By Bob Allen
A group of African-American leaders in North Carolina has called out evangelist Franklin Graham a second time for attempting to raise doubts about whether President Obama is a Christian.
A seven-page, 2,500-word letter on the NAACP of North Carolina website accused the CEO of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelical Association of using full-page newspaper ads to “further arouse unwarranted suspicions about the president’s personal faith.”
Nineteen individuals signed the letter dated Oct. 29, including Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention President Gregory Moss, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte and immediate past president of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Inc.
A similar letter in March led to a meeting with Graham about his hesitancy in media interviews to discount rumors that the president is secretly a Muslim. The NAACP affirmed the prophetic Christian tradition for social justice behind Obama’s faith and said Graham’s comments could be used to promote racism.
Graham apologized for his remarks, but the new letter suggests “you were apparently unmoved by our criticism.”
The paid advertisement refers to “support for the nation of Israel,” “sanctity of life” and the “biblical definition of marriage” alongside a photo and signature of Graham’s father. The black leaders termed it a “clear endorsement of the president’s opponent because he was more of a Christian than the president.” They found the implied endorsement of Republican challenger Mitt Romney ironic, given that until recently the Graham website listed his Mormon church as a cult.
Accused of commandeering the voice of his 93-year-old father and turning him into a mouthpiece for the Religious Right, Franklin Graham recently told the Charlotte Observer, “If you want to think I’m behind all of it, I don’t care.”
The black leaders, however, said if Billy Graham has changed his mind and joined the Religious Right, they would like to hear it from the evangelist himself.
“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,” the letter said. “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.”
The leaders said their complaint with the Religious Right is that it “cherry picks” easy parts of Christianity while ignoring more than 300 Bible verses on the issue of justice and poverty.
“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,” the letter concluded. “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.”
Nicknamed “pastor to the presidents,” Billy Graham has met with every sitting U.S. president since Truman. Since being caught on tape in 2002 in a 30-year-old conversation agreeing with President Nixon that Jews control the American media, he has carefully avoided taking political sides. That prompts some to speculate that his recent interest in conservative causes might have something to do with influence of his more politically outspoken son.
In May Billy Graham voiced support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in North Carolina. A fundraising letter quoted his late wife, Ruth, as saying, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
This summer the evangelist defended Chik-fil-A head Dan Cathy against criticism of the company’s support for organizations that oppose gay marriage. A press release endorsed a campaign led by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to show support for Cathy by eating at one of his restaurants on Aug. 1.
“I plan to ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday,” the elder Graham was quoted as saying. His association later released a clarification that Graham — who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related ailments and seldom leaves his home in Montreat, N.C. – planned “to enjoy his chicken at home.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.