OAKLAND, CA (MARCH 26, 2015) – Four Covenanters, including former Pacific Southwest Conference Superintendent Efrem Smith, were among the authors of an open letter that takes Franklin Graham to task for a widely read recent blog post in which he wrote that people don’t have to worry about being shot by police if they would just obey the officers.
Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, published his post on March 12 in response to critics of police in the wake of several deaths of unarmed African American males. In one day, more than 200,000 people “liked” it, and it has been shared more than 83,000 times. Graham wrote, “Listen up–Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY.”
But the authors and original signers of the open letter contend that Graham’s words reflect a simplistic view of a complex problem.
Dominique Gilliard, executive pastor of New Hope Covenant Church in Oakland, California, said, “There is some truth to what he said in that we should have respect for those in authority and there has to be acknowledgement of their authority, but we also have to acknowledge that there is abuse of authority, and just calling for blind obedience doesn’t speak to those realities.”
Gilliard initiated the letter but worked with Smith, and Brian Bantum, associate professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University and a member of Quest Church, and Lisa Sharon Harper, senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as well as several others to write the document.
“We wanted to make sure that people know his post wasn’t the evangelical response but an evangelical response,” Gilliard said. “We spent five days praying and seeking discernment before we sent it out.”
In the letter, they wrote, “You have sinned against us, fellow members of the body of Christ. … 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.”
Several other Covenanters were initial signers of the letter, which has garnered about 6,500 signatures, Gilliard said. The letter first appeared on the Sojourners website and has since been distributed further.
Gilliard said he hopes that Graham will meet with him and several others as a way of pursuing reconciliation and discussing the underlying justice issues further.