The glo­ri­ously grow­ing ir­rel­e­vance of Franklin Graham

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE OB­SERVER ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

It’s been a lit­tle while since Franklin Graham of­fered up a shovel of moral ma­nure, so let’s go over the drill when the rev­erend does his thing.

In a tweet Wed­nes­day, Graham blasted pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Pete But­tigieg for hav­ing the nerve to be pub­licly gay. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, said Graham, was not some­thing to be “flaunted.” He called on But­tigieg, a Demo­crat from In­di­ana, to in­stead re­pent.

It was a typ­i­cally ripe bite of big­otry from Graham. As be­fore, there are some things to re­mem­ber:

Graham does not rep­re­sent most Amer­i­cans. An NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal poll this month showed more than two-third of Amer­i­cans — 68 per­cent — are ei­ther en­thu­si­as­tic or com­fort­able with a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who is gay or les­bian. About the same num­bers be­lieve that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity should be ac­cepted and same­sex mar­riage should be le­gal.

Graham also doesn’t rep­re­sent most Chris­tians. An Amer­i­can Val­ues At­las sur­vey re­leased last month showed that Chris­tians over­whelm­ingly sup­port non-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for the LGBT com­mu­nity. That sup­port ranged from 71 per­cent of white main­line protes­tants to 54 per­cent (with only 38 per­cent against) of white evan­gel­i­cals.

All of which might ex­plain why Graham’s pul­pit pound­ing is get­ting a dif­fer­ent kind of re­sponse these days. Used to be that when Graham told peo­ple to boy­cott Wells Fargo or not buy cook­ies from Girl Scouts be­cause they treated gays and les­bians as real peo­ple, the rev­erend’s com­ments would be wor­thy of big head­lines and ca­ble TV crawls. This week, there were a few frowns, but mostly, Amer­ica shrugged.

Why? Graham is not the Chris­tian leader he once was. He’s a man whose or­ga­ni­za­tion does won­der­ful work, but he’s also one whose words have be­come in­creas­ingly and glo­ri­ously ir­rel­e­vant.

In part, that’s be­cause Graham’s per­spec­tive on ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity has been pushed to the fringe, but it’s also be­cause of how he has marginal­ized him­self with his vo­cal sup­port of Don­ald Trump. Like other sup­posed faith lead­ers, Graham has been caught in the trap of po­lit­i­cally sup­port­ing a man with so many moral fail­ings. How do you tell a gay can­di­date to re­pent but utter hardly a peep about the phi­lan­der­ing, dis­hon­est man who now holds the of­fice? There’s only one way to get past that in­con­sis­tency, and that’s to pre­tend it doesn’t ex­ist. So Graham has cho­sen to do some­thing that even many Trump sup­port­ers won’t do — he calls the pres­i­dent’s af­fairs “al­leged” and ex­alts him as a de­fender of the faith.

And like Trump, Graham has aban­doned any pre­tense of mod­er­a­tion. He’s happy to ap­peal to his base, be­cause that’s the only group that can sus­tain him now. That base, how­ever, is be­com­ing as shal­low as the rev­erend’s mes­sage, as nar­row as his world­view, as an­ti­quated as a tweet that crit­i­cizes a gay man for flaunt­ing it. Franklin Graham’s words used to re­mind us how far the LGBTQ com­mu­nity and its sup­port­ers have to go. Now he shows us how far we’ve come.

TRACY KIM­BALL tkim­[email protected]­al­don­

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Pete But­tigieg of South Bend, Ind., speaks to a crowd of hun­dreds at Clin­ton Col­lege in Rock Hill this month.

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