Franklin Graham is the worst thing to happen to God in a while -- well, OK, God’s reputation. I’m only slightly exaggerating.
You see, Franklin Graham is at it again, making life difficult for thoughtful Christians everywhere. In a speech at the Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall, Graham made it his business to remind the audience of pastors about the people God hates. “Whom does God hate?” you wonder.
And let’s be honest, cowards are easy to hate. People who fail to do the right thing because they’re afraid leave the rest of us vulnerable. Presented with the opportunity, you need to stop the tiger from eating our young. Confront the boss who threatens the livelihood of workers. Call out the condescending barista who crushes the soul of the thirsty masses. But let’s see where Franklin is going with this first.
And let’s not be too hasty with the cowards either. Some cowardice makes sense. Facing down uncle Irving at the Thanksgiving dinner table over whether Rush Limbaugh is a great American and a defender of true Christian integrity may technically be the right thing to do, but having some trepidation about that conversation is, at worst, understandable.
So what kinds of cowards, according to Franklin Graham, does God really hate?
God hates cowards who won’t speak out against abortion and homosexuality.
Now, whether or not you agree with Franklin’s take on abortion and homosexuality is a worthwhile discussion. It’s not, however, the one I want to have. What I’m more interested in is the concept of a God who hates people.
Someone might object that Franklin is flexing his rhetorical muscles here, that he doesn’t mean that God literally hates people, just that God hates the things people do or, as in this case, fail to do.
If that were the cat Franklin was truly attempting to skin, I wouldn’t have any objection, in principle. While Franklin and I differ on the kinds of things people do that God hates, we both agree that God is not the kindergarten teacher who believes that children should only be affirmed and never corrected. Some things are wrong. But that’s completely different from saying that some people are wrong -- as in, some people are defective enough that even God can’t love them.
But here’s my beef: Even if Franklin were waxing rhetorical about God hating cowards, the only thing most people hear is, “God hates certain kinds of people.” And that’s troubling on a couple of different levels:
First, those people who are already disposed to seeing faith as a bludgeon (or who are at least wary about the possibility) hear “God hates certain kinds of people” and find themselves justified in rejecting faith as a medieval form of crowd control. In a culture increasingly filled with people who believe religion is a problem, Franklin affirms every stereotype of religion as filled with a bunch of slack-jawed goons who can’t wait to rid the world of heresy. Put more simply, at least one of the things driving the “Nones” away from religion are folks like Franklin Graham who believe that God has bestowed on a few special people a line-item veto on God’s guest list.
Second, some of those among Franklin’s fundamentalist base also hear that God hates some people. Which people? Cowards who’re afraid of speaking against abortion and homosexuality. And from there it’s not a difficult leap to “God hates people who have abortions” or “God hates homosexuals.” Following this path, it’s easy to see how we then get to “God hates people who think abortion ought to be legal” or “God hates people who don’t believe homosexuality is a sin.” And it’s not too long before faith is defined just as much by what you hate as by what you love. And that is a dangerous world in which to live.
Speaking as a Christian pastor, I attest that following Jesus is difficult enough without having to live down the advanced billing from folks like Franklin Graham, who are convinced that God has nothing better to do than to figure out new categories of people to despise.
I know love is more than uncritically affirming everything a person does; but I still can’t figure out a way to call a god who hates people “loving.” And if that’s true, Franklin Graham is the worst thing to happen to God in awhile.