Franklin Graham speaks at the Iowa State Capitol on 1/5/16.
Franklin Graham speaks at the Iowa State Capitol on 1/5/16.

Let’s imagine a Christian minister asserting what happened in a president’s affairs wasn’t a private matter between him and his family. The minister asks, if the president is willing to mislead his or her family, how do we know he or she won’t mislead the country?

Imagine the President’s defenders claiming only the President’s policy mattered and that this is all a private matter. Imagine this minister arguing back,  “Private conduct does have public consequences. “ He then takes on a  favorite argument of the President’s defenders that the President is like King David and puts the story of his adultery in context:

But forgiveness is not the end of David’s story. Huge consequences followed immediately. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the news that while his life would be spared, the life of his child would be extinguished after just seven days on earth. Bathsheba’s husband and others were killed in an attempt to cover up the illicit affair. David, who confessed his sin when confronted by Nathan (perhaps God’s special prosecutor), also witnessed a bloody coup attempt by his own son, Absalom. He was never the same king.

The minister agrees that the President’s sin can be forgiven, but he rejects cheap grace, claiming the scriptures indicate that grace is conditional on repentance. He specifies what he believes the president must do to repent. “He must start by admitting to it and refraining from legalistic doublespeak…He didn’t ‘mislead’ his wife and us–he lied. The acknowledgment must be coupled with genuine remorse. A repentant spirit that says, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong. I won’t do it again. I ask for forgiveness,’ would go a long way toward personal and national healing.”

This minister would be roasted by Christian Trump supporters as a hateful Pharisee. It wasn’t an ardent #NeverTrump(er) who made this statement.  It was one of the President’s most ardent defenders, Franklin Graham. The comment wasn’t made in 2018 about President Trump. It was from a 1998 Wall Street Journal piece that Graham wrote about President Clinton.

Last week, Graham told the Associated Press, “And I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.“  He argued, “And I don’t defend those kinds of relationships he had. But the country knew the kind of person he was back then, and they still made the decision to make him the president of the United States.”

The same could be said of Bill Clinton. When the country elected him President of the United States, we already knew about the Gennifer Flowers affair, draft dodging, and the like. Why should he have had to ask the American people for forgiveness in the way Franklin Graham described? He too was only being the person we all knew he was when he was elected.

While the alleged affair didn’t happen while Trump was President, Trump lied for months about knowing about Michael Cohen’s payoff to Stormy Daniels. Trump only let it slip last week in Rudy Giuliani’s interview on Hannity. Doesn’t the President owe our country some apology for his lying in office?

Further, had this come out before the election, it may have affected the outcome. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in early October, many people backed away from Trump, including some Republican political leaders. An unspoken reason for many unendorsements is that many political people thought, “If this is coming out in early October, what’s going to come out at the end of the month before most people vote?” with the expectation it would be far worse. When the other shoe didn’t drop before the election, many politicians re-endorsed Trump.

As Presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a recent interview, “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.” That Trump had an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with his infant son, may have been a breaking point. As the blogger, AllahPundit, suggested, “Some voters might have decided that there are just too many clowns in the Trump circus to justify voting for him.” That could have swung the election, given the President’s margin of victory in the electoral college was less than a combined total of 100,000 votes in three midwestern states.

The President’s attorney, Michael Cohen, covered up an allegation which could have impacted the election and the President lied about it for months on end. And that doesn’t phase Franklin Graham. Graham’s tolerance for Trump’s dishonesty goes beyond the issue of the affair.  Graham went from worrying that President Clinton might lie to us to encouraging President Trump to break his word to the American people about releasing his tax returns.

In stating this, I don’t deny that Graham has done much good. He’s led untold thousands to Christ. His ministry Samaritan’s Purse has made an enormous difference for people in disaster areas. However, this makes his political hypocrisy even more problematic. Many Evangelicals look up to him and follow his example. If his grace for Democrats remains conditional, his reserving unconditional grace for Republicans is a double standard contrary to the way Christian involvement in politics should work. If a minister is going to communicate God’s truth in the public square, he can’t interpret the Bible one way when addressing the sins of President Clinton and another for the sins of President Trump. Pick one.

Regardless, evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham follow after Trump in a manner that is a throwback to the middle ages. Then, the relationship between the church and the state was defined by the Church and the State’s desire to gain power from each other. This was corrupting for both the church and the state, and our founding fathers never wanted such to develop here.

The comparison between Trump and David breaks down fast. For one, no one on his Evangelical Counsel would speak to him as Nathan spoke to David when he declared, “You are the man!” in calling him to repentance.

Instead, the religious leaders around Trump are yes-people who use their positions to minimize and dismiss the seriousness of his failings to ensure the people who respect them stay in line, but there’s a cost to the greater Christian mission. Due to Franklin Graham’s prominence, he’s being held up as proof we Christians are all hypocrites by secularists and atheists.  And you don’t have to be a radical atheist to see the unfairness of holding Trump to a lower standard than the church holds the average person. This threatens to undermine not only Franklin Graham’s witness but Christian witness in this country for decades to come.

2 comments
  1. I disagree with your criticism of Rev. Graham. You compare his statements from a couple of decades ago with more recent statements about a different situation. While I am appalled by both of these presidents, I feel you have lost your perspective. The two incidents are not equivalent, and the rhetorical backdrop into which Rev. Graham is speaking is starkly different. In light of these two types of differences (different incident, different rhetorical context), it is unfair to accuse Rev. Graham of a double standard.

    TWO DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

    President Clinton had coercive sex with a subordinate employee. By today’s standards it would be regarded as rape because of the power differential between the two.

    President Trump is alleged to have had consensual sex outside of marriage 12 years ago, before he was a candidate for any public office.

    Rev. Graham is clearly against both of these kinds of behavior.

    TWO DIFFERENT CONTEXTS

    The comments Rev. Graham made about President Clinton at the time were in the middle of an unresolved situation, where it appeared that all of the forces of politics and media were going to sweep the incident under the rug. Even though the public knew the nature of the incident, it appeared that President Clinton’s likeableness was going to mean that he would get away with the coercive sex. The concern on the part of Rev. Graham and many others was that every man in America would believe that he could get away with it too. Rev. Graham’s discourse at that time is more fairly understood as concern about the moral implications of a President getting away with such behavior rather than a politically partisan view of the event. I think subsequent developments in American public life have shown that all of Rev. Graham’s fears are more than confirmed.

    Rev. Graham’s comments in our present situation ought to be understood against the backdrop of the wider context. There is no shortage of condemnation for president Trump. Those who are supposedly outraged that Trump might have had an affair and covered it up are not sincere. They oppose him for other reasons. There is no risk that people will be more accepting of casual sex, pornography, or marital infidelity as a result of President Trump’s actions, so Rev. Graham has pointed us beyond the incident to more pressing national concerns. In fact, the political/media system that constantly flashes photos of a porn star on everyone’s t.v. screens is far worse for America’s moral purity than President Trump’s alleged behavior could possibly be.

    SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

    You believe the primary motivation for these differing statements is a shrewd political calculation rather than a passion for God’s justice. I believe Rev. Graham’s political leanings affect the way he speaks about his moral convictions, but his moral convictions are still determinative of his basic outlook. I believe it is more than unfair for you to publicly state otherwise.

    AS I SEE IT

    If Franklin Graham had opposed Clinton for not respecting the rights of working women to have a workplace free of sexual coercion, and if he supported Trump by saying that consenting adults have a right to whatever kind of sex pleases them, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. This, I think, is the trouble of our times.

    DOUBLE STANDARDS?

    Double standards abound in our times. What is it about this supposed double standard that makes it big enough to get your attention?

    What I hear Rev. Graham saying is that from the perspective of looking back on the Clinton years, his zeal for getting the President to confess to transgressions may have been obsessive. I would ask you to consider learning from that kind of wisdom. In a couple of decades will your zeal to discredit Rev. Graham seem obsessive?

    1. First, I acknowledge there are difference between Clinton and Trump’s affairs. Though, I think to call Trump’s relationship with Lewinsky rape would be massively defining the term down. It was an abuse of power to be sure. Though in many ways, so was Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels. According to her, the reason Stormy Daniels kept giving Trump sexual favors was because Trump kept leading her on about getting on the Apprentice. I guess the big difference between Trump and Clinton is that Clinton actually DID give Lewinsky some career help.

      But there is also the issue of timing and certainly you’re right that what Clinton while he was in office while Trump’s happened years before he announced for President. But I quote Mr. Graham’s statement, “But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter.” He didn’t say, “It only matters if it’s done in the White House.” He didn’t say, “We gave Clinton a mulligan for everything he did in Arkansas.” He said it mattered and it does.

      Reverend Graham said it mattered because, ” If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” The thing it worried about is that Clinton’s willingness to lie in his private meant that Clinton would lie in his public life. Trump has already done that. The affair may have happened years ago but he already lied to the American people about his knowledge of payments. He’s almost certainly lying to the American people about the affair (you do not hand women $130,000 to keep quiet about affairs that didn’t happen.) And again, Reverend Graham went from worrying about the President being dishonest with the American people to urging the President to break faith with the American people and violate his word about releasing his income taxes.

      You ask, “Double standards abound in our times. What is it about this supposed double standard that makes it big enough to get your attention?”

      I answered that in my article. I’ll copy the appropriate passages here for your convenience:

      Regardless, evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham follow after Trump in a manner that is a throwback to the middle ages. Then, the relationship between the church and the state was defined by the Church and the State’s desire to gain power from each other. This was corrupting for both the church and the state, and our founding fathers never wanted such to develop here.

      The comparison between Trump and David breaks down fast. For one, no one on his Evangelical Counsel would speak to him as Nathan spoke to David when he declared, “You are the man!” in calling him to repentance.

      Instead, the religious leaders around Trump are yes-people who use their positions to minimize and dismiss the seriousness of his failings to ensure the people who respect them stay in line, but there’s a cost to the greater Christian mission. Due to Franklin Graham’s prominence, he’s being held up as proof we Christians are all hypocrites by secularists and atheists. And you don’t have to be a radical atheist to see the unfairness of holding Trump to a lower standard than the church holds the average person. This threatens to undermine not only Franklin Graham’s witness but Christian witness in this country for decades to come.

      “What I hear Rev. Graham saying is that from the perspective of looking back on the Clinton years, his zeal for getting the President to confess to transgressions may have been obsessive. I would ask you to consider learning from that k ind of wisdom. In a couple of decades will your zeal to discredit Rev. Graham seem obsessive?”

      If Franklin Graham offers a public apology for Bill Clinton for his comments, that would be one thing. He hasn’t and like most of those who were moral crusaders during the 1990s and have adopted an anything goes/cheap grace attitude to Trump. It might make their positions now more consistent, but that’s not what they’re saying. Graham came the closest by saying “the Republicans” made a mistake without acknowledging his own role in this.

      As to myself, I might regret many things if I live that long and who knows if I will. But I doubt any article I’ve written is going to make the top 100 list of my regrets.

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