Dear Franklin Graham and Frank Schaeffer-
The other day, I published an article about Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Billy Graham’s 95th Birthday. I wrote the article out of sincere concern about the infantile state of faith in America, and the role and influence of the religious right in bringing it about. In your own ways, both of you have inspired me to reflect deeply on my own life and worldview, and to paraphrase Frank’s dad, "How then should I live?"
Obviously, I’ve decided that I can’t remain silent about this crisis. But wading into these waters is hard, and discouraging. I’ve decided to write this letter to both of you in search of an answer to a question that has been gnawing at me for decades now:
“Where is the grace?”
Franklin, your judgement and threats inspired my anger. A vote for Mitt Romney was not consistent with my value system, yet, you tried to bully me into voting for him:
So pray and then vote on November 6, asking God for His mercy and grace upon our land. There’s still time to turn from our wicked ways so that He might spare us from His wrath against sin.Trying to scare me into voting Republican is just wrong. But threatening me with the wrath of God is simply pathetic. This was pretty high drama to get me to vote for man who is blessed with his own car elevator, and yet expresses disdain for people too poor to even be able to afford their own car.
Franklin, the reason I did not vote for your (and presumably, your father’s) candidate Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama, is because I oppose torture. Revulsion to torture, the kind Ronald Reagan had, was ~my~ petty litmus test for a presidential candidate with “biblical values”, and neither Romney nor Obama seemed to care much about it, and your candidate, Mitt Romney, signaled that, if elected President, torture would return under his administration. And don’t even get me started on the 47%!
In a calculated contortion of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's theology to accommodate Mitt Romney's Mormonism, you feigned civility:
"I don’t want to be involved in calling people names I want to reach people for Christ, and how can I do that if I’m calling them a name?"Yet, after Obama was elected, you suggested that Mitt Romney’s defeat was due to Americans turning their back on God:
God blesses countries, but God also brings bedlam when countries turn their back on him. If we don’t obey his laws, he will withdraw his hand of protection.”As someone intent on the defeat of Mitt Romney for my own moral reasons, I found your assertion that my electoral choice would contribute to America’s judgement offensive and alienating. And your concern about “reaching people [like me] for Christ” is nowhere to be seen. Where is the grace in this?
I want to warn America: God is coming around. He will judge sin, and it won’t be pretty.
As I strongly suspected before publishing my article, criticizing the beloved Reverend Billy Graham is not the best way to make new Christian friends on the Internet. Some Christians on the Internet have perceived my criticism of Rev. Graham’s divisive partisanship and errant end-times prophecy as a mean-spirited attack on a good-hearted man with cognitive difficulties in his old age.
But senility as an explanation doesn’t fit the reality of these coordinated activities. It's not like Billy got a hold of the checkbook and bought a bunch of ads in national newspapers trying to influence the 2012 election when no one was looking. Rev. Graham’s end-time predictions weren’t just random tweets. These messages are not careless mistakes leaking out of the corner of Billy Graham's frail mouth and finding their way into the press. Rather, they are carefully constructed by BGEA for maximum media impact. Where is the grace in that?
Frank, your storytelling inspired my courage to speak out against the very real danger of the religious right. In your autobiography Crazy For God, your own story helped me make sense of the history of the hijacking of Christianity by the religious right in America, fusing crazy religion with crazy politics. And your latest novel "And God Said Billy!" is an amazing lens into the hurting psyches of evangelicals that manifest a world of confused magical thinking in an attempt to manage the doubts and fears we all share about God and our existence as we look through a glass darkly, yearning for wholeness.
Frank, you and I have used strong words in our criticism of the religious right. You’ve maintained that this conflict is not just a debate between two opposing points of view, but that the religious right is “crazy”. I agree with you. I’ve called Sarah Palin irresponsible for a variety of good reasons, my personal favorite being her use of sniper crosshairs overlaying a map of democratic candidates, mirroring, mimicking, and goading the violent mindset that nearly killed Gabby Giffords in the Arizona gun massacre where several other Americans died. I’ve called Johan Goldberg “inumerate” for his stunted mathematical abilities.
And, after I published my article on Reverend Graham’s birthday, I teased Christianity Today and Andy Crouch about their interviews with Bristol Palin, and joining Newsmax and World Net Daily in helping spread Billy Graham’s end-times prophecy (Our “final call” to repent!). Technically, Christianity Today didn’t write about the end-times predictions, an extremely irresponsible act if Reverend Graham's prophecy is reliable, and a serious omission if the opposite is true: that Reverend Graham is not reliable. I kid Andy. But I also love him, and I don’t mean to hurt him. But I’m not going to pretend this is anything but crackers.
(By the way, Andy’s new book, Playing God, is essential reading on this subject. I wanted to like his previous excellent book, Culture Making more, but Andy really dimensionalizes power in new ways in this book.)
Like you, Frank, I believe these things need to be said, plainly, bluntly in the way I said them. But, I can’t help but feel like a little bit of jerk, and borderline mean. The old saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it” paradoxically leaves everyone feeling uncomfortable. Where is the grace in that?
Frank, I’m scared. I don’t want to anger or demean people, but I don’t want to mince words. The boldness of the religious right requires a bold response. I agree these people must be stopped. But how do you treat someone as dangerous, without treating them as an enemy? Where is the grace in that?
Frank and Franklin, back in 1997, the company I worked for was hired to promote Billy Graham’s crusade in San Francisco. This crusade was notable for two reasons: (1) The “liberal” nature of the targeted San Francisco Bay Area, and (2) It was the first crusade heavily promoted on the Internet. My carpool buddy at the time, Tom Walter of Boot Studios, was the guy who came up with the slogan for the advertising campaign: "Where do you want to go tomorrow?"
Hardly any of our team of hired guns were Christians. Au contraire, most were agnostic San Francisco Bay Area liberals, the kind who love gays and recycling and food stamps, and hate pollution and war. Needless to say, I was worried how things would go with a client that was a conservative Christian organization: how would a bunch of savvy, cynical, atheist dot-commers get along with a bunch of Christians, and why would they get excited about promoting an evangelical crusade?
My concerns were unfounded as I watched the team pour their hearts into the project. This was unexpected, but a direct result of the fullness of grace in the BGEA team. Everyone on our side was effusive about how hard the BGEA’s team worked to understand and relate positively with both the culture of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the culture of the internet. You know, becoming all things to all people.
What happened to this spirit of grace, Franklin? And Frank how can we coax it out again? And if this grace has been obliterated by the religious right, what do we do?
Truth and grace are essential, yet awkward… almost oppositional, bedfellows. Truth condemns where grace forgives, and there is a tender membrane between the two. I hope there is enough grace for all of us, Frank and Franklin. Because this is getting ridiculous.
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