The sins of Cardinal Quinn

Timothy Philen Freelance writer
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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.

Franklin Graham dared to affirm this in the context of Islam a few years back when he suggested that the Muslim fundamentalists who preach “evangelism by the sword” and speak of their desire to see Sharia law blanket the world have not “hijacked Islam” — as every politician dutifully says — but rather are faithfully practicing it.

Of course, all hell broke loose, and Graham was pilloried by the Religious Left as a vicious slanderer of the teachings of the Qur’an and other sacred Islamic writings (as if they’d ever read them).

ABC’s Christiane Amanpour even invited Graham to defend his position at her televised town hall on Islam’s place in America, perhaps anticipating an intellectual skewering by some of the program’s more scholarly panelists.

What she got was Graham’s respectful but resolute defense of his long-held views on the dangers of Islam.

So Amanpour produced, by satellite feed from London, U.K. Muslim leader Anjem Choudary, inviting him to confront Graham to his face. “Do you agree with Reverend Graham that Americans should fear Islam?” she asked. Choudary didn’t hesitate. “We do believe, as Muslims, the East and the West will one day be governed by the Sharia. Indeed, we believe that one day, the flag of Islam will fly over the White House.”

Maybe if Amanpour had the clairvoyance of Quinn she could have avoided that interview altogether.

But probably not. The temptation to demonize Christian evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham is just too great, even for the most disciplined journalists.

Quinn, for her part, claims to be simply concerned about protecting the legacy of a “great man” in Billy Graham, and exposing the undermining of that legacy by his son.

What she and the rest of the Religious Left will never understand is that Graham’s legacy is not counseling presidents, shaking hands with leaders of other faiths, or “staying above the fray.”

Billy Graham’s legacy is, and will always be, a lifetime of boldly proclaiming the hard truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as St. Peter and St. Paul did before him, unto the salvation of millions of lost souls.

In as much as Franklin Graham preserves and continues that legacy, God bless him!

Timothy Philen is an author and songwriter, and served for 15 years as a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church in America.