The wholehearted embrace of the candidacy of Donald Trump by evangelical Christian leaders has troubled me deeply. And in many respects, their embrace of Mr. Trump mystifies me. He is precisely the sort of man whose character these evangelical leaders should have been expected to denounce out of hand.
In light of how the genuine immorality of former President Bill Clinton justly brought forth the denunciation of many of these very leaders some twenty years ago, the current embrace of Donald Trump, an unapologetically immoral man, demonstrates an irrefutable hypocrisy among many evangelical leaders. That hypocrisy has and will continue to seriously impair the work of the gospel in America and beyond.
Those evangelical leaders who have chosen to support the candidacy of Donald Trump have, in my view, committed an act of bad judgment. But I am willing to allow that Christians of good faith can differ on their judgment about which political candidate to support in an election.
For more than three decades, I have identified myself as a member of the evangelical community. In my role as a pastor, I am ecclesiastically and personally committed to an entirely evangelical statement of faith – the “Essentials” of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. One of the foundational commitments of the “Essentials” and a generally recognized hallmark of Evangelicalism is a submission to the final authority of the Bible over all matters of faith and life.
Martin Luther’s speech before the imperial authorities at the opening of the Protestant Reformation has for most evangelicals come to epitomize the essence of this submission. “I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” (Heiko Oberman’s translation).
As I have watched candidate Trump become President Trump, barely one week ago, I have looked with concern to see which allegiance would hold sway with the Trump-supporting evangelical leaders—an allegiance to President Trump or an allegiance to the authority of the Word of God. That the two would come into conflict has seemed certain to me, given Mr. Trump’s overt rejection of so many of the essential elements of the Christian faith.
I must admit that I was a bit surprised at how quickly that conflict of allegiances came—less than one week into his presidency. And I was simply shocked at the starkness with which one evangelical leader—Franklin Graham—renounced the plain and incontrovertible teaching of scripture.
On January 26, 2017, Mr. Graham stated in an interview, “It is not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come in, that’s not Bible issue.” Mr. Graham’s statement is shamefully slippery, as if he knows, as well he should, that the position he is putting forward is biblically false. So, apparently, to hide that fact, he fudges his words. He refers to “everyone who wants to come in,” as if to suggest that this is a matter of general immigration policy. But, in fact, his statement came as a direct response to a question about Trump’s executive order on refugees. Refugees are not “everyone who wants to come in.” The generally accepted definition of a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.”
Refugees, according to this definition, are spoken of in the Bible in well over a hundred verses, spread over almost every section of the Bible—in the law, especially, but also in the history books, in the psalms, in the prophets, and also in the New Testament, especially in the teachings of Jesus. In most English translations, the Hebrew word גר is translated as “sojourner” or “alien” or “stranger.” But a review of how that word I used shows clearly that it refers to those who have been forced to flee from their own land because of famine, war, or persecution, that is, refugees. In Deuteronomy 10:18-19, we read, “[God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow and loves the sojourner [refugee], giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner [refugee], therefore, for you were sojourners [refugees] in the land of Egypt.”
The Greek translation of גר is ξένος, generally translated into English as “stranger.” That’s the word Jesus uses to affirm the faithful in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger [refugee] and you welcomed me.”
There is not the least uncertainty as to the fact that the Bible is deeply and widely concerned about how the people of God treat refugees. It is very clear and unambiguous. If Mr. Trump had made the claim that care of refugees is not a “Bible issue,” I would chalk that up to his profound biblical ignorance. But I cannot give Mr. Graham that way out. Mr. Graham knows better.
In September 2015, Mr. Graham said this, “The Lord Jesus Christ himself sympathizes with these [Syrian] refugees—have you ever thought about the fact that He was a refugee? When Jesus was a baby, his parents, Mary and Joseph, had to take him and flee to Egypt to escape the murderous ruler, King Herod.” Mr. Graham obviously knows very well that the care of refugees is a “Bible issue.” But in January 2017, things have changed for him. His allegiances have changed. His allegiance to Mr. Trump has now superseded his allegiance to the Bible.
Yes, care of refugees might be dangerous, expensive, inconvenient. But do we obey Jesus only as long as it’s safe and inexpensive? Allegiance to Jesus is first. All other allegiances are below that. If we make any other allegiance first in our lives, we abandon Jesus.
Mr. Graham has some soul-searching to do about his allegiances. In my view, for now, Mr. Graham’s claim to the label “evangelical” is revoked.
©2017 Gary A. Chorpenning, all rights reserved.
2 thoughts on “Pastor Note #68 — Franklin Graham Has Abandoned Biblical Authority”
When I read articles like this I am reminded of the passage in James 4 about judging one another. Is it our responsibility to decide who is in and who is out? Did you attempt to contact Graham to share your concerns with him personally and privately before going public? Where was the outrage when Obama issued a similar moratorium on immigration from Iraq? As far as I can determine from the above posting, Graham didn’t make the claim that “the care of refugees” is not a biblical issue.
Well, Dwight, you raise important points. “Judging” is a complicated issue. I absolutely agree that judging other people’s salvation is absolutely out of bounds. Judging and impugning their character or motives is wrong, and I was trying to avoid that in what I wrote. I don’t know Mr. Graham’s motives, and I have tried not to impugn them. If I have suggested that Mr. Graham had ill-intent in what he said, I was wrong to do that.
But judging people’s behavior and words is quite another matter. The scriptures are full of examples of church leaders judging and calling out people often very publicly for wrong behavior and most especially for wrong teaching. Bible teachers who teach falsehood are to be corrected. You will know that James himself has a very stiff warning for those who presume to teach the faith (James 3:1).
The matter at issue here is not merely that of correcting Mr. Graham on a personal level. It is a matter of preserving the integrity of the gospel on a public level. Mr. Graham is perceived by the wider public to be a leader of that part of the Christian community that holds to a very high view of biblical authority. When he speaks on what the Bible teaches, the wider non-Christian community may well presume that he speaks for what is called the “Evangelical” Christian community. My concern was to speak a corrective word, to say that what Mr. Graham said is not correct on biblical term, on evangelical terms.
In terms of outrage directed toward presidents of the United States, let me encourage you to read my post again more carefully. The focus of my post was as an evangelical pastor to speak to the statement of another (far more prominent) evangelical leader. It was not my intention to say anything directly about Mr. Trump’s executive order on refugees. As I re-read my post, I believe I did what I intended. I did not express any outrage about Mr. Trump or Mr. Trump’s executive order concerning refugees. My post is about what Mr. Graham, a noted Bible teacher, says about the Bible’s views on refugees. He is wrong, and his error is misleading people.
Finally, (and if you’re still reading at this point, Dwight, I bless you for your patience), a word about the term “evangelical.” At this point in American history, I tend to use it very cautiously, though I’ll admit I wasn’t very cautious with it in my post. From about the mid-1940s till about the 1980s, “evangelical” probably had a fairly distinct theological meaning. It tended to refer to those who held a pretty distinct theology of the nature and authority of the Bible, of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and of the crucial importance of a “born-again” conversion experience. In those years, I will venture to guess, if you asked non-evangelical American’s what political position those mid-twentieth century evangelicals held, most people wouldn’t have been able to say. There were evangelicals who were political liberal and those who were politically conservative and those who were opposed to political involvement of any sort.
Today things are very different. It has been suggested by more than one writer that today if you ask the average non-church going American what an evangelical is, they would say something like this: “An evangelical is a Republican who happens to be religious.” So, at this point, I have considerable reservations as to how useful the term “evangelical” is. And in any case, I’ll admit and hereby apologize for the likelihood that the closing line in my post was really more a rhetorical flourish than a meaningful statement.