Whether they grew up in a Christian household or not, most people have heard of Billy Graham. For many believers, he was a Christian leader who taught the uncompromising word of God, a man who reached out to Christians and non-Christians alike to spread the love of Jesus. So we are outraged that his son, the keeper of his legacy, Franklin Graham, seems to believe that unconditional love is only reserved for Christians, Americans and our friends.
Graham, in response to the recent shootings at military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., posted this on his Facebook page:
Four innocent Marines (United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in #Chattanooga yesterday including a policeman and another Marine—all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized—and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.
This position is not only un-Christian-like, it’s indicative of an insidious, ongoing movement to politicize Christianity. It also shows just how much leaders such as Graham have diverged from Christ’s teachings of grace, mercy and love for all of mankind.
Graham’s words are divisive and directly fuel partisan politics and social discord, which are already at their height in this country. Surely, as a prominent leader in Christendom, a person responsible for serving a diverse population of believers, Graham would not put out fearmongering propaganda in order to position any particular party as the winning alternative in the upcoming elections. Yet sadly, if we are forced to draw conclusions from his words, it would seem he is not beyond such falsifications.
Graham’s words are also incredibly one-sided and extremely telling with regards to how he views some of the very Americans his statement claims to protect. If the horrifying shooting in Chattanooga can drive him to suggest a complete banishment of Muslims, then it would seem as though any terrorist act on our soil would do the same. Yet there is no suggestion that Dylann Roof, the man charged with walking into a Charleston, S.C., church and shooting nine African Americans solely based on his racist beliefs, and anyone like him should be banned from our country because they, too, have the potential to be “radicalized” and “do their killing to honor” their white supremacist beliefs.
Where was Graham’s equally indicting outrage regarding this killer’s actions? Roof is a white male, college-age Lutheran. Should we target this demographic for particular scrutiny? Or is Roof’s citizenry—and whiteness—sufficient to save him from the plight that Graham recommends for immigrant Muslims? Not to mention the actual terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, which has been linked to the lynching of close to 4,000 black men over the last century. Should we decide that they be gathered up and forced into internment camps like the Japanese?
Certainly, Graham, by offering such a radical response to one domestic act of terrorism and barely any response to another (outside of posting pictures of the victims and asking his followers to post the picture for an hour on their Facebook timeline), isn’t suggesting, somehow, that the lives of some Americans mean more than others? Should we deduce from his unbalanced reactions to both incidents that the taking of the lives of four Marines in Chattanooga somehow deserves a more stringent response than the taking of the lives of nine Americans worshipping in their church? That Muslim extremist terrorists are somehow worse than white male terrorists?
Say it isn’t so.
In an excerpt from his statement regarding the removal of the Confederate flag, Graham said: “We are all Americans, and we need unity today more than ever. … Through faith in Christ we can have love and reconciliation with one another—regardless of race. Jesus Christ can change the human heart and take away the prejudice, racism and hatred that lies within."
Sadly, it appears that Graham’s words were likely just hot air, since his call for unity, love and reconciliation seems to apply only to those born in the USA; immigrant Muslims should not expect the same. Maybe Graham should shift his focus and pray that his own heart is changed; that God removes the stereotypes and prejudices he has against Muslims—all of whom, in the eyes of Graham’s own father, are still potential hearers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers; our words can challenge and, through the Holy Spirit, convict, but they should never bring strife (see Romans 14:19). In fact, the Scriptures recount over and over again the importance of standing up for the disenfranchised and seeing justice for those who are the “least of these.” So the fact that Graham chooses not to love his enemies while turning a blind eye to the regular injustices happening against people of color in the country means that he has effectively disregarded Scripture altogether and done a deep disservice to the faith.
Now, that does not mean that we knowingly allow those who would hurt us to do so. We are not mealymouthed Christians afraid to utilize military force when necessary. However, to proactively suggest that an entire religious group is potentially harmful is a ridiculous generalization, harmful to our witness as believers and, we argue, sinful.
Most importantly, and despite Graham’s significant platform, his words do not represent the hearts of many followers of Jesus. Graham’s words are despicable, and repentance is most certainly in order.
Tina Opie, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at Babson College. She is a thought leader on issues of identity and diversity and an advocate for social justice. Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts is a writer and educator whose work often examines the intersection of faith and spirituality with race and culture. She is a professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia and can be found online.