Guest column by Jim CastroLang
For a few days now, something has been gnawing at me. The Rev. Billy Graham died a few days ago. He was a good man who I expect tried to faithfully live his faith. There is no doubt that he touched many lives. He has been lauded within the Christian community from the right to the left. Without being a political activist, he tried to do the right thing in the Jim Crowe and segregation era. Presidents sought his spiritual advice and now they come to pay their respects.
As many articles have pointed out, he was not a perfect man. He made some big mistakes and hurtful statements along the way but tried to apologize and do better. I sincerely believe all of that.
Yet, something is gnawing at me.
Billy Graham had a different faith than my progressive (evolutionary) Christian faith. As a result, we had sharp differences on women in society and the church – on the fact that there is nothing wrong in God’s eyes to be any of these letters – LGBTQI – on our theological understanding of who Jesus Christ is, the meaning of the cross, and the reality of the resurrection. Yet, all these differences and more are not what is getting to me.
Something is still gnawing at me.
More than 20 years ago, he turned his enormous Bill Graham ministries over to his son Franklin. Despite the family connection, Franklin is nothing like his father. At least, I do not see any substantive likeness. Billy Graham may have struggled with many of his own prejudices and thinking that he was trapped into by the subculture he was a part of. He may not have been ready for many of the rapid changes of attitude in our post-modern times. But, usually he held back and did not infuse into his ministry and his preaching his base thoughts. He had the discipline to strive to follow Jesus Christ and to not to make his ministry about his causes. At least, most of the time.
Franklin has no such discipline. As a result, he spews toxic hate and mistakenly roots it in the Bible and Jesus Christ. This is very damaging. In fact, this is religious abuse of power and position. This is creating God in our own image. Since I am a Progressive Christian, you might expect this from me. Please note, for all my disagreements with Billy Graham – I see him as one who strove to be used in service by God. On the whole, he did not mold God in his own image but instead tried to reflect God’s love and truth as he sincerely experienced it. Franklin has not such integrity. He called for the banning of Muslims from entering the U.S. before Trump did. He supported the firing of a Wheaton (Christian) College professor who stated that Muslims have the same God as Christians. Franklin has been part of the ever-growing divide in this country. His divisive rhetoric is masked within a small-minded Christian theology and is really a political agenda to create a Christian theocracy out of the United States of America.
So, back to what is gnawing at me. Why did Billy Graham appoint his son to take over his ministry enterprise and his legacy? Why is there no evidence that he ever tried to pull Franklin back and steer him toward being more of a uniting force on behalf of Jesus Christ rather than the divisive force he has become?
Maybe I have been wrong about Billy Graham all these years. Maybe his true legacy is showing in his son. I don’t want to believe this. Historians and serious biographers of Billy Graham must account for this disconnect from father to son. It is said, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Is that true here? Franklin Graham is truly bitter fruit.