Franklin Graham, for whatever reason, seems like a guy convinced that the whole Inquisition thing was just a misunderstanding. Not that bad, really. If you’re going to make an omelet (at least one that keeps people from burning in hell), you’re going to need to break a few eggs. Amirite?
Look, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we understand Franklin Graham believes only he (and a close group of friends) are worthy to walk the streets of gold. Of course, he would most likely be quick to object that nobody’s worthy of that kind of eternal reward--that only Jesus is capable of making people worthy. But Jesus, according to the scion of evangelicalism’s premiere family, appears exceedingly picky about who he deems worthy … to deem worthy.
In Franklin’s febrile world, Jesus is an especially eager hall monitor, vigilantly studying bathroom passes lest the wrong sort accidentally wander into the heavenly accommodations in search of a little relief. Jesus, on a reading of Franklin Graham’s (Facebook) theology, roams about enthusiastically in search of an ever-widening crowd of bad-choosers with whom to be disappointed.
So, it’s a good thing God’s number one rent-a-cop is on the case. Otherwise, all those grabby LGBTQ people might find a little dignity (and Lord knows, that’s the last thing Jesus would want). Just the other day on his Facebook page the Reverend Graham set his sights on the new Mayor of Charlotte. It seems that she had the temerity to urge the City Council to take another look at a Nondiscrimination Ordinance, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The ordinance failed to pass last spring, but the new mayor has decided that the prospect of a little fairness for some marginalized folks is a good thing.
But never fear, Franklin has God’s position staked out, which would prevent “predators and sexually perverted people” from entering the wrong bathroom. (Of course, you might be tempted to ask just which bathrooms would be suitable for predators and perverts, and who it is that gets to be in charge of determining just which deviants ought to occupy the “No Pee List,” but you would be wrong to ask about such silly things. Rest assured, Franklin has it all under control. Presumably, he would be more than happy to deputize a posse of the morally censorious to set up outside public restrooms to check people’s sexual orientation and gender claims against their social affectations and anatomical makeups, ensuring that only non-predators and non-sexually perverted people would be allowed inside. You’ll be in good hands … er, well, you know what I mean.)
And lest you think that Captain Captious is only concerned about what people do with their privates in public lavatories, he’s also looking out for all of our best interests when it comes to protecting us from that other group of the hell-bound -- the Muslims. After President Obama showed poor form in visiting a mosque and treating Islam as a respectable religion, Franklin Graham -- Christianity’s version of Donald Trump -- wanted to be first out of the gate reminding us that Christianity is totally better than Islam, so much better. It’s unbelievable how much better Christianity is. I mean, you literally would not believe how much better. It’s not even a contest.
Officer Irenic suggested that Muslims would understand all this if they weren’t in Hell’s express lane. Well, what he actually said was: “Islam cannot save anyone from Hell or open the gates of Heaven … Muhammad is dead. I worship a risen Lord! Islam can't compete with that.” If you happen to be a follower of Jesus, this line of attack is embarrassing -- and, let’s face it, this is an attack. But notwithstanding the fact that playing “so’s-your-old-man” when you’re a 63-year-old adult just looks pathetic (especially when your go-to schoolyard smack talk is so anemic), engaging in it against a historically respected religious tradition makes the rest of us Christians look derpy and mean-spirited by association.
This is once again my beef with Franklin Graham: He argues publicly, loudly, and often for a kind of Christianity that many of us who follow Jesus are tired of having to answer for. A large segment of Christianity can’t run away from Franklin’s brand of self-righteous morality policing fast enough to avoid the flak.
A casual reading of the Gospels indicates that the message of Jesus centers on expanding the circle of welcome, rather than in searching for excuses to shrink it. One of the primary duties of those who would follow Jesus is to live in such a way as to enable those who don’t know him to get a clear picture of who he is and whom he loves. Therefore, to the extent that we fail to love others (especially those who are most vulnerable), we fail the very thing that makes our faith intelligible as an expression of who we believe God to be. That is to say, when we fail to love those different from us, our faith makes absolutely no sense.
But here’s the thing, not only is Franklin Graham’s penurious score-keeping of who’s in and who’s out a distortion of Christianity, it’s a bastardization of what it means to be American. Because America, by its best lights, is always about finding a way to make space for everyone.
That Franklin’s take on LGBTQ people and Muslims is neither Christian nor American is especially grievous, since Franklin frequently confuses the two. Don’t take my word for it. He’s plenty clear that America needs to wake up and realize which side its religious bread is buttered on: “The foundations of this nation have nothing to do with Islam, but everything to do with the Church of Jesus Christ.”
I’m not saying that Franklin Graham isn’t a Christian or a patriot. I’m only questioning his version of Christianity, his understanding of patriotism.
If Franklin Graham isn’t the worst thing to happen to either God or America in a while, he sure seems determined to take a run at it.
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