Generous Orthodoxy  




Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Open Letter to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Because we had no Internet for 2 weeks after Hurricane Sandy, I have several messages in the pipeline which will be posted in due course. Here is the first one.

Rye Brook, New York 10573
October 28, 2012


As a Christian and a pastor, I have always admired Billy Graham, so it was a great shock to see your full-page advertisement in The New York Times yesterday. I believe such ads cost upwards of $10,000, but that is not the worst of it. I never thought I would see the day when Billy Graham would endorse a presidential candidate—that is what the ad’s message not-so-subtly indicates.

The visual image is arresting. Here is his life-sized, rugged face, looking like a sculpture on Mount Rushmore or an Old Testament prophet, with an autographed message about biblical principles. The power of the image is clearly meant to derive from the personal reputation of Billy Graham. On the contrary, I believe that his personal reputation will be severely damaged by this ad, and his legacy tarnished.

Indeed, I wonder if Dr. Graham is fully aware of what the association has done in his name. If he is, his message about “biblical principles” is an even greater disappointment. There is nothing in the Bible about abortion. The biblical teaching on marriage is strong, but occupies a surprisingly small amount of space in the Scriptures. Speaking of “the nation of Israel” as though there were a simple equivalence between Israel in the Bible and the modern nation of Israel with all its fraught problems is disingenuous, to say the least. Entirely missing from this message is the teaching about the poor which pervades the Bible from end to end. Governor Romney’s indifference (“I’m not worried about the poor”) verging on disdain (“the 47 percent”) toward the less privileged among us is a matter of record. The message of this advertisement gives preeminence to some biblical principles over others that are equally if not more important.

It is a subject of further puzzlement that Governor Romney is a Mormon, a faith with a strange, fanciful, and reductive portrait of Jesus Christ. Where is the “biblical principle” in that?

I don’t know how many people will actually write to you, but if my canvass of my friends and colleagues is any guide, my opinion is widely held by those who have seen your advertisement. Many suspect the BGEA of creating this as without its 94-year-old founder’s full awareness.

Most distressing of all, this advertisement gives a distorted picture of what is central to Christian ethics, because it reduces the gospel to three or at most four narrowly or politically interpreted "principles" while ignoring the central message of Jesus about feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners, and otherwise ministering to "the least of these" his brothers and sisters. I am saddened that this should be the almost-last of the great evangelist's legacies to us.

Yours in the fellowship of Christ,

Fleming Rutledge