When I disagree with my Christian sisters and brothers over issues of theology or Christian ethics, I always try to be kind. When you vociferously disagree with someone, it often sounds as though you are attacking their motives and integrity. I don’t want to do that. I cannot read anyone’s mind. I cannot know the heart of another. So, often I don’t even mention the person by name. That way I disagree with their views and don’t come off like I’m impugning their motives.
But this time, I’m going to point out what one Evangelical leader said and to do so I must call him by name. I still maintain that it is not my job to judge his motives. He has done so many good things. But in this case his words run so contrary to the gospel that I feel like I must speak out. My critique will sound harsh. I don’t mean to be harsh to this man. But I am incensed by what he is proclaiming. And I think you should be as well.
I don’t have a fraction of the influence that Franklin Graham has. He has hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers and is often interviewed by national media outlets. I’m just a pastor of a local church. I don’t have a voice. But what he said about LGBTQ children has so much potential for harm that I feel like Evangelical pastors need to speak out against this distortion of the gospel. I’ll assume Franklin Graham is trying to do the right thing as he sees it. But I believe his perspective is wrong and can have destructive results.
As Franklin Graham was recently interviewed on “Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk,” he said…
“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.
What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous.”
I’ll be honest, so often when I hear destructive comments from influential Evangelicals, I have to fight hard to keep from becoming an angry person. But this time, it wasn’t anger that seized me. I was overcome with sadness. On so many levels this statement runs contrary to the way of Christ and when it is proclaimed by someone with so much influence the results could crush many lives.
Contrary to what Jesus taught us, an Evangelical leader is telling believers not to show hospitality in their homes and in their churches. He is saying that people (even children) have to earn our hospitality by their beliefs or their conduct. What does this have to do with grace?
Franklin Graham is advocating keeping children out of the church—“we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches.” Seriously? Keep children away from the church—away from Jesus? What did Jesus have to say about that?
The Gospel of Mark said that Jesus became “indignant” when people tried to keep children from coming to him (Mark 10:14). And Matthew described a time when Jesus brought a child to stand among those he was teaching. Having placed the child in their midst, he said, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:2-6).
Among the most at risk children in our society are transgender children. They are susceptible to abuse, homelessness, exploitation, trafficking and suicide in staggering numbers. I recently spoke to a woman who, with her husband, pastors a church in Detroit. In her section of the city she sees homeless, transgender teenagers who are picked up and trafficked. Her first response when she saw this? She began to befriend them to try to discover how she could help them. It never entered her mind to tell her people to reject them—to keep them out of their homes and their church.
Gay teenagers have experienced rejection after rejection. And now a leading Evangelical is telling people to keep it up—keep rejecting them.
In listening to Franklin Graham’s interview I was especially baffled when he said, “What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving.” He not only characterizes LGBTQ children as tools of the enemy that will infiltrate our homes and churches, he then disparages the ethic of love that Jesus taught us.
We think we can fight with love. Where do you suppose we got that idea?
This is not some different flavor of Christianity he is espousing. This is not doctrinal trivia. This is not a mild disagreement among denominations. Franklin Graham is encouraging Evangelicals to ignore the teachings of Jesus—both in the way we treat oppressed children and in jettisoning the love ethic that is at the heart of our faith.
By the way, if you wonder why millennial Christians are leaving Evangelicalism, it may be because of an increasing perception that Evangelicalism has nothing to do with Jesus.