You ever read something that just makes you want to get up, buy a plane ticket, fly to the person who said/wrote it and put them in time out? Yeah…met too. I came across something like that late last week and it was brought to my attention again yesterday. Franklin Graham, son of the great Billy Graham, got an award from a group called “Watchmen on the Wall” and took the opportunity to address some issues he felt important. What he said came to my attention through this article, Franklin Graham Calls on Pastors to Speak Out on Abortion, Homosexuality; Says ‘God Hates Cowards’. In the article it is reported that Frankly said the following:
“The definition of a coward: a coward will not confront an issue that needs to be confronted due to fear. That is a coward,” said Graham. “God hates cowards. And the cowards that the Lord is referring to are the men and women who know the truth but refuse to speak it.”
These statements Franklin Graham supported through the inspiration of Revelation 21:8 which says:
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Revelation 21:8 (NIV)
Graham was trying to prod pastor’s into addressing homosexuality and abortion by calling all those who don’t cowards. For Graham, abortion and homosexuality are so important to the message of the Gospel that he felt it necessary to call those who don’t speak out on such matters cowards. Graham equates those pastors who don’t speak out with the cowards referenced in Revelation 21:8.
And by the way, according to Graham, “God hates cowards.”
First of all, let’s talk about who these “cowards” in Revelation 21:8 are. More than likely the people who are the target of John of Patmos‘s ire are Christian’s who, under threat of persecution and death, have chosen to worship the Roman emperor and pay homage to the other Roman gods. This most likely occurred during the reign of Domitian who was trying to bring worship of the Roman gods and emperor worship back into common use. Laws were enacted to reinforce his ideas and many Christians probably denied their belief in Jesus as God in order to avoid prison or execution.
I don’t think pastors who choose to not speak out against abortion or homosexuality in the way that Graham wants them to have anything in common with these “cowards” in the book of Revelation. If that was truly the case, the big meeting Graham was at would have been illegal and pastors would not have a free public pulpit to speak out against…well…much of anything really. While Graham acknowledges, “Could we get our heads chopped off? We could, maybe one day. So what? Chop it off!” as may have happened to Christians during the time Revelation was written. However, there is no real threat of that in America. Maybe in the Middle East, China or other country who’s government and people do not see Christianity in a favorable light. Not in America where we are more likely to dismiss people who are NOT Christian than remove heads from those who are.
Secondly, let’s talk about God hating cowards. Let me go look that up in my Bible…
I did find a few things that God does hate though. My personal favorite list of things God hates can be found in Amos.
I hate, I reject your festivals;
I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
I won’t be pleased;
I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
Take away the noise of your songs;
I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
Amos 5:21-23 (CEB)
Here, God’s hatred is reserved for those who think they have it all right. Those who celebrate the right festivals, have great worship services and give the most expensive gifts. Because if you have enough food to have “well-fed animals”, you must be feeding yourself pretty well too. Just because you think it’s right, just because everything looks okay and just because you’re following all the rules does not merit you any special favor with God. The prophets and Jesus tell us over and over again that the one’s who think they are the safest, who give the biggest impression that they have God on their side, are the ones who are truly farthest away from God. In reality, they may be opposing what God truly stands for.
Freeing the slave, raising up the oppressed, feeding the hungry and comforting the lonely.
The book of Isaiah drives this point home when it says:
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I choose,
a day of self-affliction,
of bending one’s head like a reed
and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
Isaiah 58:3-7 (CEB)
The fast that God chooses is not simply a refusal of food and luxury, what many would consider the “right way” to fast. The fast God wants is an opportunity to make people whole and restore them to community by setting them free, removing burdensome yokes, giving them clothes and inviting them to your table. I’m with Graham to the extent that abortion and homosexuality are topics that need to be talked about in church. However, we part ways quickly when it becomes about enacting laws and engaging in politics that only place tighter yokes and heavier burdens on those already weighed down by circumstances of life. Making things illegal and levying fines or even prison time is just an another way to burden those already crushed under the weight of our culture and society. Enacting laws to force others to believe or do what we think is right places us squarely in the same league as Domitian. It does not make it any better or more right just because we are Christian’s and we feel like God is on our side.
Abortion becomes a choice when a woman feels like she has no other choice. I would rather that abortions not happen but I’m also for women having the freedom to choose. Enacting laws that restrict that choice only furthers the feeling that they have no choice, no power and no alternative. Let’s instead address abortion by talking about what the Church’s responsibility is to take care of those who wouldn’t be given a option otherwise. Let’s talk about what options a woman has before getting pregnant and before an abortion even enters the conversation. What if we talked more about building a strong self image for women and spent more time telling what they can do rather than what they shouldn’t? What if we focused on developing deep relationships, making safe places for single parents, or even promoted safe sex practices?
Homosexuality is a sticky issue and without wading in too far into the ever divisive issue of LGBTQ people’s place in the church, I think there are deeper issues at stake. LGBTQ people are choosing or considering suicide at an alarming rate. Again, many of them feel like they have no other choice. They’ve been ostracized by their family and communities. They feel like they are invisible and believe that it would just be better to die than to feel alone. What if the issue of homosexuality with the Church wasn’t just that people were LGBTQ and that they want to marry, but that LGBTQ people feel like they have no value? What if the Church took the stance of restoring a sense of community to LGBTQ people who were denied it by those closest to them? What if a church chose to become a new family for those who have been shunned by their own?
Let’s spend less time calling people cowards, talking about who God hates and thus building up our own sense self-righteousness. Let’s spend more time serving those who are truly afraid, those who feel like God hates them and who have been stripped of any sense of self-worth.
Let’s stoop down to bring people up, rather than stepping up by pushing others down.