During the 2016 presidential election, I got confused, possibly along with many other people, by the words expressed by Franklin Graham. He apparently carries considerable weight among his Christian followers across America as evidenced by the outcome of the election. He is the son of famous evangelist Billy Graham. He also leads his own organization called Samaritan’s Purse. Try to imagine the scope/influence Graham has interpreting his religion around the globe.
Two things troubled/confused me as he sidled up to Donald Trump during the campaign. The first thing was that he asked his followers to “hold your nose” and vote for Trump as well as other office-seekers. He persuaded many to “vote for candidates who support biblical principles.” Actually, one powerful biblical principle is not to judge others. This teaching comes from Matthew 7:1 (King James Version) ―“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Apparently Graham had made some judgment which he considered unacceptable to Christians when he asked them to hold their noses and vote for Trump in spite of his errors (sins?). So, is it somehow OK for Graham to judge a presidential candidate? Will someone show us where that is clarified/OK’d in the Bible?
Further, Graham stressed that Trump had apologized for his erroneous deeds and statements belittling other people — minorities and women. How could Graham know this without politicking with the man himself? Where in the Bible does he get the inspiration to involve himself with worldly political activity anyway? Did Jesus Christ ever seek political favor with worldly powers? Was Jesus not crucified by the Roman government for his teachings? Were Jesus’ teachings not actually considered a threat to worldly power?
As though this situation were not already confusing enough for someone trying to understand the relationship of Biblical teaching to worldly power, think of this second confusing element. Even if Trump had, in fact, apologized to the people he had offended/belittled, what does this accomplish from a biblical standpoint? Christians have to do more than apologize. Even non-Christians can apologize and often do.
But, there is a more difficult step that Christians are taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24 (King James Version). That scripture reads: (23) “Therefore if thou bring thy gift before the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; (24) Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
So, does Preacher Graham have some idea that Trump has begun a form of restitution as called for in this Scripture? Or has he somehow held his nose and, thereby, held Trump to a lower (non-Christian) standard? What will this message mean to people who want to do as Jesus taught us to do? Millions are watching and listening to Graham’s voice and message. As an evangelist, he has to get biblical principles right. Should the president of the United States of America not be held to higher standards rather than lower standards of behavior? His behavior does reflect on all Americans. And, if he professes to be a Christian, his deeds will reflect on all Christians because of his global visibility.
Further complicating this crucial matter is the fact that while at a political rally in Hickory, Trump declared that he would be the best Christian representative they have had in a long time. Does he mean since Jesus lived? Is he, in fact, belittling Christians by this foolish statement, mocking what he sees as their ignorance of Scripture? He vowed to empower Christians by removing the barrier to churches advocating for political candidates. Do Christians really need to be empowered by a worldly government? Is this not, in effect, luring Christians into the political realm?
If his behavior during his campaign was supposed to reveal his depth of understanding of Christian principles Christians must surely be on alert for many more bad examples of behavior (sins) committed without pursuant necessary restitution. They might want to reconsider what his political actions are doing to the image of Christianity itself.
The time may be fast approaching when people are unable to differentiate between a politician and a preacher. Remember this remark made long ago by someone unknown to this writer: “Politics can survive religion. But, religion can’t survive politics.”
Another way to say it might be this: When you have a tiger by the tail, the tiger has you by the hand. How do you let go? When do you let go? Are politics and religion, by necessity, intertwined? Country singer/songwriter Dan Seals sang, “For everything you win, there’s somethin’ lost.” If Republicans won the 2016 presidential election with considerable help from Christians who held their noses, what did the Christians lose in the process? Can Franklin Graham be both — preacher and politician?
― Dave Waldrop