Franklin Graham has offered a master class in what it looks like when white evangelicals have a self-image as anti-racists but actually support racism. Here are his August 13 remarks on Charlottesville in their entirety:
Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA. That’s absurd. What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions? How about the city politicians who issued the permit for the lawful demonstration to defend the statue? And why didn’t the mayor or the governor see that a powder keg was about to explode and stop it before it got started? Instead they want to blame President Donald J. Trump for everything. Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred. He’s the enemy of peace and unity. I denounce bigotry and racism of every form, be it black, white or any other. My prayer is that our nation will come together. We are stronger together, and our answers lie in turning to God. It was good to hear that several Virginia and Charlottesville leaders attended church today at Mt. Zion. CNN said, “The racial divides that fueled Saturday’s violence were replaced by unity Sunday…” Continue to pray for peace and for all those impacted by Saturday’s tragedies.
Can I translate for a minute? A terrorist attack has occurred and Graham says city leaders are partly to blame for it because they recklessly decided to remove a white supremacist statue. Removing that monument to evil emboldened the terrorists. City leaders obviously should have known better.
And yes, even though white supremacists were some of Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters back in 2015, and even though he retweeted them, and even though he became a political figure by spreading racist conspiracy theories, and even though he spent the campaign libeling black communities, and even though he called for more police brutality, it’s clear that anyone who would dare fault our President in all of this ought to be ashamed.
Now let’s get down to the theology. “Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all.” In other words, let’s cover our individualism and denial of white responsibility in the cloak of pseudo-Christian language.
“I denounce bigotry and racism of every form, be it black, white or any other.” I denounce racism in theory but not in fact. Blacks can be racist too. Reverse discrimination. If there was racism going on that didn’t implicate the people and causes I care about, I would definitely denounce it.
“My prayer is that our nation will come together,” and that’s why I support our racist President who has consistently promoted hatred.
Franklin Graham, your words are an affront to the gospel.
This man has 6 million Facebook followers and this post has 71,000 shares. This is the white evangelical mainstream, where people denounce racism as an exercise in passing the buck and making excuses for their own racist actions. If white evangelicals are ever going to be a positive force for racial justice, we have to get past the point of confusing pro forma denunciations of racism with actual Christian thinking and practice.
What would it look like for a white evangelical to speak in truly Christian ways about racism? My friend, theologian Shawn Bawulski, shows us. Go to his space to read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
I speak to Christians in particular for a moment, and especially to my white Christian brothers and sisters. I say this: the Christian gospel repudiates racism. Give a full-throated, unambiguous condemnation. Anything less is less than the gospel.
Jim Wallis writes, “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children.” He’s not wrong. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, racist rallies would not be tolerated. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, domestic terrorism like we’ve seen recently would be called out for what it is. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, the idol of white supremacy would not be perpetuated under the banner of “I condemn all hate” or “all lives matter”.
Finally, I turn to the words of Jesus. Warning the powerful religious leaders of his day, he says… “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness…” He’d say the same thing today. Dr. King captures this idea when he says that the white moderate is almost more dangerous than the klansman. King writes, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Please read all of it. If you want to take a measure of white evangelicalism’s spiritual sickness, here it is: the sub-christian words of men like Franklin Graham are honored, while the Christians words of Bawulski are controversial.