An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

We don’t know what prompted Rev. Franklin Graham to log onto Facebook and pound out the words that lit a firestorm last week. But within one day, tens of thousands of his faithful followers liked and shared his short, patronizing post that called “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” to “Listen up” and tune in to his take on why so many black people have died at the hands of police officers recently. According to Graham, the problem is “simple.” It can be reduced to their lack of obedience and bad parenting.

By Monday morning, more than 80,000 people shared the post and almost 200,000 liked it. Sojourners’ Jim Wallis penned a strong response.

On Friday an evangelical pastor based in Oakland, Calif. (the birthplace of the Black Lives Matter movement), Dominique Gilliard, shared the post with a small diverse group of evangelical leaders who decided to craft a collective response. This open letter was crafted by the collective efforts of Rev. Leroy Barber (CCDA and Word Made Flesh), Gilliard (New Hope Oakland), Dr. Brian Bantum (Seattle Pacific University), Micky ScottBey Jones (Transform Network), Efrem Smith (World Impact) and me (Sojourners). We didn’t know if our words would resonate. We only knew the truth that we must speak in response to Graham’s outsized influence coupled with apparent ignorance. In the end, a broad representation of national evangelical leaders agreed to sign this letter to Graham as principal signatories.

We invite you to read it, discuss it in your churches, and add your name to the many who say “No more!” We will not tolerate this type of flippant, patronizing commentary from faith leaders on critical issues that mean life and death for many in the body of Christ and in communities across America. We won’t tolerate it, even one more day. Rather, we invite all with open hearts to enter into dialogue — and to join us in the ministry of the gospel — the ministry of reconciliation.

You can join us now by signing onto the letter and spreading the message.


An Open Letter to Reverend Franklin Graham

Dear Rev. Graham,

We write to you in the spirit of Matthew 18: we aim to reconcile with you. You have sinned against us, fellow members of the body of Christ. While your comments on March 12 were just a Facebook post, your post was shared by more than 83,000 people and liked by nearly 200,000 as of Monday morning, March 14, 2015. Your words hurt and influenced thousands. Therefore, we must respond publicly so that those you hurt might know you have received a reply and the hundreds of thousands you influenced might know that following your lead on this issue will break the body of Christ further.

Frankly, Rev. Graham, your insistence that “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” “Listen up,” was crude, insensitive, and paternalistic. Your comments betrayed the confidence that your brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those of color, have afforded your father’s ministry for decades. Your instructions oversimplified a complex and critical problem facing the nation and minimized the testimonies and wisdom of people of color and experts of every hue, including six police commissioners that served on the president’s task force on policing reform.

In the nadir of your commentary, you tell everyone to “OBEY” any instruction from authorities and suggest that the recent shootings of unarmed citizens “might have been avoided” if the victims had submitted to authority.

And you bluntly insist, “It’s as simple as that.”

It is not that simple. As a leader in the church, you are called to be an ambassador of reconciliation. The fact that you identify a widely acknowledged social injustice as “simple” reveals your lack of empathy and understanding of the depth of sin that some in the body have suffered under the weight of our broken justice system. It also reveals a cavalier disregard for the enduring impacts and outcomes of the legal regimes that enslaved and oppressed people of color, made in the image of God — from Native American genocide and containment, to colonial and antebellum slavery, through Jim Crow and peonage, to our current system of mass incarceration and criminalization.

As your brothers and sisters in Christ, who are also called to lead the body, we are disappointed and grieved by your abuse of the Holy Scriptures. You lifted Hebrews 13:17 out of its biblical context and misappropriated it in a way that encourages believers to acquiesce to an injustice that God hates. That text refers to church leadership, not the secular leadership of Caesar.

Are you also aware that your commentary resonates with the types of misinterpretations and rhetoric echoed by many in the antebellum church? Are you aware that the southern slavocracy validated the systematic subjugation of human beings made in the image of God by instructing these enslaved human beings to “obey their masters because the Bible instructed them to do so?”

Your blanket insistence on obedience in every situation exposes an ignorance of church history. God called Moses to resist and disobey unjust authority. Joseph and Mary were led by the Spirit to seek asylum in Egypt, disobeying the unjust decrees passed down by authority figures in order to ensure the safety of Jesus. And Paul himself resisted authority and ultimately wrote Romans 13 from jail.

In modern times, Christian brothers and sisters abided by Paul’s command to the persecuted Roman church. They presented their bodies as living sacrifices. They refused to conform to the oppressive patterns of this world. Rather, they were transformed by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12:1-2) Throughout the Jim Crow South, in El Salvador, and in the townships and cities of South Africa Jesus followers disobeyed civil authority as an act of obedience to God — the ultimate authority, the Lord, who loves and demands justice (Psalm 146:5-9, Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61, Micah 4:1-5, all the prophets, Luke 4:16-21, Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 3:27-28). Likewise, Christians who marched in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and Madison, Wis., follow in the holy footsteps of their faithful predecessors.

As one who understands human depravity, your statement demonstrates a profound disregard for the impact of sinful individuals when given power to craft systems and structures that govern millions. The outcome is oppression and impoverishment — in a word, injustice.

Finally, if you insist on blind obedience, then you must also insist that officers of the justice system obey the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right of all to equal protection under the law. Yet, reports confirm unconscious racial biases in policing, booking, sentencing, and in return produce racially disparate outcomes within our broken justice system.

Likewise, you must also call on officers to honor their sworn duty to protect and serve without partiality. The Federal Bureau of Investigations director, James B. Comey, acknowledges that law enforcement has fallen short of this mandate : “First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

Let us be clear: We love, support, and pray for our police officers. We understand that many are doing an excellent job under extremely trying circumstances. We also understand that many officers are burdened by systems that routinely mete out inequitable racialized outcomes.

For the past nine months, many of your fellow Christian clergy have been engaged in sorrowful lament, prayerful protest, spirit-led conversations, and careful scriptural study to discern a Godly response to these inequitable racialized outcomes within America’s justice system. We have wrestled with God like Jacob, begging God to bless us with peace in our streets and justice in our courts.

Rev. Graham, as our brother in Christ and as a leader in the church, we forgive you and we pray that one day you will recognize and understand the enduring legacy of the institution of race in our nation.

Now is the time for you to humbly listen to the cries of lamentation rising nationwide. We do not expect you to be an expert in racial issues, police brutality, or even the many factors that go in to our complicated and unjust criminal system. We do, however, expect you to follow the example of leaders and followers of Jesus throughout the scriptures and modern history. We expect you to seek wise counsel and guidance first from those who bear the weight of the injustice and second from other experts in the field.

Ultimately, we invite you to join us in the ongoing work of the ministry of reconciliation.

In Jesus,

Onleilove Alston
Executive Director
Faith in New York

Dr. Brian Bantum
Associate Professor of Theology
Seattle Pacific University

Rev. Leroy Barber
Global Executive Director, Word Made Flesh
Chair of the Board, Christian Community Development Association

Rev. Phil Bowling Dyer
National Director, Black Campus Ministries
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Austin Channing Brown
Resident Director and Multicultural Liaison
Calvin College

Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
Author, Social Justice Handbook and Just Spirituality
Co-author, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Dr. Christena Cleveland
Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies
Bethel University

Rev. Dr. Orlando Crespo
Latino Leadership Circle
Board Member, National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Rev. Léonce B. Crump Jr.
Lead Pastor
Renovation Church

Dr. Curtiss Paul DeYoung
Executive Director
Community Renewal Society

Rachel Held Evans
Author, Blogger, Advocate

Rev. Dominique Gilliard
Executive Pastor
New Hope Covenant Church in Oakland, CA

Josh Harper
National Director for Urban Programs
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

Lisa Sharon Harper
Chief Church Engagement Officer

Dr. Troy Jackson
Director, The AMOS Project
Co-author, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Micky ScottBey Jones
Director of Training and Program Development
Transform Network

Kathy Khang
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

Steve Knight
Transform Network

Rev. Michael McBride
The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, CA

Jimmy McGee
CEO and President
The Impact Movement

Rev. Soong-Chan Rah
Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism
North Park Theological Seminary

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra
Coordinator of Welcoming Congregations Network
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr. Andrea Smith
Board Member
North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies

Rev. Efrem Smith
President and CEO
World Impact

Rev. Gail Song Bantum
Executive Pastor
Quest Church

Alexie Torres-Fleming
Organizer, Advocate, Speaker

Jonathan Walton
Blogger, College Student Organizer, Poet

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove
School for Conversion

Jim Wallis
President and Founder

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
President, Skinner Leadership Institute
Co-Chair, National African American Clergy Network

Ken Wytsma
Kilns College

NOTE: Affiliations included for identification purposes only. Signatures do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the institution.

Lisa Sharon Harper is Chief Church Engagement Officer for Sojourners and co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith.



Rev Graham, I do hope your lovely father Rev Dr Billy Graham is not aware of this your latest hateful ignorant, hurtful lecture to these dear ones Jesus loves and died for, and I know he is very sad if he is he must be about your hateful ignorant lying rants about our fellow believer President Obama: Your father would have been visiting with President Obama and regularly praying with him, if he were able, as he did with all the presidents he was well enough to, not this. Please listen to Jesus and these good people listed above and your father. The consequences for false shepherds who willfully lead their flocks astray into heartless bigotry are spelled out in scripture. Beware!

Cops are not trigger happy and are less racially biased then the general public. There is a much higher-rate of people of African descent incarcerated because there is a much higher-rate of people of African descent committing the crimes, especially the kind of crimes that get law enforcement's attention. This is not the fault of the police. The Police do not make people commit any crime. These are crimes that hurt other people such as assault, attempted murder, murder, sexual assault, drug possession, and drug distribution.

A slave-master did not make the perpetrators commit the crime, slave-masters have been gone nearly 150 years. At some point a person has to stand up and take responsibility for themselves wherever they find themselves in life. When a person knows right from wrong, when a person knows there are other choices but chooses the one with incarceration consequences, then that decision is not a result of a slave-master from 150 years ago. It is called making the wrong decision.

Is there systemic racial prejudice? Yes, of course there is systemic racial biases. Is this systemic racial prejudice the fault of the police? No, of course the systemic racial biases is not the fault of the police. Does it effect the police? Yes, of course because Cops are people too, so how can it not, BUT Cops are affected less than the general public. In the cited study the white Cops’ group versus the melting-pot of the general public group that were tested, the white Cops were found to have less biases and be less likely to shoot. The reports at the link that you cited in your 'response letter' above proves this exact point. The independent studies that this 'response letter' cites found just the opposite of what is being lamented in this letter. Here is the main excerpt of the studies findings.

"In 2009, Correll et al. conducted a similar study on shooter bias. This study, however, utilized more officers (237) with a greater diversity of background (for example, patrol, investigators, SWAT, traffic, and so on) than the previous study. Further, Correll et al. utilized 127 civilians for comparison as well as a sampling of college students. Each group contained a mix of males, females, whites, blacks, Latinos, and other minorities. Like the 2005 study, the officer group was predominantly white; however, the civilian example contained many more ethnic minority members.24 The results of the Correll et al. study revealed that police officers were far less influenced by racial bias than the civilians. Like community members, police were slower to make correct decisions when faced with an unarmed black man or an armed white man. It is important to note, however, that the officers differed dramatically from civilians in terms of the decisions they ultimately made. Community members showed a clear tendency to favor the shoot response for black targets. . . . Police, however, showed no bias in their criteria. Moreover, they showed greater discriminability and a less trigger-happy orientation in general (i.e., for both black and white targets). When the target was white, all of the samples [police and civilian]. . . set a relatively high criterion. . . . But when the target was black, the community set a significantly lower (more trigger-happy) criterion than officers.25 To validate the study, the trials were run twice, and researchers speeded the rate of the images that appeared on the screen. The results were the same. “Compared to the public at large. . . police officers had a ‘less trigger-happy orientation.’ ” The lead researcher stated, “We don’t mean to conclude that this is conclusive evidence that there is no racial bias in police officers’ decision to shoot. . . . But we've run these test with thousands of people now, and we've never seen this ability to restrain behavior in any group other than police officers.”26”

When a Police Officer gives a person an order, a directive, the person must comply. The reason we have courts and lawyers is to sort out in a court of law if you disagree with how the police officer handled you out on the street. Do what the police tell you to do and sort it out later when you are still alive. If any citizen fails to obey a police officer (unless to do so will put the citizen or another in immediate harms way) then they open themselves up to being hurt or killed. That is the way the law is because otherwise there would be anarchy.

Jesus does call on all Christians to fight against injustice and to die if we must in defense of justice if a system for justice does not exist, which it does exist in this Country. The court and legislative systems in this Country are for the purpose of defending justice for all. Is it a fair system for all people, of course not, and that is where the riotous energy would be better placed. No person should have an expectation they can commit a crime and think they should be able to go along in their day freely. If that were the case there would be no justice then freedom would be smothered.

The shooting of Michael Brown was a traumatic tragedy that could have easily been avoided if Michael Brown would have stopped. Police Officer Darren Wilson confronted Brown. In a struggle in Wilson's police car, Brown beat on Wilson. Brown tried to take Wilson's gun. Then Brown walked away. Wilson got out of his car, drew his gun and ordered Brown to stop. Brown turned around and walked towards Wilson with his hands up. Wilson ordered Brown to stop, Brown kept coming towards Wilson with his hands up. Wilson started backing up along the side of his police car, continuing to order Brown to stop. With his hands up Brown quickened his pace towards Wilson. While backing up Wilson fired his gun. Several struck Brown but Brown kept coming with his hands up towards Wilson. Wilson backing up fired more shots from his gun. Several more struck Brown. Wilson, now at the back of his police car, ordered Brown to stop. Brown reached for Wilson's gun. Wilson fired the fatal shot that struck Brown in the head. When examined by the coroners from all investigative jurisdictions all concluded Brown had gun powder residue on his hand, heavier between the thumb and index finger across the top of his hand.

What would any person that signed this 'response letter' have done any differently? If your son was Wilson, what would you have wanted him to do differently? If your son were Brown what would you have wanted him to do differently? It is not Wilson's fault that the majority of the police force where he is an officer is white. It is not Wilson's fault that white people enslaved black people 150 years ago. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown was a young man being oppressed by black American culture - the new slave-master. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown made some very poor choices that day. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown comes from a broken-divorced family. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown grew up poor. It is not Wilson’s fault that Brown did not have a good education. It is not Wilson’s fault that Brown did not have good job. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown kept coming at him even after Brown was shot multiple times. It is not Wilson's fault that Brown put Wilson in a 'kill or be killed' situation that day.

The fault is Browns, he had a choice that day and he was given multiple opportunities to choose the safer way. And, the systemic fault is the local, State, and Congressional politicians that solve no problems unless they directly affect their donors. The systemic fault is the drug dealers on the corner. The systemic fault is the drug users inside of homes. The fault is systemic poverty that places our black youth, women, children, young girls, young boys, and men in untenable living conditions. The fault is systemic drug use proliferation where selling drugs is more attractive, lucrative, admired, and venerated than doing right, doing good, getting an education, and getting a legitimate job. If the black community really wants to rise one day to walk into a real new day, then they must practice what they preach so those that don't know how will learn and those that do know but are too weak will be strengthened and those that idolize the drug culture will be shown a better way. Change can only come from within the black community. From the passion within to the outpouring onto every sordid street in this Country, to cleanse and lift up every person.

This 'response letter' brings Jesus into the mix. On Good Friday Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. Jesus obeyed the authority of Pilate on earth and His Father in heaven. Jesus did not fight. The Apostles did not fight. Stephen did not fight. They said what they had to say then they died for it and they changed the world.

I do not particularly like Franklin Graham, at all. I do find your 'response letter' far more self-righteous and narrow-minded and Scripturally misleading than his statement. When you state, "Likewise, Christians who marched in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and Madison, Wis., follow in the holy footsteps of their faithful predecessors." Whose holy steps? The Romans? The Pharisees? The Sadducees? The people that marched yelling "Hands Up" had no idea of the facts. They were not marching against injustice, they were marching against the police officers that were doing their jobs. They were opportunists not defenders of justice for all. They were followers of media hype not leaders of truth. If that were the case then they would have also marched in defense of police officers like Darren Wilson. If they want to really make a difference for justice march on Congress to end the drug trade and march on every State Capitol to end poverty. Then they would be serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember Jesus healed the Centurion's son, Jesus reattached the Soldier's ear. Jesus respected authority. These marches disrespected the facts of these cases. These marches did nothing but put police officers in more danger. Here you are jumping on the band-wagon... too easy for a follower of Jesus. F. Graham was correct in his statement. Stop means stop... then sort it out in court.

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Isabella transformed her name to Sojourner Truth and told companions, "The Spirit calls me, and I should go ." She cleared out to advance voyaging and lecturing about annulment. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. Established by abolitionists, they bolstered ladies' rights and religious resilience, and additionally being peaceful resistor. There were 210 individuals and they lived on 500 sections of land, raising domesticated animals, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk manufacturing plant. While there, Sojourner Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles (an African-American Printer). In 1846, the gathering disbanded, not able to bolster itself.[3] In 1847, she went to work for George Benson as a servant. He was the brother by marriage of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1849, Sojourner went by her previous proprietor, John Dumont, before he moved west.

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