Two years ago today, Billy Graham died.
Back when Graham was in his mid-70s, a longtime friend volunteered at one of his “crusades.” I thought my friend’s supportive service to the Crusade was interesting since she was not of the Graham tribe per se, but I respected her work nonetheless. She was simply supporting a relatively pure gospeling effort by a good, believing man.
Since that time a quarter-century ago, I’ve come to respect Billy Graham (and a few others not of my bent on this or that) more deeply. As far as I’m aware, Graham had no scandals during his lifetime, and he was obviously a committed Christ-being. There was perhaps not another like him in the latter half of the 20th century. His crusades were held internationally, and he surely preached “live” to more people than any other human. Incidentally, I knew the nephew and niece-in-law of Graham’s evangelistic vocalist, George Beverly Shea. Those Sheas were also fine Christian people.
Even before the death of Mr. Graham (not “Reverend” for me¹), his son Franklin was preparing to take on Billy’s mantle. However, each bit I’ve read about Franklin Graham in the last decade or two tells me he is not exactly his father’s spit and image.
Having come across an AP article² about Franklin’s book Through My Father’s Eyes, I immediately became biased against him: I look with suspicion on anyone who appears to be cashing in³ on another’s work. The article mentions Billy’s fear that Franklin would become partisan and even political at all. Franklin’s response? “I made it clear [that I wasn’t partisan] by making it a prayer rally [and didn’t tell anyone] how to vote.” There, I see a smokescreen! The article proceeds to note that Franklin “has become an outspoken Trump ally and writes in the book that he thanks God the Republican was elected.” This is obviously not Billy Graham.
I know Franklin’s charity organization Samaritan’s Purse as one that has done much good, and most of its causes appear quite well-placed. (Only one is inappropriate and arguably partisan, in my view.) The organization, like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a worldwide vision, which is clearly a good thing. But Franklin’s alignment with Donald Trump, and his interspersing of Trump quotes with Billy Graham quotes in the book, shows that he has little clue that American as a country has nothing to do with God. He’s on track with some of the views noted in the article, including the observation that negative influences are rampant in our schools and our nation. He warns that “Republicans shouldn’t take Christian voters for granted,” but he almost seems to equate Republicanism with Christianity. Whoa, Franklin. “God and country” are not a real pair.
I later saw this blog with several quotes from Franklin indicating his nationalistic emphases. Franklin seems so much more politically motivated, i.e., not nearly as focused on the making of Christian disciples or even on the preaching of the good news of Jesus. Wanting to be fair, I listened to this recording in order to “get to know” Franklin . . . .
I heard Franklin say “Christians should stand strong.” That’s good.
Then I heard him say he’s sure “we’re in the last hours on God’s clock.” That’s not well founded and tends to pigeonhole him with fear-mongers and questionable eschatologists.
Subsequently, there were more emphases along these lines . . . and I tuned him out, because he sounded like a parrot without much conviction in the voice.
Franklin’s nationalistic emphasis is the negative clincher for me. Not that Billy Graham was unconcerned about the U.S.A. He is known to have met with and counseled a whole string of presidents. But Billy’s overall emphasis seems not to have been on the country so much as on the soul and its relation to God.
In the end, the “Getting to Know Franklin” session didn’t make me want to know him any more. I’m a Billy Graham admirer, despite a couple of serious practical/doctrinal differences. Franklin? Not so much. I’m sure he’s also a good and honest man, but he is not as focused, and his political speech and lack of careful biblical teaching suggest that he is neither the thinker nor the leader his father was.
¹ I won’t call Mr. Graham “Reverend” since the idea of reverence is better reserved for God alone, and I see no point in pandering to the human notion of denominational “ordination.”
² Jonathan Drew (AP), “Book Shares Son’s Look at ‘America’s Pastor'”
³ A casual observer might say I’ve done something similar in “trading” on a couple aspects of my family history in my writing and composing, but I’ve made it clear where I differed instead of being aligned, and I have in no way benefited financially.