According to the newspaper in his father’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Franklin Graham thinks the 10 Republican congressional leaders who voted to impeach President Trump were like Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
“The House Democrats impeached him because they hate him and want to do as much damage as they can,” Graham posted on Facebook on Jan. 14. “And these 10, from (Trump’s) own party, joined in the feeding frenzy. It makes you wonder what the thirty pieces of silver were that Speaker Pelosi promised for this betrayal.”
Of course, the 30 pieces of silver is a reference to the money Jesus’ enemies paid to his disciple Judas Iscariot as a reward for betraying where Jesus could be found and arrested far from the masses of his adoring followers (See Matthew 26:15). To suggest that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is somehow equivalent to the Jewish chief priest is itself bad hermeneutics, for it implies that rather than holding President Trump accountable for his sedition against the United States and his attack on democracy by inciting a riot, she is plotting to get rid of him because she is jealous of his popularity or fearful of losing her own prominence.
Additionally, this false equivalency denigrates the character of 10 conscientious Republican legislators who courageously took a stand against lawlessness in our country, despite great personal and political risk. To speak of a “feeding frenzy” and insinuate they received a payoff is nothing but a cheap shot.
On the other hand, Graham’s inference that Donald Trump is comparable to Jesus by asserting a parallel between the 10 Republicans and Judas is ludicrous at best and, at the worst, is sheer blasphemy.
“Graham’s inference that Donald Trump is comparable to Jesus by asserting a parallel between the 10 Republicans and Judas is ludicrous at best and, at the worst, is sheer blasphemy.”
Graham is comparing a man who has done everything he can to hold on to his position of enormous power with one who rejected the temptation of an earthly kingdom and crown. It is associating one who, refusing to admit defeat, instructed his supporters to “fight like hell,” with the man who, when threatened with death, told his followers to put down their swords. It is falsely declaring a correspondence between two radically different passions — the love of power and the power of love.
There are noted examples of traitors in American history that Graham might have chosen had he simply wanted to emphasize what he deemed the betrayal of the president by those he considered to be Republican “turncoats.” Benedict Arnold. Alger Hiss. Tokyo Rose. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But he was not content to couch their vote in the House in a political context. That would not adequately engage and enrage the thousands of white Christians who follow Graham. So, he likened them to Judas and thereby blasphemously equated Donald Trump with Jesus — likening a demagogue to the one Christians see as divine.
Franklin Graham has been one of Trump’s most faithful supporters. As recently as mid-December, he thanked God for 45 and claimed he would be remembered as one of America’s great presidents. Graham’s well-publicized national prayer tours and public endorsements of Trump for the past five years have helped to secure loyalty for the president among white evangelicals. Persuaded by his own rhetoric, he has ignored and excused Trump’s moral failings.
Responding to the controversial editorial of Christianity Today’s now-retired editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, which criticized Trump for his “profoundly immoral” actions, Graham tried to pardon his dismissal of the president’s words and actions by seeking cover under the name and reputation of his nationally beloved late father, Billy Graham. The younger Graham claimed: “My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.”
Regardless of how Donald Trump may have impressed Billy Graham — a man in failing health in his late 90s — one cannot imagine that the elder Graham would draw such a direct parallel between Jesus, whom he considered to be the divine Savior of humankind, with any politician or temporal “king.” For one thing, after the debacle involving Richard Nixon, Graham was publicly contrite and admitted that he regretted his decades-long involvement in politics and his blind loyalty to politicians. Furthermore, the message he preached was unchanging: that salvation is found in Jesus alone.
Yet, Graham’s son, Franklin, has allowed his allegiance to a politician, and a very flawed one, to threaten his “first loyalty” to Jesus as the Lord of his life. This son of a famous father — as I have previously asserted — is like an apple that has fallen far from the tree.
Blasphemy has been judged a major offense by the Abrahamic religions. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, to blaspheme the name of the Lord was a capital offense (24:13), punishable by stoning. According to an online encyclopedia, “the Quran curses those who commit blasphemy (against the Prophet) and promises blasphemers humiliation in the hereafter.” Thus, despite the fact that Muslims do not view Mohammad as divine and that there is strong disagreement in Islamic jurisprudence about punishment for blasphemy in this life, there nonetheless have been famous fatwas, or formal rulings, announced calling for the death of those who have spoken or written blasphemous opinions of the prophet. Even in Christian tradition, the “unpardonable sin” is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29), what is sometimes explained as attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil.
So, what should one make of Franklin Graham’s analogous, but blasphemous, comparison of Donald Trump with Jesus Christ? Certainly, he must not be stoned to death, for he is our Christian brother and Jesus favored forgiveness over stoning (John 8:1-11).
No fatwa should be declared against him, for we do not have the status or authority to formalize such a declaration of capital punishment. Moreover, it is not our place to judge whether his words were sin, and if they may or may not be unforgivable, for we are not God.
Yet, his statement about the 10 Republican leaders who voted their principles was unwise, unkind and un-Christian. It purported to know the hearts and minds of those members of the House and to understand their motives. It drew upon his popularity and religious stature in order to validate his opinion. Worst of all, it contrived to solidify loyalty to Donald Trump by associating him in readers’ minds with Jesus.
It’s hard to predict if any consequences will be leveled against Graham for his blasphemous bluster. But the statement should not be ignored. There should be some reaction by evangelicals and other Christians who were embarrassed and incensed by this caustic declaration.
Rob Sellers is professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas. He is a past chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He and his wife, Janie, served a quarter century as missionary teachers in Indonesia. They have two children and five grandchildren.