I've never been one for writing open letters. In fact, I don't recall ever writing one. But I can no longer say that. Albeit my full support and unshakable appreciation for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) since the late seventies of the last century, I continue to be stunned by their recent action in taking down a webpage on which a partial list of religious "cults" containing several sectarian groups were named. >>>
Among those named as examples of heretical "cults" within the Christian tradition were "Mormons" (link to a snapshot of the missing page). Concerning these "cults" Dr. Graham spoke no vagary whatsoever. "It is very important that we recognize cults" he answers. Consequently, we presumably should "avoid any involvement with them."
The best I can figure, the page with the partial "cult" list was taken down within minutes after a commenter linked to the now missing page in response to the first media blitz BGEA posted which favored Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. The media report on Dr. Graham's positive visit with Mitt Romney was the initial step in fulfilling Dr. Graham's promise to do "all I can" to support Governor Romney for president. Both Franklin and Dr. Graham wholeheartedly support Mr. Romney's purported prolife/pro-family/pro-Israel values. Indeed Franklin Graham had already made his case in justifying how an evangelical Christian could legitimately lay his or her theological objections aside and vote for a non-Christian candidate who nonetheless embraced solid conservative values to protect home and human life (October 2012 edition of Decision Magazine, “Can an Evangelical Christian Vote for a Mormon?”). In the article, Franklin Graham called for the possible formation of another "Moral Majority" similar to the nineteen eighties group called by that title and led by the late Jerry Falwell. Later, Graham ends his piece with a short, succinct answer to his initial question: "Can a Christian vote for a Mormon? My answer is yes" (p.5).
Thus, it remains entirely inexplicable why the page was removed. All BGEA respondents really had to do was point the commenter who presumably perceived a contradiction in supporting a candidate whose religion Dr. Graham and BGEA had identified as a "cult" to Franklin Graham's piece on Christians voting for non-Christians. The probability highly exists that had they done so, the issue the commenter raised would have dried up and disappeared almost immediately, and disappeared even if the commenter (or anyone else for that matter) found Franklin Graham's answer to the dilemma weak and even unacceptable. What undoubtedly would not have occurred is an understandable perception many evangelicals expressed that expunging Mormonism from the BGEA archives constituted a political compromise to the biblical faith once for all given to the saints.
In response to BGEA's removal of the now missing page, a fairly popular Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) group called The New Civil Rights Movement published the initial exposé. Shortly after, the mainstream media got hold of it subsequently causing it to go viral. BGEA officials immediately released a quick response. Ken Barun, chief of staff for BGEA, reportedly said:
"Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Barun said. "We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign."
The hardcore irony is striking: while BGEA suggests it removed the now missing page in order to avoid a politicizing of the issue, the very act of removing the page itself was de facto politicizing the issue.
The letter below constitutes my "open letter" to Franklin Graham. The immediate question to raise is, will it do any good? My answer is both "probably not" and "perhaps." It probably won't do a single thing to influence either Franklin Graham in particular or BGEA in general to put the page back up. On the other hand, it perhaps will do me some personal good in exercising my American right of free speech and my Baptist right of free religious dissent.
As for the "open letter" itself, it is meant to be neither formal, nor clever, nor profound, nor pedantic. Rather I wanted to communicate my change in status as a longtime supporter of BGEA who now has become a disappointed supporter of BGEA. That's all...
Dear Mr. Graham,
I have long been and remain a fervent supporter of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). I've been trained in the BGEA Counseling Course and have taught thousands of local church believers in several states the course myself. In addition, I only recently attended the first session of My Hope with Billy Graham at The Cove and committed to do all I can to assist in preparing churches in the Southeast in hospitality evangelism in conjunction with your father's last crusade scheduled in November 2013. Now, however, I am faced with rethinking my intent to honor my full support and cooperation with the My Hope with Billy Graham crusade preparation.
On October 11, 2012, Dr. Graham met with Republican nominee, Governor Mitt Romney, at his mountain home in North Carolina. As Dr. Graham has so often done through the years, he offered his honest counsel to and prayer for political personalities, personalities mostly, I might add, whether or not the politician embraced a worldview perspective in agreement with his own. We remain confident Dr. Graham makes those meetings into opportunities to speak truthfully the gospel of Jesus Christ into their lives.
According to media sources, Dr. Graham promised he'd do all he could to assist the election of Mr. Romney. One major news outlet reported: “I'll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that,” Graham said at the end of the 30-minute meeting, which also included Franklin. " And, while I personally think even this was a bit too emboldened in promising a particular candidate his uninhibited public support and promotion, I was willing to just let it go.
Even so, what followed admittedly stirred within me a restless unwillingness to just let it go. The way I understand the circumstances, when the BGEA media department posted its first indication of carrying out Dr. Graham's wishes to assist in any way he could the election of Mitt Romney for President of the United States, within minutes on media pages encouraging the election of Mr. Romney (though Mr. Romney's name is not mentioned), a commenter posted a link to the Resources page on the BGEA website which included a list of several "cults." Among the list of "cults" Dr. Graham offers as examples of which he counsels the questioner to avoid are "Mormons." Subsequently, and apparently within only a few moments of the commenter's link being posted, the page with the partial list of "cults" Dr. Graham had written disappeared.
In light of the disappearance of the partial list of "cults" a LGBT website group documented the missing page, and the rest is history. The mainstream media picked upon it immediately and so convincingly that the BGEA had to issue an official response. Nor was the response especially soothing to many of us who have supported the BGEA over the last generation. Ken Barun reportedly said in part, "We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign." Ironically, removing "Mormons" from the website as theologically objectionable constituted the very politicization of the issue Mr. Barun desired to avoid.
Mr. Graham, please put that page back up! Most of us are willing to grant that neither you nor your father issued the direct order to take the page down. I have no doubt you are not and have not any intention of actually softening your understanding of the biblical gospel. But such an action surely looks like it on the face. Please, Mr. Graham, please. Put that page back up.
We understand the probability exists that neither you nor your father personally made the decision to take the page down. Granted. All of us are perfectly aware that sometimes employees make both inappropriate and even crass decisions. But, know we also are very much aware that either you or your father could merely say the word, and the page would be put back up. So, please, Mr. Graham. Put that page back up.
Who do you suppose you are going to influence by taking the page down? Evangelicals? Pardon me, Mr. Graham, but evangelicals in large part have already conceded that they were going to cast their vote in large part for Mr. Romney with full knowledge he was a faithful member of the Latter Day Saints. Critics may call it hypocrisy, looking the other way, inconsistency, or any number of other practices. Even so, most conservative evangelicals view voting for Mitt Romney--right or wrong--as voting for the only electable alternative to the current administration. So, pulling down that page will not affect the evangelical vote for Mr. Romney in any substantial way whatsoever. So, please, Mr. Graham. Put that page back up.
On the other hand, by taking that page down, BGEA has ignited a visible resistance, a resistance from supporters like me who love BGEA. In short, by taking that page down, you have created an absolutely lose/lose for BGEA. By taking the page down, you lose because it will most probably not secure a single vote for Mitt Romney. You also lose because you've created a sour taste for BGEA in the mouths of countless evangelicals who will view your taking down the page as a compromise on the biblical gospel. So, for the gospel's sake, Mr. Graham, the gospel your father has faithfully preached the globe over for well over half a century, please. Put that page back up!
Finally, you'll also lose because you've created a barrier between BGEA and otherwise cooperating, supporting evangelical churches who would gladly partner with BGEA over the next year leading up to the final crusade with America's legendary evangelist, the My Hope with Billy Graham crusade. Instead, however, do not be surprised if you receive cold shoulders from many evangelical churches. Nor must you fail to consider, Mr. Graham, that those like myself who have committed to assisting churches in planning for Dr. Graham's last evangelistic crusade will needlessly but necessarily spend an extraordinary amount of precious time defending BGEA for taking that page down.
Know also, for my part, I must honestly consider the reality that I do not want to be placed in a context where I cannot be fully supportive of both Dr. Graham and BGEA.
Mr. Graham, please. Put that page back up.
Sincerely, I am...