My Turn: For Franklin Graham, here are some ‘biblical values’ worth discussing

  • Graham

For the Monitor
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Taking a page from Jerry Falwell’s playbook, Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist, has embarked on a tour of all 50 state capitals in an effort to encourage evangelicals to be politically active; he arrives in Concord on Tuesday.

In the runup to the 1980 presidential election, Falwell conducted rallies at state capitols throughout the nation in what emerged as the first public rumblings of the Religious Right. Now, more than three decades later, Franklin Graham wants to do the same.

Graham insists that his efforts are not partisan; he recently “resigned” from the Republican Party to underscore the point.

“I’m going to encourage Christians to stand up and let their voice be heard,” Graham declared, adding that it’s important “to stand for biblical values.” (Clearly, there will be a lot of standing during Graham’s tour.)

When Falwell initiated his tour of state capitols all those decades ago, few could have predicted that he would lead evangelical voters on a reckless joy ride that would barter away “biblical values” for right-wing political orthodoxy. Graham has the opportunity to right that wrong in the course of his 50-state tour.

The early returns are not encouraging.

If Graham were truly serious about promoting “biblical values,” he would call for a more humane immigration policy, one that honors the command of Jesus to “welcome the stranger.” The Hebrew Bible enjoins us many times not to mistreat or oppress foreigners, and it offers provisions for the care and feeding of strangers. Leviticus says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” and the book of Hebrews reminds us to “show hospitality to strangers.”

In the age of terrorism, this is a tough one. How do you ensure the safety of citizens while still showing compassion to strangers in need? The Obama administration has been struggling to find a balance, but surely Graham, versed as he is in “biblical values,” will be able to chart a way forward.

The prophet Malachi condemns “those who defraud laborers of their wages.” If Graham were to promote “biblical values,” he would offer a plan to raise the minimum wage, limit outsourcing and ensure that imports to the United States are produced by workers receiving a fair wage.

In Job, we read: “Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside.” This passage provides Graham the opportunity to condemn the Supreme Court’s calamitous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for the corrupting influence of money in political campaigns. Surely this dark money represents enticement by riches.

Graham could also advocate for more restrictive laws regarding divorce, which might make matters a bit dicey for Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner who is now on his third marriage. Jesus was pretty clear about his condemnations of divorce, adding that remarriage after divorce compounded the sin. Jesus, on the other hand, said nothing explicit about homosexuality, so Graham should probably, in the interest of fidelity to “biblical values,” steer clear of that one.

The Bible affirms that the created order is the handiwork of God, and Jesus expressed concern for even the tiniest sparrow. Graham’s “biblical values” should therefore offer a comprehensive program for environmental protection, including measures to counteract the devastating effects of climate change.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws,” the prophet Isaiah said, “to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” The call for justice certainly has resonance with African Americans in places like Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland, not to mention New York. Graham could unveil his plan for racial reconciliation in one of these places.

Rather than push for “biblical values,” however, Graham so far has contented himself with right-wing bromides about same-sex marriage, political correctness, America’s imminent demise and opposition to gun control. “This nation’s foundations were built on biblical principles,” he told his opening rally in Des Moines. In Louisiana, Graham asserted that progressives “most likely oppose the standards of God,” neglecting to mention how racial justice, care for the poor, environmental protections and fair wages violate divine standards.

Clearly, any preacher (or politician) who aspires to advocate “biblical values” in the arena of political discourse has a lot to talk about. Graham can still turn this around, starting Tuesday in Concord. Will he seize the moment?

(Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is chair of the Religion Department and director of the Society of Fellows at Dartmouth College. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.”)