The Rev. William (Billy) Franklin Graham Jr. (1918- 2018) has died at the age of 99. Too often, hagiographies are painted when people die, especially of ministers. The televangelist, however, is not deserving of such high praises.
Graham is inarguably the most influential minister of the 20th century. His ministry provided pastoral counseling to U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He preached at the crossroads of fear and intolerance as the wrath of God.
Graham promoted his brand of evangelical Christianity—the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — like a traveling salesman by conducting tent revivals in rural backwaters and gospel fests in urban cities. Graham expanded his ministry to include multimedia—a television show, and his famous weekly Hour of Decision radio program. It was broadcast on more than 1,200 stations across the globe.
Many queried about his zealous self-promotion that morphed into a global business. “We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?” Graham told The Saturday Evening Post in 1963.
Looking at the arc of Graham’s public ministry, from the 1950s to the present, the publicity of grief has overlooked his damaging and damning messages toward and about LGBT Americans. And the LGBT community has not been silent in this moment of public mourning. For example, Craig Coogan, executive director of the world-renowned Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, wrote the Boston Globe for not mentioning Graham’s decades-long religious vitriol spewed at the LGBT community.
“I was disappointed that the Rev. Billy Graham’s long track record of homophobic and anti-gay statements was not included in an otherwise comprehensive review of his life in last week’s obituary (“Billy Graham, ‘America’s pastor,’ dies at 99,” Page A1, Feb. 22, 2018).”
Graham referred to homosexuality as a chosen lifestyle. He said it was a “sinister form of perversion,” and “an ungodly spirit of self-gratification.” Graham used his bully pulpit to denounce LGBT activism, and his cautionary warning to Christians who supported LGBT civil rights was that “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.”
To his dying day, Graham believed LGBT people could be cured. His website still promotes reparative therapy. It says, “If you have a loved one who’s homosexual, you may refer to Someone I Love Is Gay by Anita Worthen and Bob Davies, or if you’re a Christian struggling with homosexuality, consider Coming Out of Homosexuality by Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel.”
As an opponent of marriage equality, Graham’s pastoral advice concerning LGBT marriages was that “The Bible provides God’s blueprint for marriage, and for His good gift of sex in Genesis 2:24. The gift is only to be enjoyed within a marriage between a man and a woman. There are no exceptions suggested, such as homosexual partnerships.” In 2012 Graham supported actions to amend his state constitution to define marriage “between one man and one woman.”
Back in 1993, when many Americans were looking for a definitive spiritual answer to why AIDS occurred, Graham told a crowd of 44,300 in Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, that he thought the AIDS epidemic was the wrath of God. “ls AIDS a judgment of God? I could not say for sure, but I think so.” Graham’s response went global. He retracted with an apology, but the damage was done.
Coogan aptly pointed out that “Those actions and beliefs, over the course of his ministry and public life, have harmed many people. It perpetuated painful and erroneous stereotypes that organizations such as ours continue to counter every day.”
Sadly, Billy Graham’s ministry of intolerance toward LGBT people has unquestionably been passed down to his son Franklin, whose homophobic remarks trump that of his father. He is in lockstep with this present administration in Washington.
“I’m going to encourage the Church to take a stand for Christ. Homosexuality has been allowed into our schools — that’s why I want to get the school boards back,” Franklin Graham stated during a radio Q&A segment with Focus on the Family, another national religious anti-LGBT organization.
“You cannot stay gay and continue to call yourself a Christian. You can’t do it,” the younger Graham said.
Unfortunately, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will continue to be a revered global ministry around the world. I shudder to think of all this hate speech passed down from father to son, and what will be done in the name of God.