The U.S. Army made the right decision to prohibit Franklin Graham from speaking at a prayer event scheduled in May at the Pentagon, an event organized by a group of mostly Christian Right leaders of which Graham is the honorary chair.
Franklin and Billy Graham in Cleveland in June 1994. Franklin Graham has called Islam "a very violent religion." (Photo: Paul M. Walsh)
The prohibition resulted from Graham's continuous hostile and insulting statements about Islam.
One such statement was made less than a month before ABC-TV stations began airing EthicsDaily.com's hour-long documentary, "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," a documentary that explores how goodwill Baptists and Muslims in the United States are engaged in interfaith dialogue and projects.
At that time, Graham called Islam "a very violent religion" and defined "true Islam" as a religion where husbands can beat their wives and murder their children.
Challenged by CNN host Campbell Brown about his broad-sweeping views, Graham said that she would not want to live in countries with Islamic law: "[T]rust me girl, you don't want to live there." The 57-year-old evangelist claimed his knowledge was based on 50 years of working in Muslim countries.
Those and other remarks fueled concern about Graham speaking at an event sponsored by the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF), which interfaces with the Pentagon chaplain's office.
Army spokesperson Col. Tom Collins said, "Once the Army leadership became aware that Reverend Graham was speaking at this event, we immediately recognized it as problematic."
Collins said, "The bottom line here is that his presence would be inappropriate. His past statements are not consistent with the multifaith emphasis and inclusiveness of this event."
NDPTF's executive director accused the Pentagon of bowing to pressure from a few groups that he alleged were against prayer.
"[C]ollectively, these are all very small groups. Even if they were all to join forces, they probably wouldn't fill an office space of 30 people," said John Bornschein. "And yet they are taking advantage of an opportunity – the media – to [persuade] the largest, most powerful military force on the planet to not have a prayer event."
Both the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Council on American Islamic Relations voiced opposition to Graham's presence at the Pentagon.
Regrettably, Graham has a pattern of hostile statements about Islam, statements that, because of the beloved nature of his father, Billy Graham, are thought to be representative of Christianity.
EthicsDaily.com has posted a number of articles about Graham's offensive statements, including these: Franklin Graham Criticized for Inaccurate Attack on Islam (Jan. 7, 2010); Franklin Graham Reaffirms Anti-Islamic Views (March 17, 2006); Bush Steps Away From Christian Fundamentalists' Comments on Islam (Nov. 15, 2002); Franklin Graham Speaks Before He Thinks (Aug. 21, 2002); Franklin Graham Criticizes Islam in Book Tour (Aug. 19, 2002); and Franklin Graham Stands by Comments Calling Islam (Nov. 19, 2001).
When Graham speaks about Islam, more often than not he discredits Christianity and damages the efforts of Christians and Muslims who are working together in the public square to advance the common good rooted in the shared traditions of love of neighbor.
Had Graham spoken at the Pentagon, his presence would have communicated that the American government accepts his religious views toward Islam.
The truth is that Graham and NDPTF reflect only the most negative wing of Christianity – Christian fundamentalism, which generally sees non-fundamentalist Christians as outside the circled wagons of their theological camp. When James and Shirley Dobson, Charles Stanley, David Barton, Oliver North, Henry Blackaby, Paige Patterson and Michele Bachmann are listed in leadership roles with NDPTF, those who know the Christian community know how right wing the group is. NDPTF is not representative of the best of the Christian community.
While President George W. Bush rejected the Christian crusade language and spoke well of Muslims, President Barack Obama has stepped up efforts at creating good will in predominately Islamic nations, including the presidential summit this week intended to deepen ties between social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim countries. Two professed Christian presidents have disclosed a moral vision at odds with that of Graham.
Simply put, Christians and Muslims will not agree theologically. Their faiths are different faiths. But theological differences need not negate the moral imperatives in both traditions to seek the good of others. The command to love neighbor and call to do justice are why many goodwill Baptists and other Christians are engaged in interfaith initiatives.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
To order "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," click here.