Chasing Inspiration

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham: Beloved and Problematic

Billy Graham died today. In all honesty, I thought he passed away some time ago. When I heard the news of his passing, my first reaction was to shrug. My second was to mourn for those who have experienced harm due to his teachings.

Before you jump all over me for crapping on a beloved icon of western evangelicalism, let me state that the man was both great and problematic. He stood beside Martin Luther King Jr during the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. He believed there was no scriptural basis for segregation, and that Christianity was not a white man's religion (source).

He held an inclusive view of God's mercy, believing that God can and will save people in different religions, not just Christianity, and without an individual's proclamation of Jesus, or at least he did earlier in his ministry (source).

There are good things about Billy Graham. There are also problematic things. While he did support desegregation, he was slow to support it. Teachings attributed to Rev. Graham are anti-LGBTQIA. His interpretation and understanding of the Bible lead to the belief and reinforcement of strict gender roles. I know, because I grew up listening to and reading about these teachings. There are some who land these on Franklin Graham's feet (source), suggesting that there was elder abuse taking place (source), and that Rev. Graham's writings and sermons were ghost written (source), and that these views were not his own.

Whether that is the case or not, the teachings attributed to Billy Graham have hurt many. No grace has been extended to those who are gay. Marriage equality has taken far longer than it needed to because of people who took Rev. Graham's teachings and spun them out of control. LGBTQIA children and teens have been traumatized by people who tried to pray the gay out of them. They were told they were sinning, and their identities were denied them. Not all of them made it to adulthood. Girls were denied opportunities that were given to boys because of how far people took Rev. Graham's message of how he believed family was to function. Some took these teachings so far that they stole the female voice.

The very name of Billy Graham has been used as the boogie man in the closet who will sneak out and punish us if we step out of line.

I'm not going to get into what loving our neighbour means. And I'm not going to wish Rev. Graham to perdition. He was a man who had a sincere belief and a platform with which to share that belief. That doesn't make him 100% right. It doesn't make him 100% wrong. It makes him beloved and problematic. On one hand he taught love and acceptance. On the other hand, the very name of Billy Graham has been used to punish and revile anyone who isn't white, cis, and male. No where have I seen documentation that Billy Graham worked to reign in these messages of hate.

Maybe I'm wrong, and there is something I haven't found. I hope I'm wrong. I hope Billy Graham loved people just as they are, and didn't try to change them or vilify them because of their gender or sexual identity. I hope he wasn't as problematic as those who use his teachings as a blueprint for Christian living seem to be.

I hope I haven't offended you, but if you're reading this and you're thinking, "Naomi, you are walking very close to the edge of fallacy here," just remember, God is larger than we could ever comprehend and maybe what we believe isn't correct or right. Are you willing to die on that hill, or are you willing to cast a wide net and expand your definition of God and love? I hope Billy Graham was the latter, but when it comes to Rev. Graham, so many of us have experienced the former.

  1. My editor, for being understanding when I can't hit deadlines.
  2. Veterinarians who are kind and resourceful 
  3. Virtue and Moir for being awesome

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