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The gloriously growing irrelevance of Franklin Graham

‘I believe in the freedom to’: presidential hopeful outlines his values in Rock Hill

Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., visited a crowd of hundreds Saturday at Clinton College in Rock Hill. Buttigieg said he is focusing on freedom, democracy and security.
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Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., visited a crowd of hundreds Saturday at Clinton College in Rock Hill. Buttigieg said he is focusing on freedom, democracy and security.

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 same-sex 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.

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