Franklin Graham

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

OK, readers, it’s pop quiz time. My question: What do the following political players have in common; Franklin Graham, George Soros and the Koch brothers?

Did I hear you mumble “nothing,” other than gender and the aforementioned political-player designations?

Not a bad guess. But not the answer I’m looking for at the moment.

The commonality I have in mind is that they all serve as public boogeyman — names to be tossed around to convey a suitcase of despised qualities that need not be unpacked for opponents skilled in the art of in-group rhetoric.

Those on the left tend to think of Graham and the Kochs as despicable actors poisoning the political well with hypocritical religious justifications (Graham) or by employing their vast wealth to back libertarian, hyper pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulatory agendas (the Kochs).

Those on the right tend to view Soros as an atheist billionaire, internationalist busy-body set on destroying what they view as rightful national norms for the sake of unrealistic democratic (note that’s with a small “d”) fantasies. In America, many conservatives see him as a fierce enemy of the religious liberty side of the First Amendment.

If you paid close attention to the soul-numbing Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation fight you may know that, unlike Graham and the Kochs, Soros’ name popped up at the tail end of that scorched-earth display political bloodletting — which is why I bring him up now. (President Donald Trump, as he has before, first mentioned Soros; Sen. Chuck Grassley disparaged Soros when asked about Trump’s comment.)

But first.

My point here is not to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Soros or the others mentioned above. Frankly, I have strong disagreements with them all. Besides, love them or hate them, I’m guessing your minds are already pretty well made up about what level of heaven or hell they’re headed for come judgement day. So what chance at changing minds do I really have anyway?

Also, they're all entitled, under current American law, to throw their weight around in accordance with their viewpoints — again, whether you or I like it or not.

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In Russia coverage, the National Prayer Breakfast is a convenient whipping boy

In Russia coverage, the National Prayer Breakfast is a convenient whipping boy

I covered the National Prayer Breakfast once or twice, which sounds glamorous, but it was a thankless job in that the organizers loathed the media and the only sure way to get access was to be part of the White House press pool.

One rises at some ungodly hour to get to downtown Washington, D.C., through the security at the White House and into the press room, where we were all crammed into three black SUVs at the end of a long line of cars headed for the Washington Hilton.

Reporters were ordered into one corner of the room, then told to leave as soon as the president took his leave. This was confounding in that I’d been told I needed to report on the main speaker, which the president doesn’t always linger to listen to. During my first time at this event, as the pool headed out the back door, I leapt into the audience where I grabbed an empty seat. The Secret Service was not happy with me.

You see, I knew that the real story of the gathering wasn’t so much the massive breakfast, but all the wheeling and dealing going on before and afterwards. A lot of foreign officials showed up, with the mistaken impression they could get face time with the president, while a small army of people did their best to introduce these foreign contingents to Christianity. 

Which is why I was pleased to see the recent New York Times story on the machinations behind the breakfast. Unfortunately other publications have chimed in by alleging that what’s behind the breakfast is actually a right-wing conspiracy involving the Russians.

The truth is more complex. Here is the top of the Times piece:

WASHINGTON -- With a lineup of prayer meetings, humanitarian forums and religious panels, the National Prayer Breakfast has long brought together people from all over the world for an agenda built around the teachings of Jesus.

But there on the guest list in recent years was Maria Butina, looking to meet high-level American officials and advance the interests of the Russian state, and Yulia Tymoshenko, a Ukranian opposition leader, seeking a few minutes with President Trump to burnish her credentials as a presidential prospect back home.

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Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Horror on the border: Some journalists starting to spot old cracks in Trump's support

Remember that "lesser of two evils" theme in some of the coverage of Donald Trump's run for the White House?

The whole idea was that there were quite a few religious believers -- evangelicals and Catholics alike -- who were not impressed with The Donald, to say the least. However, they faced a painful, hellish decision in voting booths because the only mainstream alternative to this bizarre GOP candidate was Hillary Rodham Clinton, someone whose record on religious liberty, right-to-life issues, etc., etc., was truly horrifying.

Thus, that lesser-of-two-evils equation or, as a prophetic Christianity Today piece put it: "Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump." Here at GetReligion, I addressed this pre-election trend here: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, ever since, I have urged journalists to look for the old cracks inside the evangelical and Catholic support for Trump. Yes, lots of white evangelicals were part of Trump's early base during the primaries. But just as many voted for him on election day while holding their noses (or while carrying a barf bag). At some point, I have argued, journalists could look for these cracks and find important stories.

This brings me to that New York Times headline the other day: "Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies."

Conservative religious leaders who have long preached about the sanctity of the family are now issuing sharp rebukes of the Trump administration for immigration policies that tear families apart or leave them in danger.

The criticism came after recent moves by the administration to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum on a routine basis to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Some of the religious leaders are the same evangelicals and Roman Catholics who helped President Trump to build his base and who have otherwise applauded his moves to limit abortion and champion the rights of religious believers.

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Trump and Kim discussed religious persecution? Scant media accounts leave us guessing

Trump and Kim discussed religious persecution? Scant media accounts leave us guessing

It sure has been interesting seeing President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un operating within a few feet of each other this week.

It was tough for media to glean much from the meeting of the two men, although the prevalent press opinion seems to be that Trump got the lesser part of the deal. In describing the North Korean leader, most reporters linked this phrase -- “systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths” -- to him, quoting the International Bar Association.

"Persecution" of Christians and other religious minorities?

Did any news reports go any further than that with the religion angle? The New York Times’ headline says: Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions. Which meant, specifically:

North Korea considers the spread of most religions dangerous, but Christianity is considered a “particularly serious threat” because it “provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State,” according to the United Nations report.

Christians are barred from practicing their religion, and those caught doing so are “subject to severe punishments,” the report found. North Korean leaders also conflate Christians with those detained in prison camps, those who try to flee and “others considered to introduce subversive influences,” the report stated.

In interviews with The New York Times in 2012, four North Koreans said that they had been warned that the gulag awaited those who spoke to journalists or Christian missionaries. “If the government finds out I am reading the Bible, I’m dead,” one woman said.

In its 2018 World Watch List, the Christian group Open Doors ranked North Korea the worst nation in the world for Christians, and in a statement last week, the group called on Christians to take part in 24 hours of prayer and fasting on Monday ahead of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

That was the most description I could find about an estimated 50,000 Christians imprisoned in North Korea’s gulags.

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Friday Five: Biblical bombshell (not), Joel Osteen deep dive, Onion-style real headlines and more

Friday Five: Biblical bombshell (not), Joel Osteen deep dive, Onion-style real headlines and more

I bring you an update today courtesy of The Religion Guy.

Those of you who are regular GetReligion readers know that The Guy is Richard N. Ostling, who was a longtime religion writer with The Associated Press and Time magazine and received the Religion News Association's lifetime achievement award in 2006. Here at GetReligion we call him the "patriarch."

Back in March, Ostling wrote about a manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Mark supposedly dating back to the 1st Century A.D. He put it this way:

A long-brewing story, largely ignored by the media, could be the biggest biblical bombshell since a lad accidentally stumbled upon the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Or not.

Here is the update from my esteemed colleague:

In case anyone is pursuing this story idea, it now appears that  “not” is the operative word. Brill has issued the long-delayed volume 83 of its Oxyrhynchus Papyri series and turns out Oxford paleography expert Dirk Obbink dates this text far later. It's still an important early find, but not the earth-shattering claim that was made by several evangelical exegetes. The so-called Papyrus 5345 fragment covers six verses, Mark 1:7-9, 16-18.

Daniel Wallace, who first announced the forthcoming bombshell in a 2012 debate with Bart Ehrman, explains what happened and apologizes to Ehrman and everyone else in a post on his blog. Also notable is this new posting by Elijah Hixson at a technical website about textual criticism. Hixson’s May 30 overview for Christianity Today shows there’s still a story the news media might explore.

         Good lessons here for journalists as well as biblical scholars. 

Now, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Your weekend think piece: David French's painful letter to Trump's evangelical defenders

Your weekend think piece: David French's painful letter to Trump's evangelical defenders

Last summer, I did something that I had been thinking about ever since the first years of this 14-year-old blog.

I read went to this website's archives and looked around a bit, glancing at quite a few topics and then scanning posts inside some key ones. It's pretty easy to spot big, repeating topics, since the press has a pretty consistent worldview when it comes to deciding what is news and what is not. As the old saying goes: The news media don't really tell people what to think. However, they do a great job of telling news consumers what to think ABOUT.

After taking lots and lots of notes, I wrote out an outline for a journalism classroom lecture entitled, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion Reporting." This weekend's think piece is linked to Deadly Sin No. 2:

* Assume that religion equals politics -- period. After all, politics deal with things that are real, as opposed to mere beliefs. Thus, whenever people claim that their actions are based on centuries of doctrines and traditions, journalists should assume that those actions are actually rooted in political biases, party politics, economics, sociology, etc. Whatever you do, go out of your way to ignore doctrine.

Examples: Too many to number.

This brings us to this weekend's think piece, which is linked to one of those topics that you know will appear in elite media at least once a week -- Donald Trump's loyal defenders among white evangelicals. Here's a key post I wrote on this topic, just before the election: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, please check out this National Review piece by David French, a Harvard Law graduate who is a religious-liberty specialist. He is also one of the nation's most outspoken #NeverTrump religious conservatives.

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Not surprisingly, Franklin Graham's political views are an issue with the New York Times

Not surprisingly, Franklin Graham's political views are an issue with the New York Times

With the Rev. Billy Graham dead and –- as I write this –- on his way to lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, lots of eyes have turned toward his eldest son, the Rev. Franklin Graham. The New York Times on Monday came out with a piece that lauded Billy for his non-involvement with politics (at least later in life), then trashed Franklin for embracing President Donald Trump.

I get peeved when certain media purport to have great concern for the future of evangelical Christianity when at the same time criticizing the movement when some of its members embrace conservative politics. The same folks who find Franklin Graham to be an unworthy son wouldn’t think of going after the (more liberal) daughters of George W. Bush for not carrying on his legacy.

Graham is a major annoyance to many in the media for his unabashed Trumpism. I don’t claim to be a big fan of Franklin’s, but I have to laugh at his elephant skin. Haven't reporters figured out that Graham the younger doesn't give a rip about their opinions?

After the piece begins with a quote from the late evangelist about the dangers of political involvement, it then pillories the younger Graham.

Among Mr. Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters, few are as high-profile as Billy Graham’s eldest son and the heir to his ministry, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who is 65. Though admired among evangelicals for his aid work in hardship zones with the charity he leads, Samaritan’s Purse, he has drawn criticism for his unstinting support of the president.
Franklin Graham has defended the president on television and social media through the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and the slur against Haiti and Africa.
“People say that the president says mean things. I can’t think of anything mean he’s said. I think he speaks what he feels,” Mr. Graham said in a wide-ranging telephone interview last week. “I think he’s trying to speak the truth.”

Well, Trump has actually said plenty of mean things and on that, Franklin Graham and I would disagree. But why has his conservative politics become this major harbinger of where evangelicalism -- as a whole -- stands right now?

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Three points and a poem: How would Billy Graham have handled Donald Trump?

Three points and a poem: How would Billy Graham have handled Donald Trump?

Over the past few days, I have heard one question more than any other: How do I think the Rev. Billy Graham would have handled the current divisions inside American evangelicalism? When you dig a bit deeper, what people are really asking is how Graham the elder (as opposed to Franklin Graham) would have handled Donald Trump.

GetReligion readers will not be surprised that this topic came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in

In the old tradition of Southern preaching, I would like to answer with three points and a poem.

(I) How would Graham, in his prime, have handled Trump? Well, how did he relate to Bill Clinton, another man who had a loose connection to truth and fidelity? Graham praised the good in Clinton and then gentled criticized the bad, primarily by affirming basic Christian standards of life and behavior. He didn't endorse, but he provided personal support. He never, in public, attacked Clinton or his partner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Graham took flak for this stance, but he was used to that.

(II) My second point is a story, a kind of parable, about the 1987 Graham crusade in Denver's Mile High Stadium.

One morning during the crusade, the evangelist's crack media team called all of the major newsrooms in that very competitive news market (where The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News were fighting an epic newspaper war). They wanted us to know that Graham was going to preach that night -- his first sermon on this topic -- about AIDS. This was news, because of Graham's de facto status as the Protestant pope, in the eyes of editors.

Graham's staff knew that reporters would be on deadline that night (press runs for early state editions would have been soon after 10 p.m.) and would need to line up quick telephone interviews with people who could react to whatever he said in the sermon.

Through a series of connections, I ended up interviewing a local associate pastor in an LGBTQ-affirming congregation. This man was a former Southern Baptist pastor, now out gay, who was HIV positive. As a child, he had made his profession of Christian faith at a Graham crusade. He still considered Graham a hero, although he disagreed with the evangelist's beliefs on sexuality.

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Who succeeds Billy Graham? Reporters are all over the map trying to answer that question

Who succeeds Billy Graham? Reporters are all over the map trying to answer that question

Even though it's been three days since Billy Graham died, you'll be hearing more about him for at least one more week. His funeral preparations alone are worthy of a head of state, starting with a 130-mile procession from Asheville to Charlotte, N.C., where he’ll lie “in repose” for two days.

Then he’ll be flown to Washington, DC to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. That’s totally unprecedented for a minister. The most recent private citizen to receive that honor was Civil Rights Movement matriarch Rosa Parks in 2005.

A “private” funeral will be held March 2 back in Charlotte although it’s unknown how private an event for 2,300 invitees can be. 

Along with all the tributes comes the inevitable question that the experts have been asking for decades: Who –- if anyone –- can replace this man? A few publications have already run “what next” articles.

Ed Stetzer, in an opinion piece in USA Today, said replacing Graham in impossible, possibly a snub toward heir-apparent and oldest son Franklin Graham.

In a culture always looking for the "next Michael Jordan" or "the next John Wayne," there will undoubtedly be articles asking who will fill Graham’s shoes, and inherit his legacy. There is no next Billy Graham. There are and will be many effective preachers of the Christian gospel, but Billy Graham’s ministry of influence will forever be unique and unparalleled.

Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer foresaw this question and tackled it last May. His answer -- care of one of the go-to Graham experts for journalists -- was essentially what Graham himself has been saying for several decades.

“I don’t think any single person will be ‘the next Billy Graham,’ ” says William Martin, author of “A Prophet with Honor,” long considered the definitive biography of Graham. “That’s in part because evangelical Christianity has become so large and multifaceted -- in significant measure because of what Graham did -- that no one person can dominate it, regardless of talent or dedication. It’s just not going to happen.”…

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