There’s a long tradition of conservative Christian leaders making it plain that Christians don’t serve the God Muslims serve, because there is only one God, and you can’t get to him by following Muhammad, only Jesus.
It’s often not a call to arms, but a clarification, an irreconcilable distinction, a gold-plated invitation to others to a better way of living and thinking, the only right way. To be ambiguous about such an important topic would be to literally condemn people not only to Hell, but to less-than-fulfilling lives here on Earth.
It may come across as harsh to those not ready to receive that message, but not nearly as harsh as depriving them the opportunity to save themselves from eternal damnation, because they are convinced they know God even when they don’t.
In that spirit, after watching a recent interview the Rev. Franklin Graham gave to WBTV, I feel the need to make the following declaration:
I am a Christian, born and raised in a Christian family, a man who attended a conservative Christian church for nearly two decades and had my kids dedicated there. But I do not serve the God Graham serves.
His God is vengeful and petty. His God favors the already-privileged and doesn’t mind condemning the already-marginalized.
His God prefers preserving tradition to saving lives, or even souls.
His God wouldn’t care much about the findings in a new study from Johns Hopkins’ School of Public Health, which showed that gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers have been less likely to try to kill themselves in states that embraced gay marriage.
“In 32 states that enacted same-sex marriage laws during the study, suicide attempts dropped 7 percent among all students and 14 percent among gay kids after the laws were passed,” according to an Associated Press article about the study. “There was no change in suicide attempts in states without those laws.”
Maybe kids in those groups are more hopeful, or maybe such laws reduce the level of bullying and marginalization they face, researchers have reasoned.
Those saved and improved lives matter less to Graham’s God than keeping alive the myth that God didn’t make gays and lesbians in his image, too. Holding fast to a smug certainty about their supposed sinfulness must be prioritized above their mental health or physical well being.
It has always fascinated me that a God who Graham says is never-changing always finds a way to morph in ways that seem to parallel shifts in the Republican Party. The GOP targeted abortion in the 1970s; Graham’s God has been condemning abortion since. The GOP decided to view transgendered Americans as a grave threat to the social order; lo and behold, now so does Graham’s God. After the GOP says a thrice-married adulterous man caught on video bragging about casually sexually assaulting women – after spending years elevating a bigoted conspiracy about the nation’s first black president – is the perfect standard bearer for the party of values voters, Graham’s God miraculously sees past sins for which Donald Trump never repented and elevates him to the highest office in the land.
“Jesus wasn’t real loving sometimes,” Graham told WBTV. “He called the Pharisees vipers, snakes, white-washed tombs.”
The Pharisees were the religious conservatives of their day, part of the ruling class, were popular with the masses – and didn’t notice the Messiah in their midst, even though they knew scripture better than anyone else.
Jesus called them vipers, snakes and white-washed tombs. If he walked Earth today, I wonder what he’d call Graham.
Issac Bailey is an interim member of the Observer editorial board. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.