Reverend Dr Michael Bird of Ridley College, Melbourne, is an accomplished author for The Spectator Australia as well as academically in his own right, but his criticisms of Franklin Graham—son of the famous Billy Graham—are unwarranted and misleading. Bird has recently written a column for the ABC’s Religion & Ethics outlining why he won’t be going to hear him speak when Graham comes out to Australia next year, and why he will be discouraging everyone else he knows from attending as well.
Bird’s biggest beef is that—unlike his father Billy—Franklin “has not avoided political partisanship – in fact, he has embraced it with gusto. Franklin Graham has been a fervent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump from the beginning. He has even described Trump in quasi-messianic terms, portraying him as a God-sent saviour to America.”
What’s more, according to Bird, “Franklin Graham wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 1998 that President Bill Clinton should consider resigning from the White House because of his affair with Monica Lewinski:
Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?
However, somewhat peculiarly, the link that Bird provides to substantiate his bold claims actually refutes his own argument.
Especially note the following transcript from the above interview:
I think that when the country went after President Clinton—the Republicans—that was a great mistake and should never have happened. And I think the same with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business. And we’ve got other business at hand that we need to deal with.
You have to also understand that he’s seventy-one years old and I don’t think he came to be President by mistake or by happenstance. I think that somehow God put him in this position because he’s not a politician, he seemed to do everything wrong as a politician, he offended many people, he did the wrong things. But somehow he became President and I just have to think that God had some reason, put him there for a purpose and I don’t know what that is, but we need to get behind and support him’.
Now, two points are obvious from this. First, Graham doesn’t see Trump as in any way being a saviour, especially a messiah who is morally perfect. In fact, he seems genuinely surprised that Trump—by the hand of God—has even become President. As a believer in the Bible though, he acknowledges that there must be some higher purpose because it is ‘the Most High who is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men’. (Daniel 4:17; see also Isa. 45:13) And as such, we should show honour to those in authority over us (1 Pet. 2:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-3). This is what any Christian should do, especially when a leader is elected fair and square in a democratic election.
Second, Graham previously opposed Clinton not because of his numerous sexual indiscretions but because of his ongoing deception in covering them up. This is something that Bird fails to distinguish and instead states: “This same Graham has urged Christian voters to overlook Trump’s crude “p***y-grabbing” remarks.” Once again though, it’s worth chasing up the link which Bird provides to, supposedly, support his case. Because rather than ‘urging Christian voters to overlook Trump’s crude’ remarks this is what Graham actually wrote—note, on October 8 2016—on Facebook:
The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended. But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended. I am not endorsing any candidates in this election. I have said it throughout this presidential campaign, and I will say it again—both candidates are flawed. The only hope for the United States is God. Our nation’s many sins have permeated our society, leading us to where we are today. But as Christians we can’t back down from our responsibility to remain engaged in the politics of our nation. On November 8th we will all have a choice to make. The two candidates have very different visions for the future of America. The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court. That impacts everything. There’s no question, Trump and Clinton scandals might be news for the moment, but who they appoint to the Supreme Court will remake the fabric of our society for our children and our grandchildren, for generations to come.
Graham’s point here is that the central issue for him as to who should be the next President is the Supreme Court appointments that they will make. This was a key factor for many people, especially as it would relate to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It is quite surprising then to read Bird conclude:
My opposition to Franklin Graham is not based on his political preference for Trump. I have American friends who voted for and against Trump. And while I am no Trump fan, even I can admit that Trump has scored some victories in economics, judicial appointments and foreign policy. Rather, my opposition is to Graham’s idolatrous devotion to Trump – the way he has messianized Trump to look like Jesus and caesarized Jesus to look like Trump”.
Really? Are we even talking about the same Graham? Because not only does Bird fail to produce the evidence needed to prove his points regarding Graham Jnr, but he also whitewashes Graham senior’s own political activism, especially in his preaching. As Bird states:
I’m also all for celebrating Billy Graham’s 1959 crusades. The problem is that, well, Franklin Graham is no Billy Graham. Furthermore, Franklin Graham sadly represents a syncretistic blend of Trumpism and Christianity, a Faustian pact of political support in exchange for preferential treatment, and risks the Constantinization of the church. His visit will reinforce the suspicion that all Australian evangelicals are really pining for an Aussie version of Trump to establish a theocracy like that in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Wow. So, according to Bird anyone who is ‘deplorable’ enough support the current U.S. President is in bed with the Devil. They’re the evil religious bigots in keeping with Margaret Attwood’s dystopian anti-Christian novel. I wonder if he would have said the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won and appointed to the Supreme Court progressive pro-choice judges for the next twenty-five years.
But Bird seems to have overlooked that just a few years ago, Dr Hugh Chilton did a lecture at his own Ridley College regarding “The Preaching and Politics of Billy Graham” which is still on their website. But what is really surprising is just how ‘political’ Franklin’s father Billy, actually was. In fact, more often than not his greatest criticisms were from people saying that he was nowhere near as political enough, especially in responding to racism and the Vietnam War.
Rather than ‘giving him the Bird’, I’ll be listening carefully to what Franklin Graham will have to say. But in case you’re interested, you can check him out for yourself beforehand below
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Illustration: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
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