Religious leaders call Graham to social justice
Leaders of the North Carolina NAACP and other religious leaders are jointly calling on Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham, to stop his conservative politicking against equality and his continued public suspicions regarding President Barack Obama’s Christian faith.
The open letter, mailed to media yesterday evening, is initially signed by nearly two dozen leaders, including Charlotte’s Bishop Tonyia Rawls of the predominately LGBT and African-American Unity Fellowship Church of Charlotte.
In the letter, NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, calls on Graham to stop using his father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, of which Franklin Graham serves as CEO, for political purposes.
The full letter appears below:
AN OPEN LETTER TO REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM
REGARDING VALUES AND VOTING
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord”- Luke 4:18-19
October 29, 2012
Rev. Franklin Graham
President and CEO
Billy Graham Evangelical Association
1 Billy Graham Parkway
Charlotte, NC 28201
Dear Rev. Graham:
We write today as a brother in the faith, as a member of God’s human family. This letter comes in Christian love but also with great hurt and concern. Earlier this year your acts as the President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association compelled us to ask you to examine yourself and to cease arousing unwarranted suspicion regarding President Barack Obama’s Christian faith.
In February 2012 you expressed your doubts about his faith on national television, partly because he had tried to engage Muslim nations and leaders in a dialogue about the world’s future. North Carolina evangelicals and prophetic ministers, steeped in the African American church, asked you to cease arousing unwarranted suspicion about the President’s faith. These Christian clergy and scholars wrote to you in private as the scriptures first demand. Among many things in our pastoral and prophetic critique we said to you on March 5, 2012:
…It seems to us that your apology is helpful and yet narrow and almost grudging. And we feel a reluctant confidence that you and many other Evangelicals will continue to disparage President Obama and the faith of other Christians through a critique that pushes him and many of us outside the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith.
It is not your inclination to criticize that concerns us. Like you, we believe that our Christian faith calls us to critique the powers and policies of our society through the lens of Christian ethics. Many of the things for which you and other Evangelicals have assailed the President for doing are not anti-Christian; they are at the very heart of Christ’s work among us!
President Obama’s faith was formed in a prophetic Christian tradition that certainly resonates with our own traditions, experiences and Scriptural readings. In Dreams from My Father, he writes of the first stirrings of his Christian faith: “…at the foot of that cross… I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories of survival and freedom and hope became our story, my story… at once unique and universal, black and more than black.”
. . .
If you would extend to your brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt for a moment, does it surprise you that we experience these constant attacks on our president’s faith not just as assaults on President Obama but as an assault on the fundamental Christian faith that has helped to shape the moral conscience of our nation? This faith tradition has historically helped America address issues such as slavery, lynching, segregation and discrimination, economic injustice, and caring for the material needs of the poor.
. . .
The biblical prophets and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ viewed injustice, poverty and the absence of social consciousness as the greatest moral concern of the faith.
You were apparently unmoved by our criticism. Last week, as the CEO of the non-profit, tax-exempt Billy Graham Evangelical Association, you used the Association’s funds to buy expensive full page ads in major newspapers in North Carolina and other parts of the country to further arouse unwarranted suspicion about the President’s personal faith. The paid advertisement contained transparent insinuations about “support for the nation of Israel”, the “sanctity of life” and the “biblical definition of marriage,” with a photo of your father and his signature. Your ad implied he wrote the text of what was a clear endorsement of the President’s opponent because he was more of a Christian than the President. This political endorsement was particularly ironic, since the non-profit you preside over has, until a couple of weeks ago, questioned whether Mormonism is part of the Christian faith.
We are intrigued by the suggestion of Dr. William C. Martin, of Rice University, who wrote a glowing biography about your father called A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, when he saw copies of the ad you authorized over your Association’s name. Dr. Martin suggested that you “steered” your father to make this statement, since Billy Graham’s interest in homosexuality was “never central” to his ministry. To test his suspicion, he suggested a small group of reporters meet with Billy Graham to hear directly his comments on the assertions made in the statement you paid to publish. Dr. Martin said that your father, “after realizing that he’d been cynically manipulated by Richard Nixon…resisted joining the Religious Right. He [Billy Graham] warned religious leaders ‘to be wary of exercising political influence’ lest they lose their spiritual impact.”
If Billy Graham has indeed changed, and at 93 has decided to join the Religious Right, which wants to restore the closed, exclusive society of the past, historians should hear it from him first hand, since his legacy has been one of openness and inclusivity. We were brought up on stories of Billy Graham tearing down the ropes of Jim Crow at his crusade, and his invitation to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to preach with him at a crusade. It would be a radical departure for Billy Graham to now exclude souls he might reach in his ministry for partisan reasons and a theologically narrow critique.
Although you told the media “If you want to think I’m behind all of it, I don’t care,” we respectfully ask you to reconsider this flippant remark. Your father’s historical legacy is at stake.
We have major differences with those who today call themselves ‘conservatives,’ while resisting and ignoring so much of God’s character. They say so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much. True bibliocentric conservatism would not do this.
This sort of cherry-picking easy parts of Christianity is not a new practice. During slavery there were those who claimed deep adherence to scripture in their support of slavery and racism. They picked out a few texts to build a whole system of injustice, while ignoring the multiplicity of texts that condemned human oppression. Though claiming to be Biblicists, they ignored as much of the Bible as they could, as though a half-reading of the Bible justified slavery.
During the Civil Rights Movement there were many who found ways to dismiss the biblical call for justice and righteousness. Many of them were so liberal in their dispelling of God’s demands that they criticized Dr. King, saying he was not acting like a preacher. He had to remind them that if you read and accept the whole counsel of the tribune of God, you must challenge the evils of racism, classism (poverty) and militarism.
We must remind ourselves to hold on to a faith that will not shrink. To declare that with God, some things never change.
In the 8th century B.C., God called the prophet Micah from the village of Moresheth in Judah to raise the question that everyone must ask when there are attempts to hijack the moral and righteous standards of our faith to serve the petty schemes of men: ‘What doth the Lord require?’ Micah asked. What never changes, from age to age with God? What is always God’s primary focus for his people? What transcends our labels? Our political alliances? Our situational ethics? What is greater than which leader enjoys a political majority at any given moment? Do justice! Love mercy! Walk humbly before your God!
When Jesus came he said in Luke’s gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord”
We hear so much clamoring about values especially from you and our colleagues who claim to conserve the tenets of the Christian faith and moral values. Why is that which you seek to conserve, is so narrow? You would do well to remember that in the deepest traditions of our faith, of our values, of our sense of morality and righteousness, is the requirement that we as a society must remember that our responsibility to the poor, vulnerable, and those on the margins is at the top of God’s agenda.
Lest we be hypocritical and potentially heretical, lest we lead political leaders to be guilty of perjury when they place their hands on the Bible to be sworn into public office, should we not make it clear that the sacred text of both the Hebrew and Christian faith contains more than 300 verses on the issues of justice and poverty, showing God’s deep concern for them as the priority of God’s agenda. Except for the sin of worshipping false gods of money, greed, and selfishness, no other sin is denounced more by our holy scriptures than the sin of social injustice, than the sin of refusing to make the playing field fair for all. Justice, love, grace and forgiveness are at the heart of our holy faith. Have you not heard or read the following?
Deuteronomy 15:7. ”If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother.”
Proverbs 31:8. [Commandment to kings.] “Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”
Isaiah 10:1-3. “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of my people of their rights… Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar?”
Isaiah 58: 6-8. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”
James 5:1-6. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. …Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields that you have withheld, cries out against you.”
Matthew 25:35-36. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
These texts are so primary in our faith tradition. Yet they are secondary in your critique and call for a ‘focus on moral values.’ Excluding them from your focus makes any claim to concerns for Christian values hollow at best; hypocritical and heretical at worst. Not only in your ad’s call for Americans to vote their values did you not maintain a focus on the centerpiece of the scriptures, you lost focus on the centerpiece of our nation’s priorities.
Do you not remember what Jonathan Winthrop said years ago about this nation’s moral focus in his “City on a Hill Sermon”?
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with… For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
Are not the values we hold dear expressed clearly in the preamble of this nation’s Constitution?
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It seems strange that these notions of justice, unity, tranquility and even welfare are lifted up as values in our founding documents, but are often spoken of despairingly by those who claim to represent conservative Christian values. The selective and narrow nature of your “values” critique when held in the light of our deepest traditions and weighed in the balance seem deeply suspect of a true concern for values and more like a partisan push for a political purpose. The NAACP and many of our faith partners have joined together and listed the following critical issues that face this nation regardless of political party: 1) economic sustainability – addressing systemic poverty, full employment, living wages and labor rights, 2) educational equality for all students and children, 3) healthcare for all and ensuring access to Medicare and Medicaid, 4) addressing the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system for black, brown and poor white people, 5) protecting, defending and expanding voting rights for all people.
We believe your father’s faith is rooted in this broader, deeper perspective, more akin to the grander traditions of our faith and moral values of our nation. We believe you have gone astray, seduced by the sirens of money and power. Again, in Christian love, we renew our challenge to you. If we are wrong, and your father in his latter years has changed his faith in building a more democratic, a more inclusive, a more loving world, let him tell us directly. Moreover, join us in ensuring that the values expressed on behalf of the Christian faith are more representative of the essential issue of justice rather than the wedge issues of a particular political agenda attempting to consecrate itself with the covering of Christian faith.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President
North Carolina NAACP
Rev. Dr. Cardes H. Brown, Jr., Chair
NC NAACP State Religious Affairs Committee
Rev. Dr. Gregory Moss, President
Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention
Immediate Past President, General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
Dr. Rodney Sadler, Professor
Union Presbyterian Seminary
Bishop Tonya Rawls,
NC Council of Churches
Rev. Leslie Oliver,
NC Council of Churches
Rev. Kojo Nantambu, Director,
Religious Education Advocacy Project (REAP) of the NC NAACP
Rev. Curtis E. Gatewood, NC NAACP Coordinator
Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Coalition
Dr. Frederick A. Wilson, Pastor
Life Baptist Church
Dr. Thomas W. Samuels, President
NC-VA Primitive Baptist State Convention
Rev. Dwayne Walker, Pastor
Little Rock AME Zion Church
Rev. Elvin Sadler, Pastor
Steele Creek AME Zion Church
Rev. Mack McRae, Pastor,
Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church
Elder Timothy Lyons,
St. John’s Church, Primitive Baptist
Rev. Dr. John Mendez, Pastor
Emmanuel Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, NC
Rev. Sheldon Shipman, Pastor
Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church of Charlotte, NC
Rev. Dr. Fred Gibson, Pastor
Greater Providence Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC
Rev. Dr. Peter Wherry, Moderator
United Missionary Baptist Association of Charlotte, NC
Rev. Bobby Houze, Pastor
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.