Billy Graham is a legend and one of the most remarkable persons I have come across in my lifetime, and along with many others have been much influenced by his example and his minsitry, and this coming from one who is generally reticent when it comes to the adulation of virtuous, well known personalities. I have no doubt when Billy is promoted to glory (he is after all 97 and it can’t be long) there will be tributes paid to him, from many quarters, from all round the world, for his impact has been monumental. He has that remarkable quality of being able to preach a fiery, old-fashioned gospel message and do so in a winsome way that wins over even many of his enemies, and he is well adept in engaging with and gaining trust from Christians coming from all sorts of backgrounds and outlooks, ranging from Catholic to fundamentalist, although he has received criticism from the latter group for being soft toward those who err doctrinally. He is widely regarded these days as US’s elder statesman, a guardian of the nation’s morals and a national treasure, speaking as he does into the conscience of the nation and its godly heritage, and has been generously affirmed by all US Presidents. I first came across him in my mid teens and attended one of his rallies (at Wembley Stadium) in 1966 and have followed his preaching with interest ever since. While I never got out of my seat, came to the front and gave my heart to Jesus on that occasion, it was not long after when I did. From what I could make out, of the many thousands of converts from his rallies held across the world, many have stood the test of time and continue to make a difference to their communities as a result of the Christian commitment.
Franklin Graham is his son, and for all intents and purposes is taking on the baton from his father, a hard act to follow by any standards, which no doubt he is well aware off realizing his ministry is not the same as his fathers, although his goal to serve the Lord is the same. For the past few months he has been speaking in rallies across the USA, in the light of the US Presidential elections to be held in November, and doing so in a forthright way. In one of the latest reports titled: “Christians must vote to ‘save country’s soul’ Graham tells N.J. rally” we read: “Declaring that “we are in a battle for the soul of this country,” evangelist Franklin Graham exhorted a sprawling crowd outside the Statehouse Wednesday to vote in the Nov. 8 election and to become “political activists for God.” The oldest son of the world-famous evangelist Billy Graham declined to advise people on whether they should vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Pray and let God lead you to the decision, Graham said. “You might have to go to the polls and hold your nose,” he said, eliciting laughter. In an interview after the 90-minute prayer rally, Graham said people ought to be guided by whom the next president will appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court, which he declared the important factor in the race. “We have to ask ourselves which of the two candidates will appoint better judges?” But staying away from the polls cannot be an option if they hope to reverse the country’s moral decline and steady slide into secularism, he said. Graham said he staff estimated the crowd at 2,700. He chastised religious leaders who “are more concerned about profits and political correctness than they are about God’s truth and his righteousness.” He spoke out against the “sins of the nation:” abortion, same sex marriage, and the preoccupation with violence and sex on TV and in movies.”
Franklin Graham has attracted controversy as is nigh inevitable given the task he has taken on. As one of his Facebook followers I read and then shared on my own page his latest offering: “Hillary Clinton was speaking to a gay and lesbian group in Manhattan when she said that half the people supporting Donald J. Trump are a basketful of deplorables—racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. But I wonder if she, or even you, have thought about our position before Almighty God. All sin is deplorable to Him. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and the wages of sin is death. Sin has infected the entire human race. It’s a disease of the human soul. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. So much so that when Jesus carried our sins to the cross, God had to turn His back and could not even look on Him. Jesus died for our sins, took our sins to the grave, and rose again triumphantly to life on the third day. If we confess our sins, repent, and believe on Him as our Savior, our deplorable sins are washed away and we can have a right standing before God. I’m thankful that because of His forgiveness and mercy, I’m not “a deplorable” to God, even though I might be in the eyes of Hillary Clinton. What about you?” I was interested in two comments by two of my quite different in background and outlook friends: “From what I have read from Franklin lately, he has falling a long way from the tree of his earthly father” and “Hillary’s comments were not appropriate although fairly accurate. Franklin Graham has been fueling the fires of hate, division and disrespect … so unlike his father. Sad”.
In my own response to these comments I offer the following thoughts … I am reluctant to criticize other preachers, especially when what they say is basically sound and said in good faith, as is the case here. I am well aware of a whole range of Christian responses by American preachers to the two main presidential candidates, who offer totally different visions for America, and find myself often coming to the view they say some things that are true but for the sake of balance miss other things. I fear this may be the case with Franklin Graham, who seems more concerned with matters of private morality than social injustice, and who is clearly having a dig at Hillary Clinton, but I have not seen much of the same approach when it comes to Donald Trump. His statements insisting the Mexicans build a wall to keep their people out of the USA, the banning of Muslims coming into the USA; his narcissism, crassness, bigotry, arrogance, semi intentional hate mongering all surely are matters where Trump should be taken to task. I hear hardly a word of censure from Franklin, who appears confined to the narrow agenda of the Christian right, although I concede there is a moral vacuum and corruption that filters down from the very top, in which I sense Clinton is linked to a greater extent than Trump, although Trump’s own past dealings have been highly suspect in this regard.
I believe America needs a prophetic voice, like that of Billy Graham, to turn it from unrighteousness to following the will of God. I for one am quite content to stand with other deplorables for making these points (see here), providing we don’t adopt our own table of acts of unrighteousness, with homosexuality at the top and social injustice at the bottom. Hillary’s ideas of what constitutes deplorable, i.e. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic”, are not altogether wrong, even though there are many other things just as deplorable, which Hillary conveniently ignores, and it is wrong to dismiss any of these as being inconsequential. None should be taken and worn as badges of pride, which I fear both Donald and Hillary supporters do in their different ways. But then again, I likely differ from duplicitous Hillary regarding definitions, as my writings show.
The Bible teaches us that all sin is abhorrent to God and we need to turn from it. I would like to think of Franklin as being a much needed prophetic voice, but given the impression he is in the pockets of the Christian right, with their skewed theology, I have my doubts. The approach, I believe is right for preachers to adopt, is to concentrate on preaching to gospel in its entirety, while applying God’s word to the current situation, which is concerning, without prioritizing sin according to our own prejudices, or acting with histrionics or showing favoritism, being beholden to God alone.