The sins of Cardinal Quinn

Washington Post religion editor Sally Quinn added cardinal and clairvoyant to her credentials on Friday when she wrote “Sins of the Son,” pronouncing the Reverend Franklin Graham apostate for the newfound transgression of elder abuse for political gain.

In her piece, Quinn accuses Graham of using his father, 94-year-old evangelist icon Billy Graham, to commit an unthinkable atrocity — and, she divines, without even the elder Graham’s knowledge. “Of all the sad things that have happened during this year’s seemingly endless, divisive and vitriolic campaign,” Quinn laments, “this … was the saddest.”

Dear Lord, what could this be? What sin was committed this election year more unpardonable than spending $2 billion to brand one presidential candidate a murdering robber baron and the other a foreign-born terrorist sympathizer?

Here it is, if you can bear it: Graham’s evangelistic association took out a full-page newspaper ad two days before the election with the headline “VOTE BIBLICAL VALUES TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6.” In it, Billy Graham’s signed statement encouraged Christians to compare a candidate’s views to the teachings of the Bible, and then vote accordingly.

To Quinn it was a screed so radical, so repulsive, so obviously a dog-whistle endorsement of Mitt Romney and the rest of the rabid right, it could only have come from the hateful mind of Franklin Graham.

After all, she insisted, it was totally out of character for Billy Graham, who has a history of inclusiveness, tolerance, staying “above the fray” and “never using his religion for political purposes …”

It was that Svengali son of his, she somehow knew, who coerced his “feeble” father into proclaiming publicly the same things he had been proclaiming publicly for 70 years: that the Judeo-Christian scriptures contain unerring and unending truths, including the sanctity of unborn life and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

To a liberal agnostic like Sally Quinn, however, this simple iteration of 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy is a kind of spiritual jingoism inexplicable in our modern pluralistic society.

So allow me to explain.

There is a “country club” version and a “fundamentalist” version of every faith. The country club version boasts a flexible conscience about dogma that can accommodate the moral fashions of the current secular culture and still allow the practitioner to feel righteous (think “practicing Catholics” Biden and Kerry on abortion). In less enlightened times, this was known as heresy.

The fundamentalist version — the founders’ version — binds the consciences of its faithful to what are believed to be the eternal, God-given truths and commands of its scriptures and seeks to put them into practice — personally and in the culture at large — regardless of their current popularity. In less enlightened times, this was known as religion.