1.17.2016 _____________________

This Tuesday, Jan. 19, Rev. Franklin Graham, on tour to appeal to Christians to elect politicians who “stand for biblical principals and biblical truth,” plans to hold a public prayer meeting at the New Hampshire State House — a clever and politically strategic move coming as it does two weeks before the New Hampshire primary.

Graham, who announced in December that he would no longer be registered as a Republican, registering instead as an Independent because of the government-funding bill passed by a bipartisan Congress that included funds for Planned Parenthood, is on a mission.

“God hears the prayers of his people, so I’m calling on people of faith in every state to pray fervently for America and our leaders,” Graham wrote on Facebook. “I want to challenge Christians across our land to boldly live out and promote biblical principles at home, in public and at the ballot box. The only hope for this country is if the people of God are willing to take a stand for truth and righteousness.”

Actually, Rev. Graham, I believe that true hope for this country is if the American people are willing to take a stand for truth, righteousness and for the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans — regardless of religion, color, ethnicity.

I believe that true hope for this country is to be found in America soundly rejecting the exclusivist, divisive and hateful Islamophobic rhetoric we hear from you and others. In the 1840s and 1850s the Know-Nothings tried to do to Catholics what some evangelicals and politicians are trying to do to Muslims today — it was finally rejected then, not without pain, and it must be rejected today.

Today’s attack on Muslims is unrelenting. Even last night, as much of America watched the Republican debates, Sean Hannity ran a Fox special, “Islamists Among Us.” Hannity used inflammatory footage and hosted partisan, unbalanced panels to further the point, as candidates like Trump, Carson, Cruz and others, and religious activists like Graham, have been doing, that Muslims in America should be disenfranchised.

Let no one believe Graham stands apart from that language of hate. Not only has Graham embraced racist characterizations of Islam but also he’s among its most outspoken evangelical opponents.

“Islam is not a peaceful religion as George W. Bush told as,” Graham wrote on Facebook, “and as President Obama has said — that is just not true.”

Graham, who recently said he was “sick and tired of hearing about Islam” is on record saying President Obama has the “Muslim seed” in him, that Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion,” that he doesn’t believe Islam is compatible with American values and has stated “I don’t believe Muhammad can lead anybody to God.”

“Can you believe this Wheaton College professor who says she’s going to wear a hijab for the holidays this year to show solidarity with Islam? Shame on her! She said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” Graham wrote. “Well, she is absolutely wrong – she obviously doesn’t know her Bible and she doesn’t know Islam.”

“The god of Islam” Graham has wrongly stated, “requires you to die for him to be sure that you’re going to heaven.”

All that aside, I strongly believe evangelist Billy Graham’s son should be welcomed in Concord. His assembly, his speech and his messages of exclusion and division are protected by the very same First Amendment that protects all Americans — regardless of how exclusive or odious that speech might be.

Yes, Graham has free speech and I certainly don’t want to deny him the right to say any of these things. I hope, in fact, that if the rope is long enough he will finally hang himself for the hypocrite he is. I believe you cannot say you serve God and then deliberately act to deny, in the most uncharitable ways possible, respect, rights and refuge to your fellow man.

The beliefs of our Founding Fathers varied, Rev. Graham, but they were united in believing that all peoples — regardless of religion — or of no religion — are included in our Public Square. They might not have liked Muslims, may not even have known any Muslims, but they knew intuitively that for this to be one nation it had to be inclusive of all and they would have quickly rejected your Islamophobic rhetoric.

I wish you, Rev. Graham good will, good weather and a poor turnout for your prayer vigil. Perhaps in that space that is public in front of New Hampshire’s State House you, your allies and all who embrace such exclusivist rhetoric should reflect upon a prayer written by American Harry Romaine, published (1895) in Munsey’s Magazine:

At the muezzin’s call for prayer,
The kneeling faithful thronged the square,
And on Pushkara’s lofty height
The dark priest chanted Brahma’s might.
Amid a monastery’s weeds
An old Franciscan told his beads;
While to the synagogue there came
A Jew to praise Jehovah’s name.
The one great God looked down and smiled
And counted each His loving child;
For Turk and Brahmin, monk and Jew
Had reached Him through the gods they knew.

This column first appeared in the Portsmouth Herald.

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