Billy Graham is dead, and Christianity isn’t feeling too good itself.
So charismatic, so compelling, no American rang up more ratings points for his faith than “America’s pastor,” but that was yesterday.
Now? Church attendance steadily declines. Meanwhile, the numbers of those who declare themselves spiritual but not religious grow.
Surely the reasons for this are many, but one is clear:
Many who advertise themselves as Christian have been digging a hole for their brand for years. They have sapped Christianity of its essence, which is love, and replaced it with two higher virtues: possession and possessions.
They took the “gold” from the “golden rule” and sent it offshore for tax purposes. They divined God’s plan to be that they – white heterosexuals — shall rule.
They set aside “hope” and “charity” in favor of “hate” and “blame” — the first for Muslims and gay people, and the second for desperate Mexicans who come without papers to clean their toilets and pick their fruit.
Prince of Peace? This variant of faith is as militant as imaginable — each war a holy war, and one’s shiny firearm as much an accoutrement as the cross.
However, the most damning thing about so many self-proclaimed evangelicals and their leaders is the horse on which they have bet their previous winnings: Donald Trump.
True, Billy Graham helped politicize faith by being too cozy with politicians like Joseph McCarthy. He famously said Richard Nixon’s “moral and ethical principles wouldn’t allow him to do anything illegal.”
However, at least Graham modeled inclusivity and straddled the divide, befriending and counseling presidents of either stripe.
Not so with the man who inherits Graham’s empire, the hyper-partisan Franklin Graham.
He’s defamed the multitudes by calling Islam “a very wicked religion . . . a religion of war.”
He can’t speak of homosexuals and transgender individuals without assigning to their desires the “LBGT agenda,” whatever that is.
You may buy into Franklin Graham’s spiel, but ask the young people you know and understand why so many young people want nothing to do with Graham’s church, or the church itself.
That’s tragic, because the church that actually models the love of Christ is something needed in a world torn by divisiveness and conflict. I was raised in a loving Methodist congregation. I know what good the church can do. This is not that.
Now we have a moral charlatan as president, less Christlike than anyone imaginable, and evangelical leaders line up to kiss his ring.
Sexual predator or not, serial adulterer or not, Trump is their guy — he who figured out that mouthing their party line (even when changing his previous positions) would help him win the Republican nomination.
Asked about revelations of Trump’s alleged affair with a porn star replete with a $130,000 pay-off, Tony Perkins of the selectively pious Family Research Council said Trump gets a “mulligan.” OK, Mr. Perkins, what say you about the alleged affair between Trump and a Playmate with another payoff? How many mulligans does Trump get? Unlimited, clearly.
Back to that whole “LGBT agenda.” Franklin Graham, and the churches that share his attitudes, couldn’t be more out-of-touch with the majority of Americans, particularly young Americans who support LGBT rights – make that human rights without qualification. Most young people I know want nothing to do with this, or any, self-righteous bigotry.
Amid evidence that Christian church attendance is declining, interestingly I heard from a Unitarian friend who said attendance at his congregation is surging. His congregation isn’t about excluding people or dividing people. It’s not about colors or cloth or condemnation. It’s exclusively about that Golden Rule stuff.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.