After the Oklahoma City bombing, evangelist Billy Graham offered words on hope and justice to a mourning nation. A quarter-century later, his son instead inflames partisan divides following an attack on the U.S. Capitol. Like the sons of the biblical prophet Samuel, Franklin appears unable to carry the mantle of his father.
With a pro-Trump mob still in the Capitol after violently breaking in during an insurrection that killed a police officer and led to the deaths of multiple other people, Franklin told Religion News Service that he thought, without evidence, the violent mob was actually leftwing activists.
“The people who broke the windows in the Capital did not look like the people out there demonstrating. Most likely it was antifa,” Franklin said, though such claims were quickly debunked with clear evidence that the violent mob was, in fact, pro-Trump.
Then the day after falsely trying to point the finger at antifa, Graham urged an end of trying to blame anyone for the attack.
“Pray that everyone will stop the finger-pointing and realize that both parties bear responsibility for the problems we face today,” Franklin tweeted, thus seeking to shield Donald Trump, Sen. Josh Hawley, and others — including himself.
Since the presidential election on Nov. 3 when Joe Biden defeated Franklin’s chosen candidate, Franklin has joined his leader in peddling false claims about the election. This type of misinformation is exactly the type of dangerous rhetoric that led people to overrun the Capitol.
Just two days before the insurrection, Graham backed Republicans who planned to object to Biden’s win based on disproven claims of election fraud. Graham called the objections “reasonable to me.” Back in December, Franklin painted Trump as a man who tells the truth — despite the documented record of lies — and added about Trump: “When he says this election was rigged or stolen, I tend to believe him.”
On multiple other occasions over the past two months, Franklin bore false witness to stoke partisan divides. He helped sow the wind that shook the Capitol on Wednesday like a deadly whirlwind.
It’s a far cry from the words of Billy after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1996.
“We come together here today not only to pray and forgive and love, but to say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated,” the famed evangelist said four days after that attack. “The forces of hate and violence must not be allowed to gain their victory — not just in our society, but in our hearts.”
Billy preached the need to come together, but also spoke clearly about the fact that evil people do evil things and therefore must be held accountable. Billy saw the need to point the finger as part of the path for healing.
Maybe this is a reminder we shouldn’t elevate someone as a born-again leader just because of the circumstances of their first birth. Perhaps we could see in the Bible that the prophets come not from the houses of prophets or kings but from the political wilderness.
And the rise of the kings in ancient Israel — a move that the Bible depicts as dethroning God — came in part because of the sons of Samuel.
“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders,” we read in 1 Samuel 8. “But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.”
And the people specifically pointed to these injustices to explain their desire for a human king: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
No previous judges assumed the position as the son or daughter of a previous judge. Unlike the monarchy to come, the judgeship for ancient Israel wasn’t hereditary. While the pastoral duties of the Levites were a family business, the positions of judges and prophets were not.
Ironically, Samuel’s efforts to elevate his unqualified sons led to the very thing Samuel opposed: a monarch. And that new, reckless monarch would elevate his own children in a failed quest to remake the nation.
Simply removing Trump — and his children — from office won’t solve our nation’s ills. We must also clean our spiritual houses. As the apostle Peter declared, “the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God.” That includes those who lied about the election and supported an immoral ruler’s attempt to seize more power.
Samaritan’s Purse and especially the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association should remove Franklin from leadership for spreading falsehoods and tarnishing the witness of evangelicals in a quest for political access. If they do not, the rest of us should provide them with no support.
Many have called for this before, especially given the outrageous salaries Franklin receives, the lack of transparency, and the problematic models of ministry. But the insurrection at the Capitol raises the stakes.
When we pack a shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse, we elevate Franklin’s political lies. When we affirmingly share one of Franklin’s devotional thoughts, we magnify his voice that he uses for partisan effort to dismantle democracy.
We should reject those who wish for a king. And we should reject those who pervert justice in the name of their famous father.