On Wednesday, the Reverend Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the global charity Samaritan’s Purse, defended traditional Christian teaching on homosexual activity. His comments unleashed a firestorm of media controversy, with major media figures suggesting that Graham is not really Christian because he supports President Donald Trump and encouraged South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to repent of his homosexual activity.
Graham explicitly attacked Buttigieg, who had said, “God doesn’t have a political party.”
“Presidential candidate & South Bend Mayor [Pete Buttigieg] is right—God doesn’t have a political party. But God does have commandments, laws & standards He gives us to live by. God doesn’t change. His Word is the same yesterday, today & forever,” Graham tweeted. “Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women.”
Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman—not two men, not two women. 2/3
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) April 24, 2019
Graham concluded with one last definitive statement. “The core of the Christian faith is believing and following Jesus Christ, who God sent to be the Savior of the world—to save us from sin, to save us from hell, to save us from eternal damnation,” he tweeted.
On Thursday, MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough told Graham to “just shut up.” He called the minister “a disgrace for normalizing Donald Trump’s behavior.”
“Now suddenly Franklin Graham’s talking about lifestyles and sinning and a guy who’s gone through a very difficult personal journey to figure out who he really is?” Scarborough asked, dumbfounded. “Because it’s not a lifestyle choice, and anybody who’s heard Pete Buttigieg talk knows that.”
Following Scarborough, presidential biographer Jon Meacham accused Graham of “practicing selective self-righteousness and selective scriptural choices.” Meacham blasted the reverend’s statements as “extreme,” “given where the country is on these issues.”
Meacham went on to describe a kind of emergent revelation, suggesting that the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual activity as sin has been overruled by modern “experience.”
“One of the points of God’s universe is that it does, in fact, reveal itself and you’re able to change and grow and react to shifting data,” the biographer argued. “Reverend Graham is actually disproving that, he’s actually going the other way.” He accused Graham of placing “the pursuit of power ahead of religious truth.”
Meacham accused Graham of making it harder to preach the gospel. “But making statements like Graham made is exactly why it gets ever harder to communicate the gospel because people feel that you are simply another interest group pointing fingers instead of a church extending a hand,” he concluded.
Scarborough called the evangelical community “my community,” and condemned Graham as “the most unworthy of vessels” — despite the fact that Graham’s charity, Samaritan’s Purse, has served millions across the world and is often the first on the scene to help in the wake of a hurricane.
The MSBNC host accused the evangelist of applying a double standard by saying that “character matters” with Bill Clinton but not with Donald Trump.
Scarborough concluded by suggesting that Jesus would not have been firm on the issue of homosexuality. “You look at all of those little red words in the New Testament, and Jesus doesn’t talk about it. If Jesus doesn’t talk about it, I don’t obsess over it.”
Over on CNN, Jake Tapper interviewed W. Kamau Bell, host of CNN’s show United Shades of America. Tapper also attacked Graham for hypocrisy, but Bell went further.
“Unfortunately, preachers like Franklin Graham are the face of Christianity right now,” Bell lamented. He insisted “there are certainly LGBTQ+ people who are also good Christians,” and insisted that “Jesus was an immigrant,” but conservative Christians are “hating on immigrants.”
“It’s like people are talking about different Jesuses,” Tapper suggested.
At that point, an emboldened Bell accused Graham of creating his own Jesus. He suggested Christians who disagree with his identity politics mindset are following a “Jesus of your own creation, which is exactly what preachers like Franklin Graham are doing. They’ve created a Jesus in their own head.”
“Jesus, as I understand, was about love and accepting people, even those who are defined as the lesser of us,” the United Shades host argued. He even accused Graham of “actually threatening the LGBTQ+ members in his church, the gay youth,” effectively pushing them to commit suicide.
By preaching against homosexual activity and transgender identity, “you’re actually threatening the health and well-being of members of the community who are LGBTQ+ who feel not accepted,” Bell claimed.
The backlash to Graham’s comments — and the rapid embrace of Pete Buttigieg as an authoritative Christian voice — illustrates the rush among liberals to remake Christianity in their own image.
In writing about Buttigieg and the “burgeoning Christian left,” CNN analyst Kirsten Powers lamented that “nonconservative Christians generally do not receive the same level of news media attention as the religious right, despite their deep understanding of Scripture and thriving faith traditions. Because most journalists are secular, they can be gullible in looking to the religious right as arbiters of biblical interpretation, especially as it relates to hot-button cultural and political issues. Because of this, many Americans aren’t even aware of the rich tradition of progressive Christianity.”
Liberal Christianity does have a long tradition, but the kind of “progressive Christianity” Powers and Buttigieg are supporting is arguably not Christianity at all.
Buttigieg has said that when Vice President Mike Pence sees the mayor’s homosexual activity as sinful, his “quarrel … is with my creator.” In other words, God made Buttigieg the way he is, and God implicitly approves of Buttigieg’s homosexual activity.
There is nothing in scripture to support this. In fact, LGBT activists quickly admit that there are “clobber passages,” in which Bible authors clearly condemn homosexual activity as sin. Liberal theologians attempt to twist the clear words of scripture to suggest that consensual homosexual sex is not forbidden as sin, but their approach is a lie.
In fact, many facets of “progressive” Christianity are outright lies. In condemning Franklin Graham, W. Kamau Bell claimed that Jesus Christ was an “immigrant.” This is blatantly false. When Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the command of King Herod that babies like Jesus be put to death. But Mary and Joseph never intended to settle in Egypt. The Holy Family returned after Herod’s death. They may have been refugees, but they were never immigrants.
Similarly, it is blatantly false to suggest that Graham was cherry-picking verses to condemn homosexual activity, or to suggest — as Joe Scarborough did — that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, so it must not have been important to Him.
Jesus wholeheartedly embraced the Old Testament law, and the book of Leviticus clearly condemns homosexual activity as sinful. The Bible defines marriage as the union of man and woman, idealized in the story of Adam and Eve. Jesus upholds this sexual morality by quoting Genesis while discouraging divorce (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7).
If Jesus had departed from the Old Testament sexual morality, it would have been noteworthy and the gospel writers would have commented on it. As it stands, the letters of Paul clearly condemn homosexual activity, suggesting that the early church, just like the Old Testament, considered homosexual activity sinful.
Yet massaging scripture or outright rejecting its meaning is common among “progressive Christians.” I was baptized into the Episcopal Church, Buttigieg’s denomination. My church, Falls Church Anglican, left the Episcopal Church after that denomination rejected Jesus’s clear teaching that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). The Episcopal Church rejects the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, and it rejects the Bible’s teaching on the uniqueness of Jesus’s redemption.
Jesus as the only path to God is central to Christian teaching. In fact, the historical bodily resurrection of Jesus is so fundamental that St. Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. … If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19).
Yet liberal Christians — increasingly embraced by the media — say that Christians do not have to believe in Jesus’ literal Resurrection. Last week, The New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof interviewed Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. In that interview, both Kristof and Jones said they do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, but claimed that they are still Christians.
“Happy Easter, Reverend Jones! To start, do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that,” Kristof began.
“When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed,” Jones said.
Her suggestion that the Resurrection is not clearly told in the gospels is ridiculous, because the only gospel that does not explicitly state the fact is Mark, and the letters of the apostles clearly show that the early Church believed in a bodily Resurrection. Without that flesh-and-blood event, any symbolism is ultimately meaningless.
Yet Jones insisted that “the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death. That’s a much more awesome claim than that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith. What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.”
To be perfectly frank, the Apostle Paul is clear: Yes, if it could be proved that Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity would be a lie. It is not wise to believe the doctrines of a charlatan, and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the apostles would be charlatans. (As it turns out, almost every apostle went to his painful death because he refused to deny the Resurrection and the lordship of Jesus, even though that meant torture and death.)
Jones clearly rejects the fundamental premise of Christianity, yet she described herself and Kristof as Christians. This perfectly illustrates the redefinition of Christianity.
Jake Tapper was correct: “progressive Christians” and biblical Christians are talking about two different Jesuses. But one of them is actually the Jesus of the Bible, and the other is more a social justice warrior than a savior. Note which Jesus elicits praise from MSNBC, CNN, and The New York Times, and which is hated by the world (John 15:18).
Franklin Graham may go a little easy on Trump, but he is facing this kind of vitriol for preaching the counter-cultural message of Jesus Christ, and a servant is not greater than his master.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.