Sunday, January 15, 2017

Stick to the job at hand, Franklin!

I have long been an admirer of evangelist Billy Graham.

For years, I financially supported his organization with small contributions.

My ministry and my life as a Christian have been enriched by attending two Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism.

And, in what turned out to be the penultimate evangelism campaign of his illustrious career, I served on five different committees for the Billy Graham Mission in Cincinnati, held at Paul Brown Stadium. I served (and was the only Lutheran on) the invitation committee that asked Dr. Graham to come to the Queen City. Later, I chaired a regional prayer team, two other teams, and, finally, as chair of the counseling team, that group of counselors who met people who came forward to give their lives to Christ after Graham issued his call to faith in Christ.

I've also read and learned a lot from Billy Graham's books like Facing Death, The Holy Spirit, Angels: God's Secret Agents, and others. Billy Graham's preaching and teaching have been a source of inspiration to me from the moment I came to faith in Jesus Christ.

Along with Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Phillipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther King, Jr., and my mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, Billy Graham is one of my heroes as a Christian servant-leader.

But I have become disgusted with the overt political pronouncements being made by Mr. Graham's son, Franklin, now head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

Billy Graham grew close to presidents, of course, especially to Democrat Lyndon Johnson, for whom Graham almost decided to lead the War on Poverty. Graham was nearly as close to Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon.

[Billy Graham and Lyndon Johnson]

After being used by Nixon though, Billy Graham decided that while he would be available as a pastor to presidents, he would never again allow himself or his message to be co-opted by a political figure. He had bigger fish to fry: to make disciples of Jesus Christ by proclaiming the good news of new life and the forgiveness of sins for all who repent and trustingly surrender to Jesus.

When pastors or evangelists get involved with politics, they risk alienating groups of people who associate political parties and candidates with the good news, the gospel, and so reject Jesus with the candidates or parties they don't like.

Franklin Graham seems to ignore this lesson learned by his father. (One I've had to learn myself after mistakenly making a run for the state house of representatives while still serving as a pastor.) The younger Graham has recently made statements that seem to intimate that God preferred Donald Trump in the recent election.

That's ridiculous. I guarantee that I know as many committed, prayerful Christians who supported candidates other than Trump in the recent presidential election as those who did back the real estate mogul.

I think that it's fine for Graham to offer an opening prayer at the Trump Inauguration this coming Friday. I myself have offered prayers for the openings of a legislative session of the Ohio House of Representatives and, more recently, of a session of the Centerville (OH) City Council. We need to pray for public leaders, both in our public and private praying.

But both clergy and the Church should stand clear of seeming to stamp the approval of Jesus on particular political parties, policies, or candidates. It's an unauthorized misuse of Jesus' name and it inhibits our capacity to reach others with a far more important message than any that might be offered by any office-holder or political party: The message about Jesus than can transform believers from God's enemies to God's eternal friends.

Some day, when I'm no longer involved daily in pastoral ministry (I think I may retire in about ten or twenty years...I'm only 63 and feel as though I'm just getting started!), I may get engaged in publicly talking my politics.

But until then, I'm sticking with commending Christ. I'd rather that one person would come to faith in Jesus through the witness of Christians like me than see fifty million people vote for the candidate of my choice. The reason for that is simple: The candidate of my choice may be a bust, but Jesus will never let anyone down, now or in eternity. Only Jesus can give us life with God that never ends.

Just my two cents' worth.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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