What Kind of God Is This?

While promoting his book, Through My Father’s Eyes, Franklin Graham was interviewed by the Associated Press. It will come as no surprise that his support for Donald Trump, especially in light of the Stormy Daniels scandal, was a topic of discussion. Graham repeated some of the things he has said previously.

… I don’t have concern, in a sense, because these things happened many years ago — and there’s such bigger problems in front of us as a nation that we need to be dealing with than other things in his life a long time ago. I think some of these things — that’s for him and his wife to deal with. I think when the country went after President Clinton, the Republicans, that was a great mistake that should never have happened. And I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business. And we’ve got other business at hand that we need to deal with.

In previous interviews Graham has offered the argument that the Stormy Daniels affair happened long before Trump became president. That echoes what we heard from Tony Perkins, who said that “Trump gets a mulligan.”

But this was the first time I’d heard Graham suggest that Trump’s sexual encounter with Daniels was essentially a private matter that is nobody’s business. The truth is that Graham has dramatically changed his tune when it comes to Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Here’s what he wrote in 1998 in an article titled, “Clinton’s Sins Aren’t Private:”

Last week Mr. Clinton told 70 million Americans that his adulterous actions with Ms. Lewinsky were a “private” matter “between me, the two people I love the most–my wife and our daughter–and our God.”

But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family.  If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?

The idea that Trump’s indiscretions are a matter between he and his wife, while Clinton’s private life matters to the “rest of the world” captures precisely the kind of hypocrisy that is causing so many people in the country to disavow white evangelical leaders.

Following those statements, Graham went on to say this:

You have to understand that he’s also 71 years old and I don’t think he came to be president by mistake or by happenstance, I think somehow God put him in this position because he’s not a politician, he seemed to do everything wrong as a politician, he offended many people, did the wrong things, but somehow he became president. I just think that God in some reason put him there for a purpose. I don’t know what that is, but we need to get behind him and support him.

You’ll have to bear with me for a moment because, since I got my master’s degree from a seminary, my mind immediately went to some profound questions about Graham’s theology. The statement appears to be based on the idea that the God of Christianity is omnipotent (in other words, all powerful), and he has a purpose for Trump’s presidency. Because I followed Graham in the past I can say with some certainty that he never said that about this country’s first African American president. As a matter of fact, he questioned Barack Obama’s Christianity and suggested that “he only knows Islam.”

But the really disturbing theological implication of what Graham said is that it is Trump’s amorality that points to God’s anointment. He posits that we can be assured that “God put him in this position” based on the fact that he “offended many people” and “did the wrong things.” Taken to the extreme, that would suggest that, when it comes to leaders in powerful positions, the more amoral they are, the more we see God’s handiwork. I can only guess what Graham would say about the world’s most murderous dictators.

None of that bears any resemblance to the theology of the New Testament, which is based on the singularly most powerful revelation of God to humankind: the incarnation of Jesus. Here is how Paul wrote about that:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

The God of Christianity revealed himself by being “born in human likeness,” therefore, the life of Jesus gives us the template for how God works in the world—and it is the complete opposite of everything Donald Trump says and does. One has to wonder what kind of god it is that would chose a man like this president and what his purpose would be in doing so. I shudder to imagine.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.