Franklin Graham: Refugees Are Not A Biblical Issue

(Credit: Matt Johnson, Flickr Creative Commons)

I know this makes me “that guy” who quotes himself, so please pardon my pretentiousness, but in light of Franklin Graham’s latest baptism of Caesar, it feels like something that needs to be said again.

Yesterday, I wrote about the irreconcilability of following Jesus and supporting Donald Trump. For me and many other Christians on both sides of the aisle, such a notion is obvious and the reasons why are legion. But, not surprisingly, there are some folks who would vehemently disagree. A big part of the reason for this, I argued (here comes the pretentious self-quoting) is that…

Over the past several decades, we’ve allowed so much propaganda, dogma, ideology, and, yes, alternative facts to enter our eyes through partisan news and preachers-cum-politicans that we can’t see where our faith ends and our patriotism begins.

What I didn’t know at the time I wrote that was that Franklin Graham was like, “Zack, I’ve got this. I’ll show the people exactly what you’re talking about.”

Ok, so those weren’t his exact words.

What he actually told The Huffington Post was banning refugees from becoming our neighbors is “not a Bible issue.”

And when asked whether his support for Trump’s ban on refugees needed to be reconciled with Jesus’ command in Matthew 25 to care for the least of these, the leader of Samaritan’s Purse – you know, as in the Good Samaritan – Graham deflected and said “he doesn’t believe the two things need to be reconciled.”

Because I know you’re probably in shock at the moment at the absolutely absurdity of such a claim, here’s Franklin trying to explain himself.

“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Graham told HuffPost. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”


Where to begin?

Well, before rattling off a litany of Bible verses that clearly contradict Graham’s assertion that caring for refugees isn’t a biblical issue when you don’t want it to be, let’s quickly talk about that “because of the dangers” argument.

Turns out Jesus had a thing to say about his followers and whether or not danger excused them from proclaiming and incarnating the gospel.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.

I don’t know offhand how The Message translates this passage, but I assume it would be something like “And Danger shall be thy middle name.”

The point Jesus is making is that proclaiming the gospel – both in word and deed – is not a safe endeavor. It threatens those in power because it declares an alternative Lord of an inverted Kingdom, while forcing us to choose whether we will follow Jesus completely and without abandon or not – because no man can serve to masters.

But not only is proclaiming and embodying such a message dangerous, danger cannot be an excuse for avoiding the proclamation and incarnation of the gospel. If you don’t believe me, and clearly Franklin doesn’t, I suggest rereading the book of Acts and/or taking even just a cursory glance at the history of the Christian church.

So, no Franklin, potential danger is not an excuse for ignoring our biblical call to care for the least of these.

But about that whole “this isn’t a Bible issue.”

I would say such a claim makes me question whether of not Franklin Graham has actually read the Bible, but I’m not even sure he knows Google exists. Why would I say such a thing? Because one doesn’t need to do an in-depth study of scripture to see that caring for refugees is most definitely a biblical issue. I mean, you can just take 5 seconds to type “refugees, Bible” into Google and you know how many results you get?


Now, obviously most of those hits are not Bible verses, but here are just a few actual Bible verses to job Franklin’s memory about what the Bible has to say about caring for the foreigner in need.

“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:12)

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

And that’s literally just a fraction of the refugee care related passages in the Old Testament alone.

Oh, I almost forgot. There’s also this one which isn’t directly about caring for refugees so much as it is God screaming at folks like Franklin Graham, “MY PEOPLE ARE REFUGEES!!”

“When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-13)

The irony in all of this, of course, is that Franklin Graham loves quoting from the Old Testament to condemn homosexuality, but is conspicuously ignoring the many, many more verses that call for caring for refugees and the oppressed among us.

Which is all the more ironic when you consider the fact that the sin of Sodom – which folks like Franklin like to cite a lot – was not homosexuality, but a refusal to care for the least of these: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

And as a friend of mine points out, just wait till folks like Franklin Graham find out where the idea of sanctuary cities comes from.

That would be the Bible too.

Numbers 35 and Joshua 20, to be exact.

And we haven’t even gotten to the New Testament yet and everything it has to say about refugees and the like.

There’s passages like Matthew 5:10 and Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:1-2 and, of course, Matthew 25:31-46 just to name a few.

And  none of those passages reference what is perhaps the most damning indictment of Franklin’s ridiculous claim (other than perhaps Matthew 25).

Jesus was a refugee.

When Herod began his so-called “slaughter of the innocents,” Mary and Joseph fled their homeland with their newborn child and became refugees in Egypt where they were welcomed and cared for.

Which is more than Syrian and Iraqi refugees can apparently hope for if self-professed Christian Franklin Graham has anything to say about things.

The simple fact of the matter is refugees are counted among the least of these in the Bible – many times explicitly – and caring for the least of these among us is not only a hallmark of scripture, it’s fundamental to the biblical narrative; so much so that the one time in the gospels that Jesus gives a play-by-play account of how things will go down on Judgment Day, the door to heaven, he says, isn’t opened because we believed the right things or said the right things or even because we supported our country with patriotic zeal. The door to heaven is opened because…

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

So, yes Franklin Graham, you do have to reconcile Matthew 25 with your support for banning refugees (and your support for Donald Trump in general) because Christ’s call wasn’t to care for the least of these “unless…” or “as long as these conditions are met.”

He said, “whenever.”

Now, just to be clear, this is not a problem of government policies not being particularly Christian. America is not a Christian nation, nor is it – nor should it be – a theocracy. The issue here is about Franklin Graham claiming to be a Christian, but not acting like one when it doesn’t jive with his political ideology. It’s about him – or anyone else for that matter – professing to follow Jesus, but instead following in Caesar’s footsteps by lying (about scripture!!) and baptizing his faith in the language of the state in order to again access to the halls of power he apparently so desperately craves.

Graham may not think the Bible needs to be reconciled with the things he says in the name of the Bible, but Jesus is clear: we cannot serve two masters.

Graham seems to have clearly chosen to throw his lot in with Lord Trump.

If that’s not the case, he has a lot of explaining – and a lot of transformation – to do if he want to continue claiming to be a follower of Jesus.


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