BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With a column vigorously supporting Vladimir Putin's anti-gay crusade in Russia, Evangelist Franklin Graham finds himself edging closer to inheriting the mantle of Fred Phelps, rather than that of his father, Billy Graham.
In the column, titled "Putin's Olympic Controversy," Graham not only declares his support Putin's treatment of gays in Russia, he also maintains that the Russian leader is handling gay issues better than President Barack Obama.
Graham, the controversial preacher who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which was started by his father, and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, "praises Putin in the March issue of the group's Decision magazine for signing a bill that imposes fines for adults who promote 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,'" Charisma News, an evangelical Christian news service, recently reported. The bill has unleashed numerous violent attacks on members of Russia's gay community.
As expected the media quickly picked up on Graham's assertions: Salon's headlined its story, "Franklin Graham wishes Barack Obama were more like Vladimir Putin"; Mediaite.com went with, "Rev. Franklin Graham: Obama Should Be More Like Putin on Gay Rights"; The Christian Post titled its piece, "Franklin Graham Commends Putin for Opposing LGBT Agenda in Russia, But Is Praying for Peace in Ukraine"; The Advocate declared: "Billy Graham's Son: Obama Could Learn from Putin's Homophobia" and Religion News Service headlined its story "Franklin Graham Thinks Putin's Stance On Gay Rights Is Better Than Obama's."
"President Obama intentionally included homosexuals in his official U.S. delegation to Sochi." Graham writes. "Then his attorney general stole headlines from the opening weekend with an announcement to the Human Rights Campaign (a major gay-rights group): As far as the federal government is concerned, there is no longer any difference between traditional and same-sex marriage—even in the 33 states that outlaw those marriages.
"It's obvious that President Obama and his administration are pushing the gay-lesbian agenda in America today and have sold themselves completely to that which is contrary to God's teaching.
"In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues," Graham writes. "Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation's children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda."
"Our president and his attorney general have turned their backs on God and His standards, and many in the Congress are following the administration's lead. This is shameful."
Although Graham claimed that he wasn't "endorsing President Putin," he praised Russia's venomous approach toward gay rights.
"Isn't it sad, though, that America's own morality has fallen so far that on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—Russia's standard is higher than our own?"
Charisma News pointed out that Graham laments the fact that "American media and liberal activists were outraged that the Olympics would be allowed in such an 'intolerant' culture. Even though Putin said that gays and lesbians would be allowed at the Olympics, the fact that he took a stand—simply to protect children—ignited a worldwide cultural firestorm. He further explained the law by saying, 'We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia.'"
Although Graham confesses to being uncertain about Putin's religious beliefs, he praises him for meeting with church leaders during his 2012 election campaign and for his vows "to protect persecuted Christians around the world."
From there, Graham segues to the situation in Syria: According to Charisma News, "Graham also implicitly seems to side with Putin's ally, embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the ongoing civil war that has claimed more than 140,000 lives. Syria's small Christian population has largely sided with the Assad regime throughout the three-year conflict."
"Syria, for all its problems, at least has a constitution that guarantees equal protection of citizens," Graham writes. "Around the world, we have seen that this is essential where Christians are a minority and are not protected. ... Christians in Syria know that if the radicals overthrow Assad, there will be widespread persecution and wholesale slaughter of Christians."
Graham has a long history of issuing controversial political statements and taking controversial political stands. And, unlike his father, who often walked back statements that were perceived as controversial, Franklin Graham appears to plow straight ahead.
"Since Franklin Graham took over in 2001, he has steered the Graham franchise in a more political direction by openly questioning President Obama's faith, endorsing a North Carolina measure that banned gay marriage, calling Islam an 'evil and wicked religion' and implicitly endorsing Mitt Romney's 2012 White House bid," Charisma News pointed out.
For more than a half-century, Franklin Graham's father, Billy Graham, was considered by many Christians as the face of evangelism. Although always conservative politically, he, especially in his later years, tried to steer clear of ultra-polarizing political issues. This past December, in a Meet the Press interview, Franklin Graham was asked if his views on homosexuality would ever change. Graham smugly replied, "God would have to shift, and god doesn't. God's word is the same yesterday, today, and a million years from now. It's a sin. To wink at sin, to tell somebody that it's okay? I know the consequences of what will happen one day when they have to stand before God."