Franklin Graham's Manipulative Faith

It's well know that Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, is a vehement critic of gay rights and same-sex marriage. His most recent foray into fear-mongering homophobia had him this past week threatening to pull the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's accounts from Wells Fargo. The reason? Wells Fargo ran a television advertisement back in April featuring a lesbian couple learning sign language so that they would be able to communicate with their newly-adopted, deaf daughter. I'm not a huge fan of the banking industry, but as far as ads go, it's probably one of the most endearing. Frankly, I question the humanity of anyone who doesn't choke up even a little bit watching it.

Franklin Graham didn't see it that way. He took to his Facebook page last Friday to blast the ad as one more example of the "moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business, the media, and the gay & lesbian community." For him, it was the final straw: he and his organization would take their money elsewhere, namely to BB&T.

Graham was almost immediately blasted for his apparent hypocrisy. BB&T is pretty gay-friendly, and even recently sponsored a gay pride event in Miami. Indeed, ideological purity would be tough to find, since an overwhelming number of businesses and banks now openly consider themselves gay-friendly and support equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.

Taking to the opinion pages of USA Today on Wednesday, Graham tried to defend his actions and, it seems, save a little face. Graham acknowledged that, like Wells Fargo, BB&T "is also widely considered gay-friendly." But he went on to distinguish being gay-friendly from being a "public advocate." Graham insisted that all businesses, like individuals, "should be friendly to gay customers and citizens. We should be friendly to everyone, even or when we disagree with them." Wells Fargo, however, went one step further. According to Graham, the bank "went beyond being gay-friendly to being a public advocate--through a national TV advertising campaign--for a lifestyle we, as a Christian organization, believe to be biblically wrong."

I don't find the distinction all that convincing, and Graham comes across as grasping at proverbial straws. But even if his argument were convincing, his public statements don't seem to indicate that he's all that friendly to LGBTQ individuals and communities either. It's just not amicable to tell gay and lesbian individuals that they will "spend eternity in Hell," even if Graham's poor version of Christian love deems it necessary.

Moreover, Graham isn't above using that "love" to attempt to manipulate those with whom he disagrees, including ironically gay and lesbian individuals. Take Graham's views on Islam, for instance. For Graham, "Islam is not a religion of peace" but "a very violent form of faith." That's probably news to most Muslims, but Graham's crude equation of all Islam with its worst elements (and, to be clear, all religions have such elements) is part and parcel of the type of fear-mongering he consistently uses to back his own theocratic agenda.

What's odd but also telling is that, in pushing this agenda, he often appeals to gay and lesbian individuals, as if he is on their side. Consider, for instance, what Graham said about an article published this week on BBC News focusing on what life is like under Islamic State, or ISIS, in Mosul:

Women are oppressed, Christians and minorities are persecuted and murdered, homosexuals are tortured and killed. President Obama seems to be at a loss as to what to do. Pray that God will give him and our leaders wisdom, and pray for all those living under Islam.

I doubt that "homosexuals" have it good under ISIS, but the article in question doesn't have anything to do with the plight of gay and lesbian individuals in Mosul. So why mention it? It's all part of Graham's ploy to garner support among LGBTQ individuals and communities for his mission against Islam.

Back in March, for instance, Graham posted the following plea on his Facebook page:

A message to the gay & lesbian community. A recent news report shows Islamists throwing gays off rooftops and then stoning them when they hit the ground. Does this sound like a peaceful religion to you, as the president has said? I do not support the gay and lesbian lifestyle--I believe homosexuality is a sin as the Bible teaches. But I love gay and lesbian people, and I want them to know that God loves them too and He is willing and eager to forgive sin--all sin--however we must repent and turn from our sin and believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Graham appeals to fear, in other words, in an attempt win over gay and lesbian communities to his anti-Islam crusade. That's why he appeals to "homosexuals" in his recent comments about life under ISIS: it's a not-so-gentle reminder to all, but especially "women," "Christians," "minorities," and "homosexuals," that "Sharia law should be banned in the U.S. and all countries that cherish freedom and liberty."

It's an odd strategy, appealing to the very persons on whom he hinges the "moral decay" of the United States to join his cause, and probably misguided at best, since I doubt that many LGBTQ individuals take Graham all that seriously. It might help if he were a little friendlier. Nevertheless, it does go to show that Graham is not above a certain amount of attempted manipulation when it comes to his various crusades, especially when it comes to criticizing Islam. In other words, if you can't beat them, have them join you.

Graham's version of Christianity is, in this sense, little more than an ideology that seeks cover under the language of love. The fact is that Graham's brand of religion is more of a "threat" to gay and lesbian individuals in the United States than the "radical Islam" that he sees lurking around every corner. Indeed, it's a threat to all who "cherish liberty and freedom"--and that includes LGBTQ individuals and Muslims.