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Timothy Beal

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Open Letter to Rev. Billy Graham

Posted: 10/22/2012 2:18 pm

Rev. Graham,

Over the past several days, newspapers across the country have been running a full-page ad with your picture and a letter from you imploring Americans to "vote for biblical values" this November by supporting candidates who will promote, among other things, "the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and a woman." This ad, paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a 501(c)(3), was apparently launched shortly after your meeting with Gov. Romney.

It truly pains me to call you out on your decision to be party to this ad. I grew up in a household that revered you as a deeply sincere man of God. We watched your crusades on television. My mother once sang in your choir. My home church in Anchorage, Alaska helped bring your crusade to town. In an evangelistic movement often plagued by hubris, greed, and lust, I have always seen you as exceptional, not only because you have been vigilant against such temptations in your own faith walk and professional life, but also because you have shown humility in questioning some of your own past decisions, including your public support of certain men in political power who probably didn't deserve it.

I believe something similar is happening now. You are allowing your voice, your face, indeed your "brand," to be leveraged for a political cause that is beneath you. I do not doubt that you support the positions that the ad promotes. What I do doubt, as a biblical scholar and as a Christian, is that you believe that such positions, especially with regard to homosexuality and gay marriage, are so clearly "biblical."

I am particularly disheartened that, even while your letter proclaims that there is a clear biblical viewpoint on the subject, it does not offer a single biblical reference or quotation. You and I know the handful of potentially relevant passages (Leviticus 18:19-22; 20:10-16; Galatians 5:19-20; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Romans 1:26-2:1), even if most people who see your ad don't. And after decades of debate on this issue in the church and the academy, you know as well as I that what these texts do or don't say on this issue is a matter of translation, interpretation and context. And you know that responsible, faithful people who study them carefully can and will come to different conclusions. If your son and the other leaders of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association don't know likewise, then they need to go back to seminary. But I suspect that they do. They know that as soon as you crack open a Bible, things gets messy and complicated, leading to anything but a clear biblical view on homosexuality, let alone a biblical definition of marriage. Sadly, this is not about trying to be faithful to the text; this is about converting religious capital to political capital. Which is why it is so heartbreaking to see your name and face front and center. I guess I still expect you to rise above that cynical sort of political fray.

So I ask, can we go deeper? Where exactly are these "biblical values" clearly given in biblical texts? The New Testament book of Acts describes how those who heard Paul and Silas preaching in the synagogue "welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). No doubt as a preacher you hope your own audiences do the same. Please put the Scriptures that the ad lays claim to on the table so that people can read and study them for themselves. Please don't treat the Bible as closed book. Let's have a real, substantive discussion about what the Bible says or does not say with regard to these current issues. And as we do, let's keep in mind Jesus' admonition against tithing mint, dill, and cumin while neglecting "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith" (Matthew 23:23).

Sincerely,

2012-10-22-00Signaturesmall.jpg

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  • Evangelist Billy Graham at his home in the mountains of Montreat near Asheville, North Carolina. Billy was born November 7, 1918 on a dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina.

  • American Evangelist Billy Graham, standing on a small car preaches to a crowd in London's notorious Soho district in 1966. Across the street a movie theater advertises the film "Orgy at Lil's Place."

  • Evangelist, Billy Graham, preaching with gestures, during a revival held in Canada.

  • Followers of evangelist Billy Graham express their faith during his New York Crusade at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. Graham, then 86, has preached the Gospel to more people in a live audience format than anyone in history. Over 210 million people in more than 185 countries have followed Billy Graham's crusades.

  • A man prays at the end of the first night during Billy Graham's crusade at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York in 2005.

  • Evangelist Billy Graham embraces his family upon his return from his 'Crusade for Christ' tour in the 1950's. Clockwise from left: wife Ruth whose parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China, daughter Anne, Ruth "Bunny" and Virginia.

  • Franklin Graham sits with his father Billy before preaching during the "Celebration of Hope" at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2006.

  • Evangelist Billy Graham explains the bible to Waarusha warriors in Africa.

  • Billy Graham speaks with President John F. Kennedy at the annual prayer breakfast held in Washington, D.C.

  • Evangelist Billy Graham began conducting his crusades in 1948 and traveled throughout the world preaching the gospel.

  • Evangelist Billy Graham with President Richard Nixon pray during Graham's East Tennessee Crusade in 1970. s

  • Evangelist Billy Graham prepares his speech during the Metro Maryland 2006 Festival at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, led the three-day-program filled with music, prayers and gospel messages.

  • Billy Graham addresses a stadium football crowd during half-time in London, England. Graham visited over 185 countries during his 60-year crusade.

 
 
 

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