Billy Graham? He’s Franklin’s father.



                                 by Kenneth Bagnell


              For many years, virtually all Canadians, even atheists, regarded the evangelist Billy Graham as a man of fine character, generous attitude and honorable purpose. While many of us didn’t affirm his theology, all of us knew that, in personal terms, he was well intentioned and honorable. He died in February at the grand age of 99. By then, his son had taken over. To me, the response of the new Graham is very odd and contradictory to the highly regarded father. It matters greatly. His approach and attitude is so crude and callous, it’s was hard to believe he is the son of the gracious Billy Graham.     

     The sad truth is that his son’s manner is not his father’s manner. Far from it. One of the most revealing examples of his shocking and crude style came in Vancouver, last year when he was so ill mannered that a large leadership group of credible Christian people released a statement that would humiliate anyone. I simply cannot account for some of the things that about 35 Vancouver clergy, along with lay leaders, cited in their objection to his coarse comments: To the credit of a Vancouver newspaper, and its senior journalist, Douglas Todd, we’re aware that he seems to be highly “personally insensitive.”

   Insensitive I can bear. Surly I can’t. Hence the great strange distinction between Billy Graham and Franklin Graham. The father was a reasonably modest man who became a world figure. In my view, that had a problem for his son, who, for all we know, was fervent in his desire to match his father’s vocation and public regard. That might have been a reasonable aspect, but one that (a) enhanced his ego to a degree that tens of thousands now recognize it and (b) developed a theology that is reactionary and hence the huge resistence to his preaching visit to Vancouver last year. He was far from welcomed. A lengthy list of clergymen clearly stated he was not wanted, many senior members and leaders of the major churches, including the United Church of Canada. Among them: Rev. Cari Copeman- Haynes, President of the United Church’s B.C Conference, Dr. Laura Nelson, President of the Board of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, Rev. David Chow of the Mennonite Brethern, The Very Rev. Peter G. Elliott, Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, The Very Rev. Gary Paterson, a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada. That’s less than half of all the clergy who came forward to let him know he was not welcome. 

    Why is this? No one can be certain as to why, but in my university years and then my theological years, I spent most of my academic studies on personal psychology. To me, a man who is the son of a Protestant minister is usually as casual as the son of a bank manager. But Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, is not the son of a common person. He’s the son of an historic, global celebrity. I have no problem with the right to the relationship. But I do believe that if the son of the celebrity  wishes, he can assume fame for his own future and thus he will bathe in self-adoration. Think of that when you recognize Franklin Graham’s vanity and how it came about. It’s not Billy Graham’s fault it’s the human evolution of his son through parental progression. Yes, he should be more modest since we all know that modesty is more well-mannered than the vanity of any young man who lives with a name of fame.

    Inevitably, some critics cannot resist going public to discredit Franklin’s credibility with crude labelling. Some of them are rude and  vulgar which tests Franklin’s character. For example, one adversary wrote a phrase so rude, I hope Franklin can shrug off, as a confident politician would. “Dear Franklin,” one crude man wrote, “Please shut up.” Is that supposed to be funny? I think not. While the man is graceless at times, he is still legitimate, and if he must receive judgment it can be ethical. On the other hand, that applies to Franklyn himself.  For example, Franklin has been quite critical of another faith, Islam. He has had the insensitivity to criticize that faith by calling it evil. You know Billy Graham would never ever engage in that ugly language. So we are left wondering how and why the son of a gentleman evangelist would assault another faith. Would you or I call, say, an evangelical a fool? I think not.

     I was to meet Billy Graham long ago when he was in Toronto to preach at the large baseball field, surrounded by grandstand seats. I did not get to interview him because a misunderstanding got in the way of his handlers and they then claimed he had no room for an interview. (I still think it was my being a firm liberal in theology, while Graham was a strong conservative.) Although I never met the man, I’ve always regarded him as honorable. That’s why I was originally shocked a year ago at his son’s manners and verbal conduct. For example, Franklin said publically that Muslims should be barred eternally from the US or else rounded up as the Germans and Japanese were in the last World War.

     Moreover, in 2008, when the fine man Obama became President,  Franklin became a verbal opposition for him. For example, he went public by speaking well of the Soviet Union’s Putin who had expressed his iron attitude against the people we know as LBGT.  Franklin went so far as to go public with a statement on the matter: “Putin is right on this issue,” he said, “he has done so to protect his nation from the damning effect of lesbians.” How do you like that? Moreover, in the face of a death, he stated his opposition to the police in gracious white expression, by terming them with kind courtesy by mentioning: “Blacks, Whites, Latinos” – each of which were among his slang words.  So be it I guess.  I find that it reminds me of a catch phrase that Billy Graham is said to have often spoken: “When wealth is lost nothing is lost. When character is lost, all is lost.” I agree and so should a serious Christian.



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