately reported—remarks that seemed to describe greater religious freedom in the USSR than in fact existed. Graham understands, of course, that the governments of the countries he has visited have their own agendas and that preaching the Christian gospel is not a major priority. 'Of course they are using us,' he said. "But we are using them as well, and my message is stronger than theirs.'"  To one extent, Graham was being realistic and shrewd.  To another extent, he was being too innocent about the impact of his actions.  Should he have spoken on political matters in such a way?  Probably not.  Was he confusing his calling momentarily?  Probably.

Then there was the even more troubling revelation in 2002 of the Nixon tapes of 1972 which found Billy Graham making anti-Semitic remarks to Richard Nixon, despite his long support of the nation of Israel.  Graham later apologized for the remarks, saying he did not even recall making them.  It's hard to imagine what he was thinking at the time.  Could he have been star-struck by President Nixon?  Could he actually have harbored anti-Semitic thoughts in his heart?  We cannot say for sure.  We can only say that Graham made a very significant mistake, but that he righted it and repented of his words.

Every time Billy Graham attempted to step outside the range of his calling--the speaking of the Law and the Gospel in Scripture--and attempted to lead in matters of politics, he was humbled.  He made some major mistakes when it came to politics.  But he also did tremendous good in the Body of Christ.  His lasting legacy is found in the countless people came to new or renewed faith in Christ through his work of evangelism.  The impact of his ministry will be seen in the assembled saints in Heaven.

We should look at the ministry and work of his son with the benefit of this history in our minds.  Franklin Graham is not a perfect man.  There have been several times he has ventured too much into the field of politics and too far away from his callings to care for the poor and needy of the world and to speak the Gospel.  When he strays from these callings, he is humbled, just as his father was.  However, that does not negate the excellent and massive relief work he does in the world.  Samaritan's Purse recognizes the importance of relieving the suffering of those in need and puts its money where its mouth is.  In the midst of the drought and famine in East Africa, they provided food and relief.  They give Christmas gift boxes to underprivileged children throughout the world through Operation Christmas Child.  Whenever there is a natural disaster in the world, they are there providing aid.  They aid in medical missions, hunger relief, HIV/AIDS care, water programs.  We cannot dismiss these good efforts.  All too often Christians are said to care nothing for the poor.  This is not true of Franklin Graham.  He has invested his life in the care of the poor.  You could say that this ministry is his life's work; politics is only his hobby.

Should we call into question Graham's words this morning?  Certainly it is fair to do so.  But we ought not blow his words out of proportion.  We ought to look at the full man with a balanced eye and give thanks for all the good that he, yet an imperfect sinner saved by God's grace, does in the world.


  1. You are right about limiting the hyperbole; it is easy to fall prey to it when the discussion turns to deeply felt beliefs.It is my sincere hope that we can have a civil discussion even though we hold very different views. If what I say still offends you, tell me so, and I won't trouble you any more.

    As I understand it, what comes across badly from the Graham interview is that he was able to embrace Santorum's Catholicism but not Obama's AME or Romney's Mormonism, even though Southern Baptists consider Catholics (as well as the others)unsaved and therefore damned. This smacks of a more political than religious endorsement.

    My questions to you are sincere: is there no room in this country for people like mormons, jews, muslims, hindus and atheists who have very different beliefs? I accept the fact that in your church homosexuality is a sin, but does your faith call you to punish them when they do not share your beliefs?

    I am not a christian. I do look to the bible for wisdom (sometimes). Didn't Jesus drink wine & eat with prostitutes and money changers? The good Samaritan wasn't jewish or christian, yet Jesus praised him for his compassion. If so, why can't we all be civil even if we disagree?

    one of my favorite passages is from

    Matt 25:35 For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me 40 ...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    There's too much hatred in the world & it makes me think of the world as it could be.

  2. Hi Chuck,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Heck no, you don't offend me by sharing your thoughts!:-) Thank you for doing do.

    You might be surprised to find that I do agree with you on many of the points that you made. I am a Christian, but I am also a Christian who believes with Martin Luther that I'd rather have a "wise Turk than a foolish Christian" as a political leader. I agree with you that Franklin Graham's comments smacked of political endorsement and were inconsistent. The point of this post was that he did in fact make a mistake in what he said, but that we also need to consider the whole man and the way he does in fact do the things that Jesus mentions in that passage from Matthew 25, through his work with Samaritan's Purse. He shouldn't have ventured into politics. To a certain extent, he was turning away from his calling.

    For a pastor, when they are in a room with someone whose Christian faith they question, it IS their place to challenge and call the person to faith. I would argue that it is NOT their place to make someone's faith a political matter and especially not publicly.

    I also agree with you that there is room in this country for people with very different beliefs. Isn't that the point of this country? From the political standpoint, as a nation we need to be committed to protecting the religious/belief freedom of other peoples.

    You might want to click under the Starbucks post a few weeks ago for an extended discussion regarding homosexuality. In summary: I believe the action (not the feeling/orientation/predisposition) is sinful, but in my mind I tend to separate the church and the government. I'm not out in the government one way or the other pushing for or against homosexual marriage. I'm just concerned that the command regarding the action be followed within the church.

    Do Christians want to convert everyone to their faith? Yes, we do because we believe that without a faith in Christ one cannot be saved. Out of a strong belief in our faith and a fundamental compassion for others, we cannot hold back from sharing our faith. However, I do not believe we should let this matter of witnessing and sharing our faith become confused with who we choose to lead our government. Back to the Luther quote again!

    Love your reference to Jesus eating with those who were considered "sinners." Remember, he did call them to repentance, BUT He was also far more critical of the religious people...The religious people tended to think they had it all together and didn't need to be told anything. Sobering for me as a person of faith.

    I also totally agree that we need to be civil when we disagree. I love talking with people who believe differently from me. Often, I find a different perspective that I may have missed. Even if I do not come to the same beliefs as they hold, I feel a richer person for having come to understand them better.

    Thank you again for stopping by and please come again!

    May I ask where you found my blog?

  3. Thank you for thoughtful remarks; I found your blog when I was looking for your twitter account on a google search.

    There are a great many beautiful things in Christianity. It is one of the most difficult things to accept in human nature that otherwise good and compassionate people have a dark side. I remember reading about Martin Luther King, Jr. and M. Gandhi and having to come to grips with their own failings. In the end, I felt a stronger bond with "great" people when I found they too struggled on their spiritual journey. From this, I learned to TRY (lol) to be humble and non judgmental.

    From your writings I know that your faith is real. I see that it comes from Luther's teaching,it is based in scripture,and that you do not have the option of changing your views as they are taught to you in your church (Lutheran: Missouri synod?)

    Personally my mottoes are "you can find liberation and slavery in the same thing" and "if it frees you, it's good; if it enslaves you, its bad". I got that from reading Paul and John (revelations) in how they found both good and bad in the same congregations. Seeing how you thrive in your church; it must be a very liberating experience for you. I can see how it gives you a place in the world and a part in God's plan. " and forever." I would never want to take that away from anyone.

    If you don't mind, I have a few questions about Lutheranism. As I understand it, Lutherans believe in Justification: salvation not thru deeds but the grace of god. Every Baptist I've known was "sure" he/she was "saved" and apparently that never changes. How do you know you are are in god's graces, and do you ever feel unsure of your place in heaven?

    Oh ya, regarding PP and ultrasounds. On their website regarding abortions, they say that an ultrasound "may" be performed. I also found they offered "parenting and adoption" options. They have a short video with nothing graphic. I know that you disagree with it, but I think you'd find find it very informative to visit the site (at least see how PP sees themselves.) I won't post the link unless you say it's ok (don't want to offend).

    I will post this youtube link to a Johnny Cash song "Farther Along." (sorry, there's a 15 sec ad on it) I recently sent this to an atheist friend who likes it.

    1. Chuck,

      Sorry to take so long to respond! We've been sick at my house and my brain has not been in full operational order.

      First, to discuss PP. I ran over to their website and checked out their resources for dealing with pregnancy. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they do list and picture the development of a fetus throughout the pregnancy. I think this is very positive that they have some of the same info. that pro-life workers provide to help women understand that there is a baby in there. They also do provide information about adoption and parenting, along with abortion. However, I did not appreciate this statement: "beware of so-called 'crisis pregnancy centers'. These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They often don't give women all their options. They have a history of scaring women into not having abortions. Absolutely no one should pressure you or trick you into making a decision you're not comfortable with."

      I agree with you on going to the source, in this case PP, to find out info. and I have been to their website before. While I appreciate some of the info. they provide, I am categorically opposed to abortion and just do not trust their agenda.

      Ok, I've run out of time for tonight but will try to reply to the rest of your comment tomorrow.

    2. And yet again, I must apologize for taking so long to reply! It's been a crazy week!

      Actually, I am not a member of the Missouri Synod. I was ordained (the Missouri Synod does not ordain women) in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but it became a poor fit for me as there was a great deal of disconnect between my beliefs and many of the beliefs espoused by my denomination. I now am a member of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), a vibrant, lean, and (I feel) more Biblically-centered denomination. I've been much happier here. I grew up evangelical and Pentecostal, though. I feel blessed to have experienced so many varieties of Christianity because I feel like it opens up my view of the Church. I feel like each branch has some real strengths and some real weaknesses and Christians all need each other. Mostly, my faith is centered around Scripture and letting the Bible interpret itself. I'm always open to amending my beliefs if it can be shown from Scripture that a new understanding is warranted. I know I fail (often) to follow the Bible but I try to follow it and always think of myself under its authority, instead of over its authority. I have a lot more loyalty to the Bible than to any denomination or church group.

    3. Thanks for your question about assurance of salvation. I do believe we can be sure that we are saved. You are correct that Lutherans focus even more on grace than perhaps other Christian denominations (although just about every Christian denomination when pressed will acknowledge that salvation is all of God's grace). My favorite verses about salvation are Ephesians 2:8-10: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." I love how this passage shows that good works do necessarily follow from salvation but they are the result of salvation, not the cause. Faith, which is the opposite of works--faith, which is clinging to Jesus for salvation and not to one's own efforts (for everything we do is shot through with sin and brokenness)--is the way we receive salvation. And this passage even shows that faith itself is God's gift. So, there's NOTHING we can brag about if we have faith.

      Romans 10 makes the way we come to salvation plain as well: "But what does it say? 'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'"

      I am a naturally skeptical person and have struggled with doubts and questions about my faith and life itself since my teen years at least. I sometimes think that if God had not allowed me to be born into a Christian family, perhaps I would not be a Christian. I am grateful that God grabbed onto me. That is how I think of salvation at the end of the day. Instead of me holding on to God, I think of it much more as God holding onto me. That is so comforting particularly in times of doubt. I have returned again and again to John 10 where Jesus says: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." How good to know God is holding onto me! I love also a song by the Christian band, Caedmon's Call, that says, "My faith is like shifting sand, so I stand on grace."

      My family needs to use the computer so I will have to listen to the Johnny Cash song later...but I am a huge fan of Mr. Cash! I love how honest he was about his faith...he never claimed to have it all together but he knew his need of God's grace.

      So, where are you coming from in terms of faith? You said you are not a Christian. Do you hold to a certain faith? Or would you consider yourself an agnostic or atheist?

      Thanks for a great dialogue! I so love talking with people about ideas and faith and having a great, respectful dialogue.

  4. I do hope you are well.

    As far as planned parenthood is concerned, I am glad to see you looked into it for yourself. There can be no honest dialogue without people willing to circumvent media outlets that too often seem to want to stir up controversy rather than shed light. I know your distrust of PP, I sense there is fear too on their side. I also believe that you could prevent a lot of abortions if you could sit across a table from them and discuss a "two party" approach, allowing women to make their own decision. With both parties in the room, trust can be earned thru transparency. Because of the suspicions on both sides, I don't expect this change to come quickly, but you have to admit there is great promise.

    Government can pass laws mandating ultrasounds, but in the end it seems heavy handed and intrusive. Furthermore, in the days of RU 486 the clock can never be turned back by repealing Rowe v. Wade. Prohibition seldom works for the determined or the desperate.

    I believe that scripture speaks to people. When I read the bible, I feel the sensation of "grace" is the appreciation of the truth in the word as it speaks to me.... kinda odd for a non christian, huh? I struggled with it for a long time, and tried to bend it to my will. In the end I would not bend it until it broke. It spoke to me, and said, no. not for you. So I left the church, but I took my bible.

    As you can probably tell, I'm an inspired word kinda guy. Like Elija in kings 19:12 God appeared not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but in a gentle voice. I know that 1 corinthians 13 really reads "charity" but the mistranslation in the KJV "love" speaks to me in a way that the original doesn't. I find a lot of inspiration from non scriptural secondary sources. I'm not at all catholic, but I read Meister Eckhardt and am inspired when he says "The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life: your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away, but they're not punishing you, they're freeing your soul. If you're frightened of dying and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth." It gives me peace.

    I also find that many christian concepts are found in other religions like "Si comprehendis, non est Deus" (if you understand it, it's not god) of St Augustine is exactly like the first line of the Tao te Ching "Spoken Tao is not eternal Tao,Spoken name is not eternal name".

    Many of Jesus parables are found world wide so if you weren't born christian, I'm sure you would have found god's grace, in some form. I am reminded of Ephesians 3:12, and 4:4 . In the end the companion of grace is gratitude. If you feel one, you know you have the other.

    Thank you for sharing your faith. It is truly marvelous to see through another person's eyes, and I grow when I hear your words.

  5. Whenever I think Ephesians I think of this song: one love by bob marley.

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