Billy Graham – may he rest in peace

The world is learning of the death of Billy Graham today. He had a life well-lived lasting ninety-nine years, most of which with his beloved Ruth who passed a few years ago.

Graham touched many lives during his career as an evangelist. And, he walked the talk. Some evangelists let their faults show through, but outside of his lamenting of letting a politician take advantage of him, he was true blue.

He counseled many Presidents over the years and even Queen Elizabeth. They needed him more than he needed them. Yet, after the Nixon tapes of all Oval Office conversations, he lamented not doing more to countervent Nixon’s language and bigotry. He cautioned religious leaders to be wary of aligning with politicians as a result. Unfortunately, his son Franklin has not learned that lesson, which detract from his own good works.

I admire the elder Graham for staying true to his beliefs and convictions. I took pride in seeing three living ex-Presidents (Bush, Clinton and Carter) attend the opening of the Billy Graham Library here in Charlotte.

I hope other leaders can live closer to his standard. We will be in a better place if they do. Bless you Billy.

Love your neighbor as yourself (with no caveats)

Two things in the morning newspaper (The Charlotte Observer) caught my eye, one was a local column and the other a national news article. As reported by Cathy Lynn Grossman, of the Religious News Service, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found 21% of Americans are “unaffiliated” with a church meaning they are atheists, agnostics, religious without a church or not religious at all. The survey noted that Catholics made up 20% and white evangelicals make up 19%. When all Protestant groups are tallied, the total is 48%. These numbers are fairly similar to The Pew Research findings.

The column written by Reverend Nicole Martin, who is the Executive Minister at The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was called “When a stranger becomes a neighbor.” In it she notes that in Leviticus 19:18b, God told Moses to instruct the people to love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus reinforced this in Mark 12:31, by restating this scripture calling it the greatest of all commandments. I link these two articles together because Reverend Martin’s column reiterates the most important rule that Jesus asked us to live by and as the survey shows our neighbors are likely to be different from us in beliefs.

From earlier posts, readers know I harp on a key theme – when religion is inclusive, it is at its finest. When it is exclusive, it is at its worst. It divides. My blogging friend Roseylinn at http://www.roseylinn.wordpress.com has a terrific post which notes in a comment response how people are arguing about who is more religious and what political party should own a set of beliefs. We both find this ludicrous, as God is above political and country boundaries. In fact, Reverend Billy Graham said about twenty years ago that religious leaders need to be wary of aligning with a political party as you will be used for their purpose.

As the elder Graham notes, God should be above and separate from political party affiliation. I like to surprise people with the following statements on occasion to glean their input. You do realize God is not an American. This one throws them a little, as some believe God ordained the US Constitution. The other one is if God did choose sides, which side was he pulling for in the Civil War – the one who believed that an African-American was a possession or the one who fought to end slavery. There were many Confederates who believed their cause was righteous, yet I would argue if God did pick sides, it would have not been that one.

Getting back to Jesus valuing the most important commandment of love your neighbor like yourself, it should be noted Jesus did not offer caveats. He did not say love your neighbor unless they are LGBT, religiously or politically unaffiliated, or believe in the exact opposite of what you do. Jesus also hung out with “the lesser of these” when he ventured from town to town. He was not too keen with the religious leaders who used their power inappropriately. He was not too keen with people who had money tables in houses of worship. He was not too keen with people with wealth who did not help those in need.  He did not say be a good Samaritan unless the person in need is gay or lesbian or Jewish, Muslim or agnostic.

Our country has many aspects of which we can be proud and show as an example to the world. The separation of church and state is one of the paragons. The freedom to worship as you wish is another. When we chip away at these paragons, we lessen our greatness. We lessen the exemplars for others around the world. We are a melting pot of many cultures, ethnicities, religions, and diverse beliefs and sexual orientations. We are all different, which makes us a wonderfully diverse country. But, while different, we have similar wants and needs – to live freely and to have a secure environment to raise our families and ourselves. That is something Jesus would be proud of, even though He is not an American. He is more than that.

Reflections on the week it was – intimidation and bigotry abound

Looking back at a few occurrences over the course of the week, I observed Vladimir Putin is quite good at influencing outcomes and bad behaviors. Even ministers are not immune from his lessons of bigotry. This is a key reason he is unlike other Soviet leaders (word intentionally used) as he is a very skilled, scary and corrupt politician.

Crimea election shows 96% plus favor joining Russia

History has shown when you intimidate voters, the election results will favor your cause. A few weeks before, North Korea voted to continue with Kim Jong Un with 100% of the vote. Something about killing your own Uncle for not bowing low enough or clapping hard enough has a tendency to sway voters. Saddam Hussein used to win elections with 98% of the votes as well. Hussein was not too tolerant of dissent, but was smart enough to allow 2% vote against him to show the world he is fair. I would not want to be in the 2% in Iraq back then or 4% in Crimea this week, as you might not be around much longer..

In Crimea, the native Tartars and pro-Ukrainian voters decided to stay home, since there was evidence of dissenters disappearing and having big “X’s” marked on your door can make you feel unwelcome. Yet, I found an interesting statistic. One district had 124% turnout. That is a turnout any Tammany Hall politician would love. It appears, if you had a Russian passport, you could vote. So, people who are not even citizens of Crimea voted to join Russia. You could have sensed something was amiss when reporters were having their cameras thrown to the ground and independent election officials were not allowed in to verify results.

Two final comments. First, if Crimeans want to join Russia, I understand that, but at least have a fair, democratic, and constitutionally (Ukraine’s not Russia’s) supported vote and not one that looks and smells like it was rigged as this one was. Second, as I said in an earlier post, I would not put it past Putin to send in his own thugs to stir up trouble in a community and then send in troops to provide security. This is an old school strong-arm tactic and I believe it was used in Crimea and is being used in other parts of Ukraine. PBS Newshour corroborated this with their belief last night when they spoke of a seemingly orchestrated set of eleven demonstrations in an Eastern Ukrainian city at the same time. It is too much a part of Putin’s nature to believe he did not puppeteer this outcome in the manner I described.

Franklin Graham applauds Putin for denigrating the LGBT community 

Reverend Graham published an article that said he admired Putin’s stripping away the rights of the LGBT community in Russia. He did not support other things Putin has done, but he took a shot at our President and Attorney General for supporting non-discrimination of gays and lesbians and heralded Putin for discrimination. From the bible I was taught, Jesus was inclusive. In fact we used to sing a bible song, “Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have searched my memory banks, but cannot recall an exception on whether they were gays or lesbians in the song or in Jesus’ Golden Rule.

I have a very low tolerance for bigotry from the pulpit and have written several posts about my distaste for when ministers misuse the faith the congregation has placed upon them. Per the song from the movie “South Pacific,” you have to very carefully taught to be a bigot. My mantra has been when religion is inclusive it is at its best and when it is exclusive it is at its worst. Let me go one step further. When religion is bigoted, it is wielded as a weapon to divide. I have known many ministers in my day and they are by and large the most wonderful people and give much of themselves. But, just because someone is a minister does not mean they are immune to biases and mistakes. They are imperfect just like everyone else.

What disappoints me about the younger Graham is his father was so admirable in cutting a path of inclusion for all. Using an old phrase, he was a “Big Tent” preacher who wanted everyone to come and hear the word of God. That is the way it should be. Franklin would ask you to complete a survey and if you checked the wrong boxes, you would not  be allowed to enter the tent. He needs to spend some more time with his father and ask for guidance on how to be inclusive.

I will reiterate what I said before. Vladimir Putin is a thug, but a skilled one who uses people’s biases to divide and achieve his purpose. Franklin Graham took the bait and tried to appeal to a base of bigotry that is being cultivated in our country. I am hopeful many will see Putin’s true colors through this process and will not tolerate bigotry from anyone, but especially a religious leader.