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Was Franklin Graham's comments on the mark or was he being mean spirited?
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 2, 2002, 20:28

You are not the only one to ask me this, so I decided to put the answer in writing. I want to make sure I quote Franklin accurately, so let me give a little bit of background to the question for those who might have missed it.

While many U.S. politicians have followed Bush in preaching tolerance and understanding with Muslims, some leading Christian evangelists have quietly been telling their own followers that Islam is inherently evil.

The most prominent to step forward was the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, who gave the benediction at Bush's presidential inauguration last January.

In comments made in October of 2001, Graham referred to the Sept. 11 hijack attacks on New York and Washington, which killed some 3,900 people as inspired by Islam.

``We're not attacking Islam but Islam attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God,'' he said. ``He is not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.''

When Franklin Graham was asked to clarify his views, he refused to back away from them. He told MSNBC, ``I don't believe this (Islam) is this wonderful, peaceful religion.''

That in a nutshell is what Franklin said. As you might imagine there was a strong reaction to the comments and the media picked it up and covered it. As I heard about the event, my first response was to see if I could actually find an accurate record of what he said (the account I discovered is what I shared above). My next reaction was one of wishing he hadn’t said what he said… and here is why….

First, the Graham name.

                Franklin must understand that the Graham name carries with it clout and in the past has spoken sanely for the Christian world at times. This of course is a position that his father, Billy has earned through the years. Franklin has not earned that position, does not speak with the same authority as his father, and does not have the same ability as his father. Franklin’s strength is not in his speaking, but in his ministry of assistance and relief worldwide. If Franklin is going to continue to bring integrity to the ministry that his father started, he needs to remember that the Graham name is a name that will be heard.

Second, you need to think about what you are saying

                At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself why am I saying what I am about to say. Is there any good that will come of it? With the platform that Franklin has, I think it carries a great responsibility. My prayer, and I have prayed this for him…is that he would learn that. My initial reaction is that the comments were uncalled for, and didn’t serve a great purpose. The words that Billy said at the National Memorial service in Washington in the aftermath of the attack should have been enough for the Graham organization.

Franklin’s comments put him in the same arena as people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who are usually heard, usually make headlines, usually are wrong, usually don’t speak in ways that accurately represent the Christian community or the Bible, and usually have to come back later and undo some of the things that they said, which of course hurts their credibility.

With that in mind, is Franklin accurate?

Well, in a way…

Islam, as you look through history, has manifested itself in extremist ways. Violence and oppression have been the characteristic of many Islamic groups. Notice I said “many” groups. But the teaching in the Quran that is mentioned is an ongoing, bothersome type of argument. On our website in the Counseling 101 section, there is an article that talks about Islam, the Holy War, and what Osama Bin Laden believes. Most people have not taken the time to notice what the Quran says, they proof text their quotes. (Which is something that Christians do as well)

So, I think that Franklin was on the mark when you look at the historical manifestation of many who follow Islam. I think he is way off the mark in understanding the teaching of Islam and how they should be applied. And I think the evil comments were not well placed. In other words he is partially right, which also means he is partially wrong.

Here is the biggest problem I have with what he said, Islam did not attack us…an extremist Muslim was behind the attack, we were not attacked by a religion. If indeed that were true, then in Islam this would be a holy war we are involved in, it is not, it does not fit with what the Quran teaches at that point…I think that is the place where Franklin skidded way off the mark.

Then check out what happened…on December 4thThe Rev. Franklin Graham, responding to criticism of his comments about Islam, said he doesn't believe Muslims are ``evil people'' but laments evil done in the religion's name. This came in response to the fact he was criticized by several groups for saying earlier that Islam ``is a very evil and wicked religion.''

In a column in The Wall Street Journal, Graham said he had been ``greatly misunderstood'' and wanted to create ``a more complete picture'' of his views.

Graham wrote that he does not believe Muslims ``are evil people because of their faith. But I decry the evil that has been done in the name of Islam, or any other faith - including Christianity.''

But he also wrote in Monday's column that ``the persecution or elimination of non-Muslims has been a cornerstone of Islamic conquests and rule for centuries.'' The Quran, he wrote, ``provides ample evidence that Islam encourages violence in order to win converts and to reach the ultimate goal of an Islamic world.''

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said Graham's latest remarks didn't improve the situation.

My conclusion is that he shouldn’t have said it in the first place. Again my hope for Franklin is that he would do what God has called him to do, use his giftedness, continue to make an impact in the world through his relief effort ministry and be sensitive to what it is that he does in the future as the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. By the way Franklin also announced that 150,000 gift-filled shoeboxes would be given to Afghan children. In all, 5 million boxes were to be shipped to children around the world. And that is great news and is a much better way to touch and change the world with the love of Jesus!

 

Internet update:

This ASK JEFF question has generated a great deal of e-mail from people that disagreed with the things that I wrote. Disagreement is fine and I am a fan of the work that Franklin does...but as a follow up I want to stress the importance of never losing sight of an important part of our ministry. We are to touch and change the world with the love of Jesus.

I would like you to read a news article reported by the Associated Press on January 17, 2003

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A group of Southern Baptist missionaries working in Muslim countries has asked the U.S. leaders of their denomination to tone down their harsh criticism of Islam for safety reasons.

 

The missionaries said denigrating Islam puts them at risk as they work to spread Christianity under dangerous conditions overseas.

 

On Dec. 30, a suspected Islamic militant killed three workers at a Southern Baptist hospital in Yemen - the latest in a series of attacks over the last year on American religious workers abroad.

 

``We are not sure if you are aware of the ramifications that comments that malign Islam and Muhammad have - not only on the message of the gospel but also upon the lives of our families as we are living in the midst of already tense times,'' the missionaries said in the Jan. 10 letter. The two dozen missionaries were from 10 countries in the Mideast, North Africa, East Africa and South Asia.

 

Several Southern Baptist leaders have condemned Islam since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

 

The Rev. Jerry Vines, a former Southern Baptist president, has called the Prophet Muhammad a ``demon-possessed pedophile.'' The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, called Islam ``a very evil and wicked religion.''

 

The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said the religion promotes violence. His remark sparked rioting in India that led to confrontations between Muslims and Hindus which left five people dead. Falwell later apologized.

 

The missionaries work under the auspices of the Southern Baptist's International Mission Board in Richmond, which has about 5,500 missionaries around the world.

 

George Braswell Jr., the first Southern Baptist missionary in Iran and a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., delivered the letter to the mission board after meeting with the workers overseas. He then made the statement public.

 

Reached Friday by The Associated Press, Braswell declined to elaborate.

 

The board released a short statement in response to the plea, saying that the missionaries simply wanted their fellow Baptists to focus on the positive side of their faith ``rather than arguing Islam vs. Christianity.''

 

``I believe what they were trying to say is that their concern is communicating the gospel to lost persons without having to defend what someone in America said about Islam,'' said Avery Willis Jr., senior vice president of the board's overseas operations office.

 

On the Net: International Mission Board: http://www.imb.org/

I think Avery Willis is right on the money. As we strive to share the love of Jesus with others we don't make headway when we characterize an entire population by the actions of extremists. The reasons the missionaries are there, in harms way, is out of a desire to share the truth of the Gospel and the salvation that comes from a relationship with Jesus.

Continue to be in prayer for the dangerous world we live in and those that are trying to make a difference in other nations.

Now, since some misunderstood what I said about Franklin Graham's comments, and assumed that they expressed a dislike of Franklin Graham (Which is not true, I happen to like him) let me answer this follow up question....

Dear Jeff, could you let me know what you think about Franklin Graham and his statements about Islam now that over a year has passed since he made them?

Sure, I would be happy to answer this. I still stick with the things that I wrote before. But let me make sure we are all on the same page here. It is important to note that Franklin Graham is not alone in his deep suspicion of Islam. Amercians have a very understandable distrust of Muslims. That is the world we live in, and I think America must stay on the defense and must be aggressive in protecting the best interests of this great nation and her citizens. I also think that moderate Muslims must take the responsibility in seperating themselves from the extremists, and try to help calm the fears of the world as well.

I also don't think for one moment that Attacking Islam is a part of Franklin Graham's agenda. It is not, he is not trying to attack Islam as a personal crusade. He made a statement that I thought was ill advised. That was the focus of answering the question earlier. His name carries clout, with that clout comes great responsibility.

Franklin Graham is about much more than his views on Islam. I think that he has a heart, a compassionate heart for people. His work in feeding children across the globe, his fighting for the rights to allow Christians to express their faith openly, his work in AIDS relief, awareness, and ministry to victims is refreshing and exciting. I think that is what we should think of when we think of Franklin Graham.

Now, I do not agree with some of Franklin Graham's overly generalized comments about Islam. I believe it is important for Christian leaders to avoid unnecessarily alienating moderate Muslim leaders (who are perhaps truer to the central Islamic tradition than their radical extremist counterparts). You can read why that is so important in the AP story above. Instead, we should work with them in the area of human rights and improving the value and worth of individual life. (Yes, there is an argument for human rights from the Qur'an and traditional Islam.)

Nevertheless, along with Franklin Graham and millions of Americans, I believe that the way women are treated and the lack of freedom and democracy in many Muslim countries is shocking and should be loudly protested. The lethal and ongoing attacks on Christian groups and institutions by Muslim groups in Pakistan and Indonesia threaten to crumble those areas. It is the duty of Americans of every religion and no religion to protest and fight against such developments.

So I suppose that a "little less conversation and a little more action" is the way to really change the world. If that desire is motivated by a love for Jesus, then the world can be a better place.

 






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