Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Huffington Post Blog: Franklin Graham Is Big Time Religion's "Donald Trump"

First posted on Huffington Post (please comment on Huff Po)

Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham) has become the anti-Obama, homophobic, anti-Muslim Donald Trump-style self-anointed "leader" of big time American religion. He is a far right Birther publicity hound and a disgrace to American politics, Evangelicalism and Christianity. I first met Franklin when we were both 9-years-old and he visited my missionary evangelical-leader parents with his family.

As I explore in my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, Franklin's story is typical of the preposterous nepotistic "model" of Protestant leadership -- what might be called entrepreneurial ministry through the Divine Right of Succession to the Mailing List If You Can't Find Anything Better To Do.

But Franklin also represents something else: the second generation in an Evangelical empire being even harsher and more strictly fundamentalist than the first.
As noted on Huffington Post:

The White House struck back at Christian evangelical leader Franklin Graham on Monday for suggesting that President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States.

Graham, the son of evangelical leader Billy Graham -- a long-time counselor to Republican and Democratic presidents -- said on ABC television that Obama "had some issues to deal with" in proving that he was born in Hawaii -- echoing claims from the so-called "birther" movement that have been debunked.

"I was born in a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born. I don't know why he can't produce that," Graham said in remarks broadcast on Sunday.

He also seemed to question Obama's religious convictions.

"Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?" Graham said of the president.

"For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our lord and savior."

Franklin's "Birther" escapade is nothing compared to Franklin Graham's personal Trump-like crass carnival barker opportunism. Even for the ever-so-weird and greedy Evangelical big time, Franklin is in a class by himself. According to the Washington Post on her death bed Franklin's mother begged him to bury her in the family plot. Instead Graham turned her body -- literally -- into part of his fundraising act/Jesus amusement park.

The Family Tomb

According to a Washington Post story, a feud erupted in Billy's family over where he and his wife, Ruth, were to be buried. Was it to be in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Billy Graham Museum erected in the vicinity of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters? Or should their remains go to a small private site near their modest family home in Montreat?

Franklin Graham, the (then) fifty-six-year-old "heir" to Billy's ministry, insisted that the burial spot be at the $30 million, 40,000-square-foot museum that mimics the farm outside of Charlotte where Billy grew up. Other family members -- including (the always sensible) Ruth Graham -- wanted to have a quieter final resting place. The Post called the family "debate" a struggle "worthy of the Old Testament, pitting brother against brother, son against mother."

After Ruth's death, according to the Post and many other press reports, Billy was trapped in the middle of the family feud and pondering what to do with her remains. The Post said Ruth had signed a notarized document with six witnesses, saying she wanted to be buried near her home. After her death her wishes were ignored, and Billy was talked into doing what Franklin wanted. Ruth was laid to "rest," against her wishes, in what amounts to an amusement park for the greater glory of -- what?

Franklin's consultants had worked with the Walt Disney Company to create a large "barn" and "silo" as a reminder of Billy Graham's early childhood. Visitors wishing to visit Ruth's tomb (and/or who wish to become an atheist in just an hour or two) pass through a forty-foot-tall glass entry cut in the shape of a cross and are greeted by a mechanical talking cow. From there they walk on paths of "straw" through rooms of exhibits. At the end a stone walkway shaped like a cross takes them to a garden where Ruth lies (as will Billy Graham). The Post also reported that tourists have more than one chance to get their names on a mailing list and later be solicited for funds.

Greed For Jesus (and the Republican Party)

My flawed far right leader father (Francis Schaeffer) was just famous in the Evangelical ghetto, not famous in the entire world. Imagine the discrepancy between evangelist Billy Graham's semiofficial status as the American Protestant "pope" (and chaplain to presidents) and the reality of his actual human self as seen daily from the Graham children's perspective.

I happened to become close friends with Franklin's sister Gigi Graham when we were both in our twenties. (We've since fallen out of touch.) Suffice to say that when her sister Ruth wrote to me after reading my memoir Crazy for God to say that she loved the book and that she and the other Graham children were also "sacrificial lambs," I knew just what she meant.

So the story of evangelist Billy Graham's son Franklin strikes scarily close to my own experiences. Long before he was worrying about where to bury his parents, I met Franklin several times while we were both coming of age as the sons of religious leaders.

Our first meeting happened when we children and he visited L'Abri (my parent's ministry retreat center in Switzerland) with his whole family and stayed for church and Sunday tea. (Franklin looked as if he'd rather have been just about anywhere else.)

A few years later, Franklin was poised to follow in his father's footsteps. But just before that he (all-too-briefly) deviated from the usual nepotistic path. Rumors abounded about Franklin's "wild living" and the rejecting of his family's faith.

When I was in my early twenties, I remember talking to Franklin's mother and his sister Gigi about Franklin's "period of youthful rebellion" and how sad they were that he'd "fallen so far from the Lord." But later Franklin "repented" and then rejoined the team and took over his father's ministry.

Franklin's father Billy (a long time family friend of my parents) became less political as the years passed. He also toned down his earlier hellfire Protestant fundamentalism, allowing, for instance, that Roman Catholics and other non-born again people might even be saved.

During one of our meetings at Mayo Clinic in the early 1980s (my father was being treated there for cancer before he died in 1984 and Billy was also a patient at the time), Billy told my father and me that he'd got burned by getting too close to Nixon and being identified with his policies and that he did not intend to be seen endorsing a political figure or cause again. In the 1970s Billy had even point-blank refused to become part of the antiabortion crusade we waged, no matter how often Dad and I (we were both anti-abortion leaders at the time) begged him to join our "call to save babies." Billy said that we'd become "too political" and "too harsh." (He was right.)

By contrast, Franklin Graham became one of the shrillest of the Far Right Republican Party boosters and also a harsh anti-Islamic activist who capitalized on the post-9/11 political climate of fear that burgeoned, in many instances, into paranoia about the Muslim "Other." Franklin disparaged Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion" that does not belong in the United States. And Franklin embraced overt politics. For instance, in an interview with Newsmax Television, Franklin was asked if he thought there was a "pattern of hostility to traditional Christianity by the Obama administration."

"I don't know if it's exactly from President Obama," Graham responded, "but I'm certain that some of the men around him are very much opposed to what we stand for and what we believe."

Franklin continued, "It seems as though Muslims are getting a pass [from Obama]." In the same interview Franklin was asked about "secular oppression of Christians" in the United States. "No question, it's coming!" Graham said. "I think when you preach that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, I think we're going to see, one day, people will say this is hate speech!"

In 2010 Franklin even managed to get his father to sign a pro-Sarah Palin endorsement! He also let her use his "ministry's" private plane on her book tour.

There was something about that action that struck scarily close to home for me because in the 1970s and 1980s I was the Schaeffer version of a Franklin Graham, well positioned to succeed my father as a powerful Religious Right leader all the while goading my father into taking political stands he would have avoided otherwise.

Roots of Activism

Tragically, I was the person who pushed my father into the antiabortion movement in the mid-1970s. The more doubts I had, the farther to the Right I moved ideologically, as if shouting loudly enough and demonizing any who disagreed with me could solve my real problem: the growing realization that the Bible is horribly flawed. And I think there was another factor in my tilt to the Right that might also have been the case with Franklin: Politics is sexier than mere evangelism.

The secret wish of every person dedicated to "full-time religious work" is to somehow be (or at least appear to be) relevant. (This is Trump's sickness too, not to mention race-based bias as an amazing commentary on Rachel Maddow's show rightly pointed out.) In my case it was my politics, not my faith in Jesus, that got me on "secular TV" (for instance, on the Today Show to blast "Liberals") back when I was a Religious Right shill. And "taking a stand" gets the blood pumping harder than just doing something as mundane as trying to love your neighbor.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. This article was excerpted from his new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway In bookstores May 15.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If Religion Kills America There Will Be No Resurrection (Happy Easter!)

How is it possible that a significant portion of the American population believes or says it believes, that President Obama was not born in America, that Donald Trump would make a great president, that Sarah Palin is fit to lead our country, that Michele Bachman is telling the truth, that health care for all means "Death Panels" etc., etc., ad nauseam?

Put it this way: being ignorant in America is now considered a virtue.

Amongst other reasons blame American-style religion.

As I point out in my new book (Sex, Mom and God) it takes hard work, years of religious indoctrination, the failure of public education and the fulfillment of Neil Postman's prophecy about "entertaining ourselves to death" to get a country to the point where a Glenn Beck or Donald Trump is not simply laughed (or scorned) off the national stage by an informed public that knows that village idiots belong on lonely street corners howling at the moon, not on talk shows taking the rest of us with them.

We're too nice

One of America's great sins is our respect for any and all religion. Note: the irony is that religious gullibility even prepares many religious believers to accept greed evangelists and crass pagans like Trump because they -- like the believers -- are perceived as "outsiders" bucking the educated culturally savvy "elite's" facts.

This is an unintended spinoff of our commitment to free speech. Since we're all free to say or believe anything then, the thinking goes, we should respect whatever it is our neighbor says he or she believes.

This is a mistake: Just because we're all equal before the law doesn't make everything said or thought of equal value, let alone deserving of respect.

The Evangelicals

One group that has perfected the art of special pleading for respect for non-reality-based "ideas" are the religious fundamentalists otherwise called Evangelicals. They train their families from birth to be the sort of gullible dupes the Palin/Trump/Bachman/Becks of this world manipulate.

Evangelicals are a group to which no idea is too farfetched. From birth they are told that facts are lies and that "true believers" like them -- and they only -- have access to the actual and only truth: the Bible.

And this isn't just any Bible theirs is the literal "I-believe-every-word-to-be-true" Bible.

When you raise people on the idea that black is white and white is black, green is red and blue is yellow.... don't be surprised if eventually a whole class of folks are color blind.

Someone repeatedly told that God-hating elites deny the "fact" that dinosaurs and humans coexisted a few thousand years ago; that the world is 6000 years old; that gay men and women choose to be that way and can be "cured"; that everyone besides "born-again" Evangelicals are going to hell; that Jesus will come back soon... etc., etc., becomes the sort of person who, quite literally, will believe anything.

Talk about alternative medicine, here's a whole alternative reality: "You believe in human evolution, but we know better!" "You believe that president Obama was born in America, but we know better..."

Ignorance has been elevated to a new form of "virtue"

The belief of most Americans is that everyone has the right to believe what they want, say what they want, be what they want. But today's' Republican Party and the third of Americans who believe in both creation myths and that President Obama is Kenyan etc., proves that it's been a horrible mistake to offer stupidity a serious platform. And sincerity of beliefs isn't the point.

Respect for religious stupidity is -- by extension -- why the media gives Trump, Bachman et al platforms from which they can spread falsehoods. Trump isn't remotely religious but the sort of people ready to believe in someone like him (or the Tea Party) have been fed a steady diet of mythology that has literally altered the way their brains work. If a scientist, an expert or the "liberal media" says something is true than ipso facto the opposite -- no matter how hare brained must be true! Actually believing that the Palins, Becks, Trumps of this world are serious people is just the political version of giving creationists a "serious" place on textbook committees.

Or to paraphrase Bill Maher's catchphrase: One should choose one's imaginary friends carefully.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Obama Is Now and Will Be a Great President

The "disappointed" left says president Obama sold out. The racist-laced Medicaid-mugging, billionaire-codling right staggers under the weight of terminal "birther" mythology (now trumpeted by moron-come-lately Donald Trump). Meanwhile president Obama continues to bide his time and looks down the road to the post-2012 reality when his patience with an impatient country, his thoughtfulness in the context of a sound-bite-entertain-ourselves-to-death era of short attention spans and historical amnesia will be vindicated.

If you think that president Obama played the Republicans in the last lame duck congress like a violin just wait until after 2012 when the rotten Tea Party will be about as relevant as 1930s hate monger radio priest: Charles Coughlin (the "father" of hate radio), is today.

President Obama has met the vile far right (and religious right lynch mob) and also met the disappointment of the shrill impatient left with a calm smile and good humor. He's even reached out to what remains of the Republican Party languishing hock deep in the quagmire of their own frightened and wholly imagined paranoid "victim" status. President Obama has also played chicken with each new crisis and -- invariably -- pulled last moment hair raising victory from what critics said would be defeat...

Before he'd served a year president Obama lost the support of the easily distracted (bitter?) left of the Left and also became the target for the white hot rage of the hate-filled right of the Right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds are sticking with our president.

I happen to be a white fifty-eight-year-old former Republican. In my new book I explain why I left (fled!) the right and religious right movement my family helped found Sex, Mom and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. (In this book I deconstruct evangelical "thinking" about politics and the Bible in a way that I hope entertainingly exposes the religion-created sexual dysfunction that has been the only actual motivating factor for the so called culture wars.)

That said... I voted for Obama and have been impressed by the success of his presidency so far (we're not in an economic depression because of his interventions) and heartened by the promise of his post-2012 presidency that is shaping up to be historic. .

What Obama Faced

Here is what Obama faced on "Day One":

  • Two wars; one that was mishandled from the start, the other that was unnecessary and immoral
  • The worst economic crisis since the depression
  • America's standing in the world at the lowest point in history
  • A country that had been misled into accepting the use of torture of prisoners of war
  • A health care system in free fall
  • An educational system in free fall
  • A global environmental crisis of history-altering proportions (about which the Bush administration and the Republicans had done nothing)
  • An impasse between culture warriors from the right and left
  • And a racist-dominated white old boys club -- the Republican Party -- that would use code words "no birth certificate," "not a real American"... etc., etc., for what they really wanted to shout which was a shocked, "There's an uppity black man in the White House!"...

Republican Party Hate, Democratic Party Impatience

What did the Republicans and the religious right, libertarians and half-baked conspiracy theorists -- that is what the Republicans were reduced to being by the time Obama took office -- do to "help" our new president (and our country) succeed? They claimed that he was a reincarnation of Hitler and wanted "death panels" to kill the elderly!

What did the left do to help our newly elected president? Some proclaimed that the president's economic policies had "failed" before the president even instituted them!

Those that had stood in transfixed legions weeping with beatific emotion on election night turned into an angry mob saying how "disappointed" they were that they'd not all immediately been translated to heaven the moment Obama stepped into the White House. And the greatest (willful?) stupidity on the left has been to ignore the racists context of Republican obstructionist "policy" and to make a he-didn't-bring-enough-change critique of the president as if he could do all he wanted to do, or intends to do when he gets a second term.

The disappointment on the left has apparently led some folks to concoct an alternate reality in which -- in a mirror image of the loony embittered far right, not to mention in a mirror image of people like Sarah Palin who have made a profitable career out of being professional Obama haters -- no matter what president Obama does they dismiss it. In other words some on the left don't just disagree on tactics they act like jilted lovers (and/or opportunistic cynics trolling for the next book advance) and have turned their once too-ardent love into hate.

For instance here's how blogger media personality and professional Obama-hater Glenn Greenwald describes president Obama:

"[Obama will] pay lip service to some Democratic economic dogma and defend some financially inconsequential culture war positions: that's how he will signal to the base that he's still on their side. But the direction will be the same as the GOP desires and, most importantly, how the most powerful economic factions demand: not because he can't figure out how to change that dynamic, but because that's what benefits him and thus what he wants."

Think about Greenwald's claim that what president Obama really wants is the same thing that the Republican leaders in congress want. He dismisses president Obama's defense of stem cell research, a woman's right to choose, gay rights, gay's right to serve in the military et al as "inconsequential culture war positions." Parkinson's disease suffers waiting for a cure, women with unwanted pregnancies and gay men and women in the military might disagree that the costly stand the president has taken is inconsequential.

Think about Greenwald's claim that president Obama is just the same as the Republicans in the context of the non-stop character assassination that the Republicans have carried on against president Obama, and in the light of their hysterical and false attacks on health care reform, in the light of bumper stickers calling for the president's death etc., etc. Odd that the Republicans don't seem to understand that Obama is really one of them!

How about this: Given the racist state of American politics and the lack of steadfast lefty support not to mention morale-destroying lefty jilted lover carping (and the critique-for-profit members of the left who now define themselves by opposition to president Obama and thus have their egos tied to presidential “failure”), and the hate-filled mythology of the right, president Obama has done incredibly well to get anything done at all.

Maybe there are some on the left who (besides selling anti-Obama screeds) suffer from some sort of psychological problem of denial and are unable to deal with the reality of what America has become and actually is: A place where progressive ideas are routinely crushed beneath the weight of the corporate state and entrenched bigotry. But THAT reality is where president Obama must function.

And he has to bide his time. President Obama did not sell America to the cooperate oligarchy that has destroyed our democracy-- the Republicans did, the lobbyists did and above all the Supreme Court did. President Obama didn't bust the unions-- Reagan did. President Obama didn't declare war on women and minorities and immigration rights, gay rights and working men and women-- the Republicans and religious right did. President Obama did not create the permanent war economy of imperial gun-toting undereducated and over-armed America-- the Republicans did with the backing of American evangelicals (not to mention the neoconservative Israel lobby) who believe in God-ordained American "exceptionalism."

Trying to change any or all of this will take time. It will not be achieved by one man. And our best shot at changing anything at all is to be realistic about what one president can do.

The President's critics left and right all had one thing in common: impatience laced with little-to-no sense of history.

Meanwhile back in the real world ...

  • Health care reform passed
  • Gay rights in the military took a quantum leap
  • The economy began to revive
  • The world loved an American president for the first time in half a century
  • The war in Iraq drew down
  • America foiled countess terror attacks

And post-Libya intervention president Obama has in a little noticed historic move -- changed America's arrogant unilateral habit of global intervention perfected by Bush II.

Mr. Kupchan (of the Council on Foreign Relations) says that something new about Obama re actual change is the way he acts in international interventions. "The governing mantra since World War II has been, 'America is out in front,' so it's quite striking how prominent the administration's focus is on letting others take the lead," he says. "It's really kind of revolutionary."

... And everything president Obama has done he did against the backdrop of a hate campaign against him - from the right and the left -- the likes of which no American president has faced since Lincoln faced down the slave-owning states.

Make no mistake the Tea Party, the rise of shills-and-fools-for-profit like Palin, Bachmann, Trump et al, the sale of bumper stickers calling for the president's death (Psalm 109) etc., etc., all add up to one thing: the white rube underclass is lashing out. (Jimmy Carter was correct; it's always about race in America).

And in THIS context, with the just-say-no Republicans doing nothing but obstructing him our first black president has nevertheless:

Extended child tax credits and marriage-penalty fixes; increased minority access to capital; established a credit card bill of rights; expanded loan programs for small businesses; closed the "doughnut hole" in Medicare prescription drug plan, required insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions; required children to have health insurance coverage; expanded eligibility for Medicaid; increased the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health workers, fully fund the Veterans Administration, fully funded the Violence Against Women Act; directed military leaders to end war in Iraq; sought verifiable reductions in nuclear stockpiles; repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; raised fuel economy standards and reversed restrictions on stem cell research...defended a woman's right to abortion...

While President Obama brilliantly cajoled 13 Republicans to join every Democratic senator to ratify the New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia, adding (as the Times put it) "the capstone to what now shapes up to be a remarkably successful legislative agenda for President Obama's first two years..." And while President Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell into law and while President Obama orchestrated the push back in the Senate--that then unanimously approved a bill to pay for the medical care of workers who cleaned up ground zero... the President also kept proving that his rabid critics on the right, who have been working so hard to undermine his presidency at every turn, are dead wrong. And then president Obama foiled the great Tea Party budget "victory" of April 2011.

According to some rueful (angry) conservative press reports: "The historic $38 billion in budget cuts resulting from at-times hostile bargaining between Congress and the Obama White House were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway."

The President keeps proving himself smarter that his detractors

President Obama wasn't able to walk on water! And he has made mistakes! But he has his feet firmly planted on the ground and understands the reality of what America has become and just where he must function, which is more than his critics can claim.

President Obama also keeps proving that compared to the talking-heads he knows how to get things done that actually change lives and matter-- health care reform, gay rights (instead of mere slogans), actual education reform, ending a war, restoring America's image worldwide.

We Americans are very lucky people. A sane and compassionate president is in charge. Over an 8 year period he will change American history for the better. Only president Obama's dimwitted and/or hate-filled opponents are unlucky: they are betting against a political genius who also happens to be a very good human being.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Frank Schaeffer here: I've got some nice pre-publication plugs for my new book. It is going to be in stores by May 15. You can order now. Click HERE

SEX, MOM and GOD: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

"There is no one today who writes with as much humanity, insight and first-hand knowledge on the Christian experience as Frank Schaeffer, and as always he's at the top of his game in this fascinating and very enlightening book. With devastating insight he shows how the unholy alliance between the morally hypocritical religious right and the Republican Party has materially altered the landscape of American life."

Vincent Bugliosi (# 1 New York Times bestselling author of Helter Skelter)

"Schaeffer's latest blends a penetrating analysis of political extremism with a moving and at times hilarious account of his experience growing up in one of the Christian right's most influential families. With characteristic courage and sensitivity, Schaeffer brings the dark sexual obsessions of the movement into the light, describing the pathology behind its politics while exposing the damage it has done to designated enemies and naive followers alike. Few writers command Schaeffer's intimate understanding of right-wing radicalism, and even fewer are able to share their insight as entertainingly and with as much moral weight as he has in 'Sex, Mom, and God.'"

Max Blumenthal (journalist and author of: Republican Gomorrah)

"Frank Schaeffer has written a tour de force. Sex, Mom,
and God should be required reading for all Americans.
Sarah Palin, 'The Family,' Anne Hutchinson, adultery,
abortion, homophobia, Uganda, Ronald Reagan,
BB King, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner –it is all here.
This is the kind of book I did not want to end and that I want everyone to read."

Charlotte Gordon (author of Mistress Bradstreet:
The Untold Life of America’s First Poet.)

You can order now. Click HERE