The words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” spoke from a large placard carried by Protestant clergy. Another sign said “All are Abraham’s children.” They offered the face of Christ in response to the bigotry of Rev. Franklin Graham who was in Honolulu recently as part of his “Decision America” tour of 50 states. But neither the humility of Pope Francis nor the reminder of the shared genealogy of the Abrahamic religions tempered Franklin Graham’s message of exclusion and intolerance. Pastors of several churches on Oahu who were protesting the rally on the grounds of the Hawaii State Capitol on Wednesday Feb 24, were joined by passers-by who were stopped in their tracks by the sights and sounds of the event.
Graham invoked his father, but it was hard to imagine Billy Graham endorsing the scare-mongering and demonizing of others that his son encourages. Franklin Graham looked out on the diverse crowd sitting on the lawn under blue skies in beautiful Hawaii and pronounced America “broken, spiritually, racially, economically.” The “only hope for the United States was Almighty God. The most we can do is pray,” he said. Under that apparently innocuous call to prayer, lies a record of very un-Christian exhortations.
Iraq war veteran, Anthony, who had served as a medic, said he had nothing against the good people who turned up for rallies to pray. “But I do expect a separation of church and state and I do mind the excessive influence of evangelicals in politics.”
But Franklin Graham thinks there isn’t nearly enough of it. He called on his audience to pledge, in this election year, to vote only for those who “hold Biblical values.” He waxed rhapsodic about how wonderful it would be if everyone would simply elect born-again evangelicals to the school boards, to the mayor’s office, to the City and County Councils, to the bench.
“And we are afraid of sharia law?” asked Pastor Sam Domingo when he heard Graham’s call for the religious homogenizing of all elected offices.
Graham had more to offer. He reminded the audience that he grew up during a golden age when prayer was said in every classroom and the big threat then was Communism. “We are living under a big threat now too: secularism. Secularism and Communism are the same,” he declared.
“This is scary,” said 28 year old Michael, who got off his skateboard when he saw what was going on. “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe in what Graham is selling,” he said.
“He stands for stuff I don’t agree with,” said Arielle Colón, another protester.
Khara Jabola of the Hawaii Coalition for Immigrant Rights objects to the brand of so-called Christianity Franklin Graham preaches. “Exclusion is why we have so many of the problems we experience in Hawaii. His message of exclusion is not welcome here.”
Zeshan Chisty, is 30 years old, and grew up in Canada. He heard about the rally through the Muslim Association of Hawaii and came to join in the protest. “The Aloha State is not about hate,” he said.
Preaching in the birthplace of President Obama
“My angst with Franklin Graham is not only that he is intolerant of Muslims, gays and women’s rights, he has also outrageously attacked Obama, accusing him of being against Christ’s teachings, saying he is under the influence of Islam. He has questioned whether Obama was born in the United States–yet he comes to Honolulu and addresses a rally a couple of miles from Obama’s place of birth. Graham stirs up hatred and xenophobia by dispensing lies,” said Canon Brian Grieves, priest of the Episcopal church.
Explaining the protest, Rev. David Gierlach, Rector of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, who initiated the action in concert with fellow pastors, said, “We cannot be silent when we hear Christian teaching being distorted and dispensed to good people who deserve to hear the Gospel message of love. Rev. Graham’s stirring up of hate and discrimination towards Muslims, and his efforts to use religion as a political tool need to be publicly rejected.”
As the crowd dispersed, some gathered around the statue of St. Damien. Perhaps the silent gaze of the priest who ministered to the excluded and the shunned conferred a grace on those who came to pray with a preacher whose brand of Christianity dishonors both his father and his faith.
The US Catholic Bishops who worry incessantly about women’s reproductive autonomy, who took to the road for a “Fortnight of Freedom,” and who issue dire warnings about Girl Scouts and the sex education they receive, appear untroubled by the hijacking of Christianity by the likes of Rev. Franklin or the Republican candidates for President. Their silence speaks volumes.
An earlier version of this post was first published in the Huffington Post Hawaii.