Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dear Franklin Graham

March 4, 2017

Dear Franklin Graham,

Every day I talk to bewildered and disenchanted people who've given up--in many cases, completely given up--on religion, the church, even Jesus.  They're looking for hope.  They're looking for community and communion.  But they've given up on the church.  It makes no sense to them.

And why is that?  Why have these decent, thoughtful, morally grounded people given up on religion?  Why have they given up on loving churches like mine?  Because of people like you, because of ministers like you, because of preachers like you.  Because of preachers who see gay liberation as some kind of perversity, some kind of evil.  Because of preachers who refuse to address Isaiah 58 and Luke 4 and the overwhelming biblical concern for the economic justice and human freedom and kindness.

Once again, this week, you have used your bully pulpit to insist that gay liberation is some kind of threat to Jesus' message of love and compassion.  Once again, you have insisted that God is angered by normal human feeling, ordinary human sexuality--and not by corporate greed, systemic poverty and ugly Presidential bigotry.  You've reminded the decent people around me how irrelevant Christianity really is, how completely unhinged it is; and you've given them another dozen reasons not to give church or God a try.  Your God is out to judge gay kids and condemn gay couples and shame them in a thousand ways.  Who in the world needs your God?  I really can't blame my friends for staying away. 

At the same time, you seem to have nothing to say about deceit in the White House, about attacks on immigrant families and Muslim neighbors and Jewish cemeteries.   You seem to offer no real model of prayerfulness, mindfulness and forgiveness as spiritual practices for the 21st century.  Instead, you go after Disney and a character in a movie.  Go figure.  

You're a success, no doubt.  You're succeeding in turning people (decent, lovely, curious people) away from the gospel, away from grace, away from a beloved community.  In the process, you're serving only to weaken the ministries of churches that are actually serving the poor and downtrodden, welcoming the frightened and the lost, questioning bigotry and preaching the gospel.  

You call it success.  I call what you're doing sin.  When a high profile preacher turns people away from the gospel, that's sin.  When the son of a noted evangelist weakens ministries of compassion, that's sin.  What you're preaching, Franklin Graham, is something songwriter Bruce Cockburn once called a "gospel of bondage."  There's no hint of good news in it.  There's no joy, no generosity and no justice in it.  And I call that sin. 

So, watch out.  Think it over.  That's my Christian advice for you tonight.  False prophets get into deep trouble.  Fall to your knees in prayer.  Think it over.  It's time to turn your life (and your message of judgment and hate) around.  

And go see a Disney movie.  You might learn something.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dave Grishaw-Jones
Peace United Church of Christ
Santa Cruz, CA

P.S.  Isaiah 58:

Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
    from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.