Billy Graham, now 98 years old, prayed for eight inaugurations. He was a registered Democrat who distanced himself from both partisan politics and the religious right after President Nixon’s resignation. His son, Franklin Graham, has supported president-elect Trump and holds views at odds with his father’s, including his opinions of Islam. Billy Graham spoke out AIDS care and threats to the environment; Franklin has supported the GOP at least in part because of his concerns over abortion.
The Washington Post published a story today on the at-odds points of view in several generations of the Graham family, as Franklin Graham prepares to participate in next week’s inaugural prayer service.
As Graham’s health faded, so did his public presence. In 2001, Franklin Graham took the place his father usually held by praying at President George W. Bush’s first inauguration. There he set off a controversy by praying in Jesus’ name, a gesture some saw as less inclusive than his father would have been.
Obama visited Billy Graham in his home in 2010, the first sitting president to do so. But Franklin Graham said the family did not have much of a relationship with Obama, although he said he worked with Obama during the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
Franklin Graham was one of those questioning Obama’s birth country and his professed faith, while saying that he believes Trump’s election was the answer to prayers.
He has questioned Obama’s openly Christian faith, saying that Obama’s frame of reference is Islam since his father was Muslim.
And Trump’s faith? “The times I’ve been around him, he has expressed his faith, no question,” Graham said. “I have to take the man at his word.”
Family disagreements are taking other forms as well.
Graham says he believes that the president-elect has chosen a strong team, “maybe one of the strongest our country has seen in recent years.”
He said he does not believe Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is a white supremacist, despite Bannon’s strong connection to the alt-right movement. He also does not believe that white supremacy is on the rise in this country.
“I’m more concerned about ‘fake news.’ We live in this age where people can create news and create issues when they’re not issues,” he said.
Franklin Graham’s niece (and Billy Graham’s granddaughter) Jerushah Armfield is a family voice of opposition.
Armfield, a writer and a pastor’s wife in South Carolina, said her uncle’s suggestion that Trump’s win meant God answered the country’s prayer was bad theology. “To suggest the president-elect is an ambassador to further the kingdom in the world diminishes not only my Jesus but all he stood for and came to earth to fight against,” she said.
She said Trump “encouraged racism, sexism and intolerance, exactly what Jesus taught against.” She said that her grandfather “understood the love of Jesus that fought for the outliers while the president-elect ostracized them.”
“The evangelical leaders that endorsed Trump put power and influence over principles and character,” she said.
Barack Obama photo: By White House/Sonya Hebert – White House (P012113SH-0578); Uploaded by odder, Public Domain
Billy Graham photo from the Billy Graham Library