I had uncharitable thoughts toward Franklin Graham this week. Those thoughts are nicely summarized in 2 words. Shut up. Then I added a third word. Shut up, Franklin. Then, my third word changed a few times. Please shut up. Just shut up. Finally, I added 5 words to my 2 words, for the love of Christ, shut up. I meant that last one literally. For the love of Christ, shut up.
So, what brought forth such a response from me? Well…this.
I do not fault Franklin for his belief in heaven and hell. However, this is not a pastoral response. This is not an appropriate response. I would go so far as to say this is not a truthful response.
Yes, Franklin is right about one thing. Jesus is recorded as saying “No one comes to the Father except through me.” As I've pondered this response, I can't help but think of an experience I had many years ago. My father had a heart attack, and everybody wanted to visit him in the hospital. But, he needed rest. So, when it was my turn to be on duty, no one came to my father except through me…meaning that I decided who got in and who stayed out. My decision. I wonder if this verse suggests a similar dynamic with God. Jesus decides who gets in. Not Franklin Graham. And, not Lea Slaton. Jesus decides.
And, for the Jesus I read about in the gospels, his decision will not be just a matter of belief. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
What criteria will Jesus use? Well, I don’t know the mind of God. My thoughts are not God’s thoughts nor are God’s ways my ways, but Jesus does give us a clue in Matthew 25 – he talks about all the nations being gathered before him, and he has the job of separating the sheep from the goats. Here are his questions of discernment. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink? When I was a stranger, did you invite me in? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was sick, did you look after me? When I was in prison, did you come to visit me?
How do we do any of that for Jesus? He tells us. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It seems to me that Christianity sometimes behaves as if heaven and hell are the main points and that our faith is primarily about assuring our eternal destination. I believe in heaven. I do. But, if our only reason to follow the teachings of Christ is to advance our status in the afterlife, have we not missed the point? It seems to me that Jesus was pretty serious about what we do on this earth, too. It seems to me that Jesus was serious about being set free from resentment and anger and greed and the lust for power on this earth. It seems to me that Jesus expected us to live by the rules of the Kingdom of Heaven right now. Those rules fall into two categories. Love God. Love neighbor. And, remember, when it comes to loving neighbor, "whatever you did for one of the least of these...you did for me."
I don’t know much about Richard Adams, but news sources indicate that George Michael was a very generous man. He gave millions to charity...and did not want anyone to know. That's right! He did not build charitable foundations in his name or take any credit. He went out of his way to be anonymous in his giving. He gave quietly. Contrast that with individuals today who post every good deed and every donation on Facebook. Type Amen if you agree.
Carrie Fisher was an advocate for the mentally ill – some might call those an overlooked “least of these” today. She told her story, so that others who live with mental illness might find hope as well. Carrie was a patron of the Alzheimer's Association, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the International Bipolar Association, just to name a few of the causes she pursued.
It is beyond arrogant to post on Facebook about who we believe God will send to hell. God can decide whatever God wants. Exploiting death to threaten hell shows an incredible callousness to the grieving families. Furthermore, for those who do not believe in God or heaven or hell, this kind of public rhetoric, though it may excite a certain base of Christianity, hurts the cause of Christ. I can say with confidence that not a single non-Christian read Franklin’s remarks and said, “Wow, I want to learn more about this Jesus.” However, I can also say with confidence that many non-Christians read his remarks and said, “A-ha! This is exactly why I don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity – it is full of judgmental hypocrites who just want to scare you into believing.”
I wish the media would stop covering Franklin Graham. He does not represent all of Christianity.