May 22, 2011

Franklin Graham, Just Me Not

Before you comment on this piece, please read it all the way through.

Franklin Graham gives Christians a bad name. He spoke to Christiane Amanpour this weekend about our President’s faith (transcript below.)

The Bible teaches us “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” What I, as a Christian, believe that scripture means is that God is the judge of us, not man. Graham himself said that only God can judge what is in a person’s heart, yet he contradicted himself by what he implies about our President.

I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and rose again. I believe that Jesus lived as a man, and had much to teach us through His words in the New Testament. This is what I feel in my heart. Fundamentalists would call this a “testimony” or a “witness.”

There are many paths, and it is not for me to judge those paths. I was born into a middle-class Protestant family. Wouldn’t I have been different had I been born in Tibet, or India, or China?

Is God only an American middle-class Christian God? In the fourth grade I was challenged when my friend who was a Jehovah’s Witness had to leave the classroom when we said the Pledge of Allegiance. My parents talked this over with me, and explained that it was her right to worship or not worship as she pleased. This, they said, was why our country was founded.

I was raised as a liturgical Protestant and today I belong to the same church, only a more liberal brand. To me, the breed doesn’t really matter.

There was no time in my life that I doubted the existence of God – to me my faith is a lovely gift that has been at my side through good and bad times.

With all the craziness in the world, I am sad that some people do not have faith. Faith helps and sustains, and offers hope. Like Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches on the soul.”

The younger Graham believes that one much have a conversion experience to be called a Christian and like many fundamentalists makes that distinction. He commented that “going to church doesn’t make one a Christian.”

Does going to synagogue make one a good Jew or going to the Friends meeting make one a good Quaker? I’m sure every faith has its axe-murderers, income tax evaders, and terrorists.

But isn’t it much more than that? I return to my original point: we cannot judge what is in another person’s heart. Nor can we dictate how a person will come to a faith or what they will do with it.

The closest I came to a religious experience happened at age 31 when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. Over a period of three days, my husband and I walked around the rim and down into the Canyon. One Sunday morning got up before dawn to watch the sun rise over a stark, wooden cross set on the rim.

How anyone could doubt the existence of God, I thought to myself as I viewed the golden rays of new light over the multi-colored cliffs carved by the wrath of the Colorado River?

The book American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell looks at how religious life in our country has changed. From the book’s introduction, “Polarization and pluralism are the principal themes in the recent history of American religion, but they hardly exhaust all that has changed, is changing, and will change in the nation’s religious environment.”

The authors cite a time not fifty years ago when Catholics and Protestants were polarized and inter-faith marriages were frowned upon. Today the world is very different—no matter our faith or lack thereof—we are Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Southern and American Baptists, agnostics, atheists, and yes, even those dreaded uptight Lutherans.

We live in a diverse world and our country will continue to grow more diverse. How can Christians get along and live in a diverse world when we can't settle our own differences?

Christianity is a religion of peace. I am by far not the greatest Christian; I am a sinner with huge flaws and problems.

But I want you to know that Franklin Graham does not speak for me, and frankly, I’m not sure he speaks for the God that I worship and love.

While I am not a fundamentalist, I have long respected his father Rev. Billy Graham because of his ability to separate religion and politics and his unflailing love for Jesus. The elder Graham is a peacemaker. That’s what Christianity should demonstrate—the gentle spirit of the Prince of Peace .