Save us the hollow call for unity, Franklin Graham: Opinion in Charlotte Observer

Save us the hollow call for unity, Franklin Graham

Charlotte Observer

UPDATED JANUARY 11, 2021 11:45 AM

Last Thursday, one day after the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, Franklin Graham had a message for Americans.

“The division in our country is as great as any time since the Civil War,” he tweeted. “I am calling on Christians to unite our hearts together in prayer for President-elect @JoeBiden and Vice President-elect @KamalaHarris, and for the leadership in both parties.”

It was the kind of statement this country needs to hear, a call for reconciliation that you’d expect from a faith leader. Except just two weeks before, this leader’s arms were folded, not open. “Many people believe the presidential election was stolen from @realDonaldTrump,” Graham tweeted on December 28, “and if conservatives lose control of the Senate, there is nothing to stop the radical agenda of the left.”

Earlier in December, Graham echoed the same election lies that fueled the Capitol invaders. “When he says this election was rigged or stolen,” Graham said of the president, “I tend to believe him.”

Unite our hearts? Save it, Rev. Graham.

Get ready for the big walk back, America. Get ready for the agitators to now call for peace. Get ready for the same people who played along when the president stoked a nationwide fury now wanting to calm everyone down.

Like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said after last week’s siege: “We must come together and put this anger and division behind us. We must, and I am confident we will, have a peaceful and orderly transition of power.”

This is the same Ted Cruz who, as the mob was forming in Washington, encouraged “peace” and “order” by declaring: “We are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis.” It’s the same Cruz who the week before shouted at a Georgia rally that “We will defend our constitution” and “We will not go quietly into the night.”

All for election fraud that didn’t exist.

This costume change, brazen as it is, is hardly surprising. For years, Republicans and conservative leaders have told Americans that what they see isn’t actually true, that Donald Trump’s unhinged tweets and intemperate attacks are merely the products of media and Democrats picking on him. Just as guilty, although slightly less hypocritical, are the Republicans who chose to be silent about the president and Charlottesville, the president and “shithole” countries, the president telling Proud Boys to stand back and stand by.

Many of these same Republicans, including members of Congress from North Carolina, added their names to an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit that falsely claims the 2020 presidential election was tainted with fraud and should be overturned. They nodded or looked the other way as Trump’s election claims got more bizarre, his efforts more desperate, his language more incendiary.

Only when Trump being Trump resulted in five deaths and a ransacked Capitol did some rediscover their principles and their spines. But even now, Republicans are arguing against a second impeachment of the president, on the grounds that it would inflame his supporters.

Never mind the hypocrisy of calling for calm shortly after you’ve been yelling “fire.” This also is blame avoidance — not only for the president, but those who bowed and cowed in all the moments that led up to this latest, most horrifying one.

Unity? Yes, we need to move toward it. But to get there, we need those responsible for Wednesday, including Donald Trump, to be held accountable. We need the leaders and the party that enabled him to take responsibility and earn the country’s confidence and trust again.

A good start would be to admit what is plainly true, that the 2020 election was not stolen from the president.

Until then, save us the hollow words of reconciliation.

That includes you, Rev. Graham. You’ve long had an affinity for telling folks — whether they’re Girl Scouts or a gay presidential candidate or a bank that dares put a lesbian couple in a commercial — how their behavior is leading to the decline of America. You’ve especially liked singling out individuals and groups to repent and be accountable for their sins.

We won’t be so presumptuous to declare what’s a sin or who needs to repent. We don’t even think you’re wrong in suggesting that Americans need to find a path and a peace they can share. But before you start calling for everyone to come together, it might help if you came clean about what tore us apart.

Trump’s evangelicals were complicit in the desecration of our democracy by Michael Gerson

Trump’s evangelicals were complicit in the desecration of our democracy

Written by Michael Gerson, Washington Post, Jan 7, 2021

Trump’s evangelicals were complicit in the desecration of our democracy: WAPO

The practical effects of the fascist occupation of the U.S. Capitol building were quickly undone. The symbols it left behind are indelible.

A Confederate flag waved in triumph in the halls of a building never taken by Jefferson Davis. Guns drawn to protect the floor of the House of Representatives from violent attack. A cloddish barbarian in the presiding officer’s chair. The desecration of democracy under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

This post-apocalyptic vision of chaos and national humiliation was the direct and intended consequence of a president’s incitement. It was made possible by quislings such as Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who turned a ceremony of continuity into a rallying cry for hatred and treason. In the aftermath, Republican legislators who still don’t support President Trump’s immediate removal from office by constitutional means are guilty of continuing complicity.

Capitol Police were unable to stop a breach of the Capitol. Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig and a former Senate Sergeant at Arms describe the events. 

All this leaves President-elect Joe Biden in a difficult position. Prudence would advise two weeks of patience and then an upbeat attempt to turn the national page. Justice would dictate arresting, trying and imprisoning President Trump for sedition at the soonest possible moment.

As of now, I am in the justice camp. The only way to restore boundaries of law and decency is to enforce them.

The coming weeks will see a gradually arriving reckoning. Political leaders who sought access and influence over the past four years through a political alliance with insurrectionists and domestic terrorists are responsible for unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists. This is true of some Federalist Society conservatives, who cared only about judicial appointments. It is true of some economic conservatives, focused only on tax and regulatory policy. And it is true, above all, of Trump evangelicals, who sought to recover lost social influence through the cynical embrace of corrupt power.

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Jesus had something to say about political deals with the devil: “Get behind me, Satan!” My point is less theological: The political and religious costs of a tight evangelical alliance with violent bigots and crackpots were easily foreseen. I and many others foresaw and foresaw until our fingers ached at the keyboard. Yet Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and the others either shut their eyes or shared in Trumpian hatreds. “There has never been anyone,” said Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, “who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!”

“We didn’t vote for him to be our pastor or our husband,” explained Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America. “We voted for him to be our bodyguard.” But what if the bodyguard you hired turns out to be a brutish, bigoted, narcissistic, authoritarian thug who wants to burn down any democratic institution he can’t control? Perhaps the moral character of political bodyguards actually matters. Perhaps evangelicals should not be hiring bodyguards in the first place, but rather supporting moral leaders who seek the common good.

The damage is now done. And it is not my purpose to pick through the ruins of destroyed reputations. It is tempting to call unforgivable the equation of Christian truth with malice, cruelty, deception, bigotry and sedition. But that statement is itself contradicted by Christian truth, which places no one beyond forgiveness and affirms that everyone needs grace in different ways. There is a perfectly good set of Christian tools to deal with situations such as these: remorse, repentance, forgiveness, reformation.

The collapse of one disastrous form of Christian social engagement should be an opportunity for the emergence of a more faithful one. And here there are plenty of potent, hopeful Christian principles lying around unused by most evangelicals: A consistent and comprehensive concern for the weak and vulnerable in our society, including the poor, immigrants and refugees. A passion for racial reconciliation and criminal justice reform, rooted in the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity. A deep commitment to public and global health, reflecting the priorities of Christ’s healing ministry. An embrace of political civility as a civilizing norm. A commitment to the liberty of other people’s religions, not just our own. An insistence on public honesty and a belief in the transforming power of unarmed truth.

What would America be like if these had been the priorities of evangelical Christians over the past four years — or over the past four decades? It would mean something very different, in that world, to raise the banner “Jesus Saves.”