Black Evangelicals, White Evangelicals, and Franklin Graham’s Repentance

March 16, 2012

The following is an exerpt from a recent Sojourners.com emailing relative to Franklin Graham who now heads the Billy Graham Ministries. The author of the article is shown at the bottom.

When Franklin Graham expressed doubts about President Obama’s Christian faith during an interview on Morning Joe last week, it reminded me of an uncomfortable dinner I had in the late ‘90s.

I sat down for a pleasant meal in the home of two great friends — one of them a white evangelical faith leader deeply committed to social justice. Well into the evening’s conversation — when we’d dropped all our pretenses and our exchanges moved well past mealtime niceties — one friend asked me something that caught me entirely off guard.

“Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian?” he said.

I was dumbstruck. I had never heard anyone actually ask that question before.

“Yes,” I replied. “What would make you doubt that?”

As he explained, it became clear: My friend wasn’t sure whether Dr. King was a Christian because King’s Christianity didn’t look like my friend’s Christianity.

Dr. King valued justice. My friend valued justice.

King professed personal faith in Jesus. My friend professed personal faith in Jesus.

And yet my friend still was hung up about King’s faith because, to his eye, King didn’t seem interested in “evangelism” as my friend defined it — i.e. the practice of calling sinners into personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross is payment for our sins.

Twentieth-century white evangelical understanding of the Gospel guided (and in many ways defined) my friend’s Christian walk. Therein lies the disconnect between his Christian faith and Dr. King’s.

According to sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith (authors of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America), only one thing separates white and black evangelicals, but it makes all the difference in the world: Vastly different experiences of structural and systemic oppression……

Franklin Graham’s father, Dr. Billy Graham, didn’t always understand this, either. The elder Graham’s revivals began as segregated affairs, but the Supreme Court’s desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) agitated his conscience and he quickly course corrected. From that point on, Billy Graham never again held a segregated revival.

What’s more, in 1957 Dr. Graham invited Dr. King, to share his pulpit for a 16-week revival in New York City.

For Billy Graham, Martin King was a Christian.

In the last decade or so, a new generation of white evangelicals — such as my friends Shane Claiborne, Kelly Moltzen, Josh Harper, and others — have intentionally displaced themselves, moving into impoverished communities of color in order to gain the experience their parents and grandparents lacked. As a result, their white evangelical eyes are open…..

The president has clearly professed his belief that Jesus died on the cross as payment for his sins. And Obama repeatedly invokes the words of Jesus that guide his world view: “Just as you did to the least of these, you did to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

For a moment, Franklin Graham’s cynicism tested my own faith. I wondered if he had any idea that, when he questioned the president’s faith, it felt as if he were questioning my faith…..

Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat


I too was disturbed that Franklin Graham questioned President Obama’s faith.  It seems there is something in the Bible about judging others faith.   Maybe Franklin Graham needs to study those verses more thoroughly. The basic problem here is just an on-going problem with Christian organizations in general today.  They seem to be in the business of doing their best to see who they can exclude from their groups rather than being inclusive as Jesus was. We are now roughly 39,000 different views of what Christ was here on earth to do and almost every one of them are thoroughly convinced that they are the only ones who have the “true” answer.

It saddens me to see the obvious political connotations behind Franklin Graham’s doubts of President Obama’s faith.  He should have learned his lessons better from his father.  He has since apologized for his comments but they should never have been made in the first place. It tells you something about the man who replaced Billy Graham in that ministry. He definitely has some learning to do.

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