I wasn’t going to post anything this week. Just couldn’t seem to make it happen. Then “wham,” a post from the amazing Derek Penwell came across my newsfeed, I read it, I liked it, REALLY liked it, and I asked his permission to share. He said yes, so here you go.
“Derek Penwell is an author, editor, speaker, and activist. He is the senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and a lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Louisville. He is the author of articles ranging from church history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions, as well as the forthcoming book from Chalice Press, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World, about how mainline denominations can avoid despair in an emerging world. He currently edits a blog on emergence Christianity, [D]mergent.org, and blogs at his own site. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.”
Man, this guy never gives up. Franklin Graham seems once again to be suffering from an all too common form of fundamentalist pathology that has him spouting off hateful imprecations in the name of Jesus without the apparent filter that allows most properly socialized adults to navigate the world without a significant portion of the population thinking you’re a pestiferous twit.
You think that’s harsh? Hyperbolic? Not sufficiently deferential to the scion of the Billy Graham empire?
“Shouldn’t the son of the man who built up such good will over the years receive the benefit of the doubt?” you may be asking.
I can see how you might be feeling a bit protective. Franklin Graham is something of a shrinking violet, unused to the rugby scrum of public life. Having kept himself out of the limelight for so long now, keeping to himself, refraining from comment, it’s understandable that you might be a little sensitive when he seems under attack from the mean, vindictive bullies on the left.
If you consider Franklin Graham a prophet, a steadfast man of God only doing his duty as God’s ecclesiastical hitman, you’ll probably want to stop reading now, because the rest of this is just going to raise your blood pressure. Because Franklin Graham is at it again, stirring the pot, making life difficult for those who follow Jesus to raise their heads in public.
A casual review of his Facebook page over the past couple weeks turns up these heartwarming examples of Franklin’s public theological reticence:
1. On the Boy Scouts decision to allow Gay adults be scout leaders:More disappointing news about the Boy Scouts of America yesterday as they voted to allow gay adult leaders. 79% of their Board voted in favor of this unfathomable change–I still find it hard to believe that BSA doesn’t see the dangers in this. Why would anyone want to entrust their son to an organization that has gone this direction?
(It’s not your job to protect the dignity of people created a particular way by God. Your job is to heap as much public scorn on folks as you can muster.)
Question: Um, excuse us, but aren’t you heaping scorn on Franklin Graham right now?
Answer: The difference here is that whereas Franklin Graham (a rich, straight, white, male) sits atop his own religious media empire, immune to the slings and arrows of plebeians like me, the folks Franklin Graham regularly takes aim at are very often the people who’ve traditionally found their place at the back of the socio-politico-economic line. Trying to put a crack in the protective armor of someone that well-insulated for the purpose of calling attention to his violent and harmful dictums is an entirely different thing from carelessly humiliating those who’ve too often lived in a fragile place their whole lives. The difference, to use an unfortunate analogy: I’m punching up; Franklin Graham regularly punches down.
2. On the apocalyptic influence of MuslimsWe are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?
Question: What would Jesus do?
Answer: Put Muslims in internment camps, apparently.
Ok, to be fair he didn’t actually say that. But boy did he tiptoe right up to the line. Does anyone honestly think that, given the power (and half a chance), Franklin Graham wouldn’t imprison Muslims–just because they’re Muslims? What would stop him? Certainly not his theology, since it’s pretty clear that Franklin believes Jesus hates pretty much everybody he hates. [Which certainty, I imagine, has God cringing every time Franklin opens his mouth. Because, let’s face it, it’s often difficult for even God to escape the advanced billing of God’s most enthusiastic (but unfortunately, enthusiastically wrong) supporters.]
3. On public civility:Ripping into each other, mocking each other, telling lies about each other and to the American people isn’t a display of leadership. You have put yourself forth as a candidate for the highest office in the land. Take the high road. All of us want to hear your ideas for the future. No one wants to hear the backbiting, petty squabbling, and negative attack ads that make a mockery out of our elections.
Wow! We’re (mostly) among friends here, right? Does anyone not see the delicious irony of this quote coming from the keyboard of Franklin Graham? One gets the impression that he wakes up every morning drafting new lists of people in his head God really shouldn’t have to be bothered with anymore. This is the guy who in practice seems to believe that the high road is simply the most strategic vantage point from which to pick off the enemies of God–or at least the challengers to Franklin’s vision of who God would have as enemies if God had the sense to ask Franklin.
4. On President Obama evangelizing on behalf of things Franklin doesn’t like:I didn’t know that we were sending our president halfway around the world to promote the gay & lesbian agenda!
Interesting that Franklin Graham is heir to a tradition, one of the primary functions of which is sending people halfway around the world to promote a variety of agendas much closer to Franklin’s heart; Christianity, for one–at least a fundamentalist version of it. Before I go any further, let me just say that I’m not against telling the story of Jesus to those who’ve never heard it. Sharing something you care about deeply with other people can be a wonderfully generous and human (not to mention, Christian) thing to do. But let’s be honest, much of the history of western Christian mission work is as much about creating Westerners (even if only inadvertently) as about sharing Jesus. All of which is to say, Franklin Graham is a part of a tradition used to sending people halfway around the world to promote agendas. The difference is that the President’s agenda calls for people to be given dignity and respect for who they are, while Franklin Graham’s agenda often leaves people feeling they’re not worthy of dignity and respect until they become like him.
5. On Christianity in the crosshairs:As Christians we’ve got to take a stand for our religious freedoms. It’s a new day in America–Christianity is in the direct line of fire
Turns out, though, Christianity isn’t in the direct line of fire, only Franklin Graham’s version of it is. If your faith commits you to treating LGBTQ people and Muslims and liberals as though God’s only use for them is populating the seedier sections of hell, then it’s going to feel like you’re in the direct line of fire; when people say you don’t get to do that if, on the other hand, you happen to be seeking to widen the embrace envisioned by the reign of God (as is a significant portion of the rest of Christianity), you will find that your faith not only isn’t in the direct line of fire, it’s often celebrated (even by those who disagree with you) as a gift to a world bent on destroying itself in the name of parochial orthodoxies.
Here’s the thing, Franklin Graham isn’t the voice of Christianity, let alone a stand in for the voice of God. In fact, much of the rest of Christianity has to work overtime because Franklin Graham invests so much energy saying things that make the rest of us who take God seriously shake our heads; which is why Franklin Graham is once again the worst thing to happen to God in a while.