Where is the grace?
On Saturday Franklin Graham posted the following to his facebook page:
Billy Graham was a big part of my childhood. I remember seeing him speak in Columbus, Ohio as a young child at Clippers Stadium – Columbus’ minor league baseball stadium. I also remember watching him on television with my parents. Billy Graham had a significant role in the spiritual development of my dad and so I have always had fond feelings toward the Grahams in general.
Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse does wonderful humanitarian work around the world. I have friends who have worked for the organization and I find what they do inspiring. I love that Samaritan’s purse takes the Gospel’s call to serve “the least of these” seriously and uses the influence and privilege of the Graham name to raise financial support in order to serve more people.
In light of all of that, you can understand my disappointment in Franklin Graham’s now well-known Facebook post.
I’m not even going to address what he says in his post regarding the treatment of the Japanese by the U.S. government during World War II. Pointing out the audacity of this comparison would be redundant and unnecessary since American hindsight has shown how unjust the treatment of Japanese Americans was during that time.
Instead I wish to address the lack of grace found in my Christian brother’s words.
Where is the grace?
The most powerful and penetrating aspect of the Gospel, of Jesus’ life on Earth, or Christ’s saving reign, is grace.
What is grace?
Brandan Robertson recently wrote a piece called “What’s so Offensive about Grace?” in which he says the following about grace:
“[I]f we’re trying to our lives by Grace, we’re not only called to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us, but to go far beyond that.
Beyond merely absolving them of their wrongs.
Beyond merely letting go of the laundry list of offenses we have against them.
To blessing them. Not with mere words. But with lived action.
Grace not only forgives a thief, it let’s them keep everything that they stole and offer them the golden candlesticks as well.
Grace not only extends mercy to a murderer, it offers them the mental, spiritual, and financial support they need to reform their life and have a legitimate second chance.
Grace not only pardons a terrorist, but it helps them discover love, find hope, and begin a new life with a clean slate.
That’s what Grace does.
I love the way Brandan describes grace here. It points to the fact that grace transcends our natural human inclination to look out for ourselves, to claim everything as our own, and to otherize those whom are different or those with whom we disagree. Grace calls us to be bold and embrace the people we fear.
Mr. Graham’s Facebook post reeks of fear and it assumes that our citizenship in America is valuable. He seems to forget that as Christians, our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God which is both present and yet to come. In light of our Kingdom citizenship, we shouldn’t worry about who belongs in the U.S. and who doesn’t – we should be focused on bringing others to the Kingdom, or even bringing the Kingdom to others.
In many ways this seems to be what Samaritan’s Purse does. Under “About Us” on their homepage, it says,
“After sharing the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said “Go and do likewise.” That is the mission of Samaritan’s Purse—to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel.”
For me, one of the lessons of the Good Samaritan is that as the “people of God” we constantly fail at being the face of God’s grace to others (especially to those of other faiths). Jesus recognized that those who are supposed to be the very best example of righteousness, of God’s work in the world, will fail.
In Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite – two people who are supposed to represent the epitome of God’s truth and light in the world – choose not to help a traveler who has been left for dead. Instead, a Samaritan, someone who is both an ethnic and religious “other” of Jesus, is the one who represents God’s grace in this story – the one that does right and cares for the stranger through the giving of himself, his time, and his money.
After Jesus finishes his story, he asks, “Which of these three [the Samaritan, the priest, or the Levite], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” We hear the answer from those present, “The one who treated him with mercy.” To which Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”
Where is the mercy in Franklin Graham’s post? Where is the grace?
Franklin Graham assumes that as Christians in the U.S. we have some kind of moral superiority over Muslims and that only Muslims have the potential to be radicalized. There is a lot of history that illustrates as Christians, we have that same potential. “Graham calls us to pray for men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.” Of course this is important – but why not call us to pray for our Muslim neighbors – to pray for their protection, as well? Where is the grace?
I am not discussing Franklin Graham’s Facebook post here as a way of holding him at arm’s length so that my Christian faith might not be identified with his. I am not criticizing Franklin Graham in order to chastise him.
Instead I offer Franklin Graham’s words to you, and to myself, as a mirror.
Who do we otherize? Who do we scapegoat? Who do we refuse to show mercy to? How often do we fail at breathing grace into the lives of others?
Don’t point the finger at others, or in this case Franklin Graham, in an effort to make yourself feel like a better Christian. Instead use this as an opportunity to ask yourself – are the words I say, and the actions I make, a reflection on the grace of the Gospel?
“But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving,” 2 Corinthians 8:7.