Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Franklin Graham and Tolerance: What's the Right Question to Ask Here?

Recently, Frankin Graham wrote an article called “Is Our Nation Intolerant of Christianity?”

The question Graham is asking has been asked many times before by many conservative American evangelicals in a land where they enjoy the freedom to ask this question (and others like it). They also have the freedom to have any opinion on this question or any other one.

I remember reading several books and articles and hearing opinions from my fellow evangelicals growing up that we are often persecuted in this country, whether by a liberal press or secular university professors or President Clinton or President Obama. 

People champion tolerance for everyone but conservative Christians, I was told.

Graham complains, “There is scandal after scandal, and yet our nation’s leaders seem even more belligerent  toward Christians.”

But here’s the problem: As Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta has already pointed out, Franklin Graham begins his article with the following line (note especially the very first phrase, highlighted for you in red in case you miss it): 

Recently I was at a White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and had the opportunity to remind him that our main problem in America is that we have taken God out of our society and out of our government.

Dear Mr. Graham: 

If you, a prominent conservative Christian leader, begin your article by saying you were invited to a meeting with the Vice President of the United States, you have already disproved the point you’re trying to make. 

You were invited by the Vice President of the United States. How is it that “our nation’s leaders seem even more belligerent toward Christians” again?

Also, if you read Graham’s article, he says that the “BGEA [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] was audited last September, and many believe it was because we encouraged voters to take a strong stand on same-sex marriage issues and biblical values.”

Before making claims like this, you had better be able to come up with hard evidence for them. I understand that the IRS has been criticized recently for its recent act of targeting certain conservative groups that have displayed some resistance to some government policies (the Tea Party is known for not being very happy about taxes), but I seriously doubt that the audit is necessarily due to any stand on same-sex marriage (unless someone knows something I don’t). 

This kind of thing begins to sound to many critics of Christianity like a persecution complex, not genuine persecution.

I want to be very careful about identifying something negative we experience (especially if it’s simply not getting our way sometimes) as persecution.

I would also challenge Mr. Graham on his claim that “our main problem in America is that we have taken God out of our society and out of our government.”

In what ways have we “taken God out of our society and out of our government”? That is, I’d like to know what he means by “taken God out of our society and out of our government.” Does he mean that our government used to champion God and does not anymore? Does he mean that our society as a whole used to champion God and does not anymore?

What does Franklin Graham think of the first amendment of the US Constitution? How does he understand that?

I would contend that though it’s possible for people to increasingly forget or ignore God, it’s actually impossible to take God out of anything. God is involved with our lives whether we like it or not. Madalyn Murray O’Hair did not take God out of public schools. Kids can still pray to God if they want—she only went after school-mandated prayers.

Also, America is not in covenant relationship with YHWH the way Israel was. It was not founded that way. Does either the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution resemble any of the books of the Torah in any way whatsoever? Are they suzerainty treaties, as Deuteronomy is (a treaty between a vassal, such as Israel, and its lord, which, in Deuteronomy’s case, is YHWH)?

No. They’re not. The US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are not themselves amendments to the Torah.

It’s time that we stop treating them that way.

I think we need to think more carefully about how we should apply the laws in the Bible to ourselves today—should we implement the laws in Scripture into national law? How should we as Christian citizens in a secular country founded by eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers seek to engage in the political process and influence the laws of the land?

So the right question is not, “Is our nation intolerant of Christianity?” It evidently isn’t, especially if Vice President Joe Biden is willing to meet with Franklin Graham, a prominent Christian leader.

The better question is, “How do we live as Christians in our respective contexts, whether it is the US or elsewhere?” 

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