On Tuesday, Billy Graham’s granddaughter attacked evangelicals who support President Donald Trump as “hypocritical,” claiming that the president actually represents the opposite of Jesus’ message.
“My president doesn’t have to be a Christ follower. My president doesn’t have to be a Christian,” Jerushah Armfield, the granddaughter of the famous evangelist, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Tuesday. “However, I think my rub is when the evangelicals are coming up and posing [Trump] as the godly candidate.”
Of Donald Trump, she said, “I think we can look at his life, look at the intolerance that he’s spoken, I think that my Jesus that I follow was really somebody who fought for the outliers, and I think that Trump has actually done the opposite — kind of ostracizing them.”
Brown suggested that evangelicalism was “essentially founded” by Billy Graham, and asked Armfield if she would prefer to move away from the term “evangelical.”
“I’d love any ideas on a new term, Pamela,” Graham’s granddaughter replied. She suggested that “evangelical” was “coined primarily to depict a branch of Christianity that was breaking itself away from fundamentalism. Now fast forward, you know, 20 years, it really kind of has started to represent — especially in the 2016 election — a branch of Christians that seemed to be a little more conservative and a little bit more hypocritical.”
Armfield suggested that “evangelical” now means a group of Christians who are “a little bit more willing to compromise on the personal morals of a candidate in lieu of what politically they could gain for their party.”
When asked about the Alabama Senate race in which Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore, Graham’s granddaughter pivoted back to Trump.
“I’m hoping, you know, the Roy Moore vote was awfully close so I’m not too encouraged by it,” she said. “I think it did wake up those who are not in the evangelical branch … we can’t just be mass herd voters, we need to go out there and speak for the things we think are going wrong in this country.”
Brown also asked Armfield about Trump supporter Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) and president of the charity Samaritan’s Purse.
“I think my uncle leads an incredible humanitarian ministry that’s been on the front lines before a lot of ministries have been there. I think he probably needs to stick to doing that,” Armfield said. “I think he believes he’s speaking to a larger audience than he is.”
She suggested the evangelical “audience he was once speaking to is starting to migrate to a little more Progressive open mindedness.”
Billy Graham’s granddaughter hit on a few good points, but presumed too much.
Donald Trump has central moral failings that should concern evangelical Christians. He claims to be a Christian, but says he has never asked God for forgiveness — a central part of Christianity. This despite his breaking two marriages by cheating on his wives. He exhibits pride in all aspects of life, when humility is the central mark of a Christian.
But Armfield placed her strongest critique of Trump on the idea that he “ostracized” the “outliers.” Jesus did tell His disciples to love everyone — even their enemies. However, that does not translate into “use government to steal from the rich and redistribute to the poor.” Christians in their individual capacity need to help others, but nowhere does Jesus support a government that uses force to legislate charity.
Finally, many evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was a threat to traditional Christianity. She compared opposition to same-sex marriage (based on clear Bible teachings) to genital mutilation and honor killings. She supports abortion, and opposes efforts to limit it.
Embracing Trump despite his moral failings does not prove evangelicals are “hypocrites.” Indeed, the Alabama evangelicals who refused to turn out to vote for Roy Moore suggest that these Christians do indeed draw a line.
Some evangelicals may indeed be hypocrites, but not for the reasons Armfield suggested. Furthermore, Franklin Graham still has a tremendous audience, and his niece should appreciate that.