I’m on vacation this week but I’ve been horrified by the Orlando massacre and felt helpless and impotent. That a deeply troubled young man, suspected of sympathizing with terrorism, can easily purchase weapons and express his anger by killing dozens, is beyond my comprehension. That his actions will contribute to the spiral of hate, fear and violence in which we’ve found ourselves over the last fifteen years leads me to despair and lament.
What can I as a religious leader do? The ritualized response of politicians, clergy, and ordinary people expressing their “thoughts and prayers” is vacuous in the face of collective belief in the redemptive power of violence and our national worship of guns.
When I heard that Franklin Graham was coming to Madison, I wanted to offer an alternative witness to his vision for America and Christianity. Bearing witness to that alternative is even more important now in the wake of Orlando, in the context of the presidential campaign, and the hatred and fear that consume us.
Tomorrow, Franklin Graham will bring his “Decision America” tour to Madison, the latest stop on his tour of all 50 state capitals in 2016. He will lead a rally on Capitol Square to urge Christians to pray for the United States to return to Christian values. Graham is the son of renowned Evangelist Billy Graham but his tour is much more similar to the tactics and message of the late Jerry Falwell than of his father. In recent months, Franklin Graham has advocated a ban on Muslims traveling to the US as well as the internment of Muslim citizens. He has gone further to suggest stopping all immigration to the US. He is a vocal supporter of North Carolina’s HB 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” which forces transgendered persons to use the restrooms of their birth gender.
Graham claims his tour is non-partisan (he resigned from the Republican Party last year) but most of his political positions conform to the positions of the most conservative of Republicans. Graham also asserts that his goal is to bring America back to the Christian values on which it was founded. There is no evidence to support his claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, and even if that were the case, we live now in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Christians must welcome members of other religions and no religion into the public square. Sadly, in the so-called Christian values that Graham advocates, there is klittle that is in keeping with the biblical tradition, the teachings of Jesus or the ethical perspectives of traditional Christianity.
I do agree with Graham on one matter. Our nation needs our prayers. We live in a deeply divided culture with a fractured political system. We face significant problems as a nation, a state, and city that require creativity, hard work, cooperation, and sacrifice to address. I hope to join with my Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish brothers and sisters to pray for a nation in which all are welcome, all religious traditions are allowed free expression, and where all people, of every national origin, whether heterosexual or LGBTQ, of every religion or no religion, can find a home, a welcome community, and an opportunity to flourish as human beings. I am praying for that vision of America to become a reality and I pledge to join with others who share that vision, of any religion or no religion, to work for its realization.