Commentary: Franklin Graham isn't following in his father's footsteps

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 4, 2012 

On my way to a luncheon speaking engagement at a Fort Worth church last week, the Rev. Franklin Graham was on my mind, so much that I changed the opening of my speech by the time I got there.

Please understand that I don't often think about this particular Rev. Graham. But I heard what he said the day before, questioning the president's faith as well as the "Christianity" of Mitt Romney.

His comments, as well as others who inject religion into the political debate, bothered me just as they always have. Repeatedly I've railed against those individuals and groups who would claim God as theirs exclusively, put the Creator in a box and then damn everyone who does not believe what they proclaim as "the way."

When I got to the church, I explained that I had a sudden inspiration and began by reciting poet James Weldon Johnson's The Creation, one of seven "Negro sermons in verse" included in his book God's Trombones.

That epic poem, which dramatically and lyrically describes how God created the world, ends with the forming of a man from a lump of clay -- "into it he blew the breath of life. And man became a living soul."

The Westminster Presbyterian audience clearly understood my meaning when I said more people need to go back to the beginning and realize that, whatever our faiths, we all got our start there. Thus we are all brothers and sisters at best, cousins at worst.

Leaving the church, I thought again of Franklin Graham and wished he were more like his father while realizing that many "preachers" who inherit their father's ministry rarely live up to their old man's reputation.

The elder Graham considers himself a servant of the nation, not of a political party. In fact, he met with every American president since Harry Truman and was a regular visitor to the White House in several administrations.

Two of his visits to North Texas to conduct crusades at Texas Stadium demonstrated his nonpartisanship, putting it on display for the world.

In 1970, before the stadium was finished, Billy Graham got a look at the building with Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. The next year, the evangelist would take to the field before America's Team ever played there.

The Greater Southwest Billy Graham Crusade, a 10-day revival marathon, was the christening event for Texas Stadium. Making an onstage appearance were former President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird.

When Graham returned to the stadium in 2002, one year after 9/11, former President George H.W. Bush introduced him to a roaring crowd. That Metroplex Mission crusade, which broke attendance records at Texas stadium, was about two weeks before Graham's 84th birthday, and news reports said more than 11,000 people answered the call during the five-day event. Graham has been a confidant to both Bush presidents.

Franklin Graham, who has taken more partisan positions and has been harshly critical of other faiths (especially Islam), cast doubt once more about President Barack Obama's religion, suggesting that the president is a "son of Islam."

Although the younger Graham said he would take Obama's word that he is a Christian, in a television interview he went to familiar ground when asked whether he believes that the president is "categorically not a Muslim."

He said, "I can't say categorically because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama."

In another appearance, Graham was asked about the faiths of the Republican presidential candidates. He said he thought Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are Christians, but he would not apply that label to Mitt Romney because he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon.)

"Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith," he said, adding that Mormons believe in Jesus Christ but "believe in a lot of other things, also, that we don't accept theologically."

People have a right to believe what they want and worship as they'd like. I just wish that if this preacher Graham really wants to be a national leader he would follow more closely in his father's footsteps.

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