Faith

Billy Graham's Granddaughter Accuses White Evangelicals of 'Making a God in Your Own Ivory Image'

On the eve of evangelist Billy Graham’s funeral, his granddaughter Jerushah Armfield accused white evangelicals of worshiping white supremacy by supporting President Donald Trump. She joined in a litany of attacks on white evangelicals posted by John Pavlovitz, a writer who was fired from a megachurch in 2013.

Adopting Pavlovitz’s style of an open letter explaining the world’s anger at the white evangelical church, Armfield wrote, “They see that all you’re really interested in doing is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it. You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation. You’ve lost the plot.”

Armfield was retweeting a tweet from Pavlovitz, which ran. “For eight years they watched you relentlessly demonize a black President; a man faithfully married for 26 years; a doting father and husband without a hint of moral scandal or the slightest whiff of infidelity. And yet,” the former pastor wrote.

Pavlovitz framed his article as a letter to the church, explaining why “[p]eople have had it with you. They’re done.”

The former pastor accused white evangelicals of hypocrisy, inconsistency, incredibly selective mercy, and “thinly veiled supremacy,” a not-so-thinly veiled reference to white supremacy.

He claimed that white evangelicals fought former President Barack Obama tooth and nail. Specifically, they “never once suggested that God place him where he was,”  they “never publicly offered prayers for him and his family,” and they “never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy.”

Instead, he wrote, “You violently opposed him at every single turn — without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition.” The kicker? “You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.”

“And yet today, you openly give a ‘mulligan’ to a white Republican man so riddled with depravity, so littered with extramarital affairs, so unapologetically vile, with such a vast resume of moral filth — that the mind boggles,” Pavlovitz charged. “And yet the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again.”

“With him, you suddenly find religion. With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution,” the former pastor wrote. “With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement. With him, you see only Providence.”e

Why is Trump so different from Obama for white evangelicals? Pavlovitz centered in on that first word — white. Here’s the damning charge:

They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities.
They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus.
They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.
They see that all you’re really interested in doing, is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it.
They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

Armfield hit on this section, insisting that white evangelicals are so focused on race that they would sell out the heart of their religion to hate a black president and uplift a white one.

In selling their souls for Trump, Pavlovich argued, white evangelicals have “lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation,” along with “any semblance of Christlikeness,” and even “your soul.”

Throughout, Pavlovich painted with far too broad a brush. While about 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016, not all of them wrote Obama off while he was president. Many white evangelical traditions prayed for Obama every Sunday. Vast numbers held their nose voting for Trump, and “notional Christians,” rather than true evangelical believers, proved more pivotal for Trump’s victory.

The former pastor — and Billy Graham’s granddaughter — ignored all the salient political issues that led white evangelicals to support Trump, and to distrust Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Conservative Christianity and the Republican Party are very different, but they share many similar goals — largely because the Democratic Party has alienated itself from conservative Christians. Issues such as opposition to abortion and support for religious liberty have some weight in the Republican Party, while Democrats seem to utterly write them off.

Case in point: Trump listened to evangelical leaders, while Clinton compared Christians hesitant to celebrate a same-sex wedding to Middle East Muslims who engage in honor killings and female genital mutilation. Obama’s administration literally took the Little Sisters of the Poor to court, forcing them to pay for abortifacients.

Evangelical Christians may have been too quick to condemn Obama, but they did have many non-racial reasons to do so. Many patriotic Christians likely distrusted him because of his association with Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God damn America!” sermon. Many distrusted his progressivism, which pushes big government as the answer to social problems, rather than voluntary associations like the church. The Obama campaign in 2008 seemed to make the candidate into a kind of messiah.

On the flip side, many evangelical Christian leaders denounced Trump following the Access Hollywood tapes. Theologian Wayne Grudem withdrew his endorsement for Trump, while author Eric Metaxas admitted that Trump was no moral exemplar. The Christian Post, Russell Moore, and Max Lucado opposed Trump long before Access Hollywood.

Notably, Franklin Graham — son of Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — urged Christians to “vote for the least heathen candidate,” suggesting that both Trump and Clinton were extremely flawed from an evangelical perspective.

A large number of white evangelical Christian leaders have even rebuked the Trump administration for its immigration policy.

Many of Trump’s strongest defenders among white evangelicals — like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Paula White — seem out more for power than for white identity politics.

It is lamentable that white evangelicalism has largely allied with one political party, but that is not entirely the fault of white evangelicals. The Democratic Party’s support for LGBT issues at the expense of religious liberty, its near complete support for abortion-on-demand, and its stance against cultural Christianity have alienated conservative Christians.

Pavlovitz may understand a great deal of this — he has often and loudly expressed his discomfort with conservative Christianity’s response to homosexual activity (following the Bible in declaring it sinful). While Christians do indeed need to reach out with God’s grace to LGBT people, they need to hold to biblical truth and discourage sin.

White evangelical churches should learn some things from Pavlovitz. Christians do need to focus on the gospel more than politics, and they do indeed need to be “burdened to love [and] care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.”

But Jesus taught that the first and great commandment isn’t to others, but to God (Matthew 22:36-40). He also taught that if anyone leads vulnerable people to sin it would be better for him “to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

Armfield, if she truly wishes to follow in the legacy of her grandfather, should understand that white evangelicals are not primarily motivated by racism or the desire to “make God in your own ivory image.” Even so, white evangelicals should take her critique as a challenge to value Jesus more than Trump and to show love and compassion to our fellow men.

This wasn’t the first time Armfield attacked white evangelicals for supporting Trump. Watch an earlier interview below.