Covenanters Challenge Graham Comments

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.

Franklin Graham: Simple answer to avoid police shooting.

Franklin Graham: Simple answer to avoid police shooting.

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.

Dominique Gilliard: Graham response is hurtful and simplistic

Dominique Gilliard: Graham response is hurtful and simplistic

“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.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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17 Comments

  1. Here’s the resolution the ECC Annual Meeting passed (our highest governing body) on the problems of the criminal justice system. It seems this action is completely in line with our stated goals, and I think we should be thankful for people like Efrem Smith, Soong-Chan Rah, and Dominique Gilliard for speaking publicly and prophetically so that others in our culture may realize that Franklin Graham does not speak for all evangelicals. I will say it’s a bit ironic to read comments that suggest one should have a private conversation with people we disagree with before going public…on a public forum.

    http://www.covchurch.org/resources/files/2010/06/CAC-Resolution-on-Criminal-Justice-Final-4.7.10-2.pdf

    1. It is also not surprising that the the “highest governing body” of the ECC passes resolutions on the criminal justice system. The resolutions are becoming more and more in tune with the prevailing liberal worldview and, not so much, biblical. Much of the membership is asleep. Thankfully, the responses here give me hope that many are not. If the membership wants a Christian club they can have that. If they want a Bible-believing denomination, there is work to be done to return there.

  2. There is absolutely no doubt that Mr. Graham’s words could have been more “finessed.” One could even argue that they should probably not have been posted–such is the nature of social media. But there is a great deal of truth in them, and the response of the “open letter” is appalling, abusive, and misleading for more reasons than I can write here. While Graham’s use of Hebrews 13:17 is out of context as they suggest, they completely ignore the fact that the underlying principle of respect for authority is clearly echoed in Romans 13 where it is applied specifically to governing authorities–which would have included Caesar. What’ more, while chastising Dr. Graham for his error, they completely and blatantly ignore the first instruction of Matthew 18 which they claim as the basis for their writing. That instruction is that, when there is an issue between you and a fellow-believer, you should go FIRST to the person (in this case Dr. Graham) DIRECTLY, not publicly. Only as a last resort do you go public with the issue–and then to the Church, not the whole world. The writers of the open letter claim to seek reconciliation, when in fact all their actions have done is escalate the conflict and contribute to the perception (or perhaps the reality) that we cannot have a civilized, honest, open, fair–dare I say, “just”–conversation about race in this country–even in the Church. It’s a good example of the arrogance and combativeness of many who claim to be about the pursuit of “justice” and “reconciliation”: If someone says or writes anything contrary to your opinion–or dares challenge any of your assumptions–respond by piling on, intimidating, bullying, insulting, misrepresenting (either subtly or overtly) or insinuating (again either subtly or overtly) that they are ignorant, paternalistic, bigoted or racist. There are many–like me–who are thankful for the progress we’ve made during my lifetime, but also agree that we have a long way to go in terms of race relations in the United States. Sadly, actions like those of the letter writers–however well-intentioned they may have been–don’t help. They simply shut down the dialogue which people claim they want. They harden and polarize. They divide unnecessarily. They ignore the fact that racism can and does cut in more than one direction. Diatribes like the open letter do not scare a racist–they only reinforce his or her racism. What’s more, they make anyone who is not racist but may have a differing perspective or is looking for a reasonable, rational, and thoughtful conversation more afraid to speak for fear of being similarly condemned. Put another way, the blatant injustice and exaggeration contained in documents like the open letter make those who may be allies of the writers in many ways, wonder if they can or should be. Dr. Graham is a great man, doing great things not only in the United States but around the world. He deserves much more respect than that shown him in the letter. And on a broader note, if we’re really going to see reconciliation, maybe what we need is less “justice” and more grace–all the way around.

  3. When will the Covenant publish something that reflects how the most of the Covenant see this situation? It is not as the minority who has teamed up with Sojourners (a counterfeit Christian group) has portrayed it. Both the government and the church come from God and what Reverend Graham writes is scripturally supported in Romans 13. In our church in Dearborn, Michigan, we are looking at what the Covenant has done on the issue of race and it is embarrassing. I challenge the Covenant to give a Biblical perspective on this issue. Do you have the courage to do what’s right?

    1. I cannot help but wonder who “the most of the Covenant” is in relation to who is being shot by police. So the experience of the “the most” should be how we look at injustices? Also, I would like to know “what the Covenant has done on the issue of race” and how is it “embarrassing”? And, I would be interested in hearing “a Biblical perspective on this issue” – and I am assuming “this issue” is on race. Regarding government being from God, does this mean all governments? The US government permitted the sale and enslavement of Africans for 400 years; the US government refused to allow women the right to vote even longer. There are governments that refuse girls and women education, voting rights, employment outside the home; allow men to physically abuse family members. Just what do you mean by the government comes from God?

  4. There is much truth in Mr. Graham’s comments. We have been told in Scripture to obey those in authority over us. Much of the problems regarding this issue is are caused by normal folks and Christians listening to the media and politicians make unsubstantiated comments and tout unproven facts for political reasons. They were not present when these situations and incidents happen but take a side for ratings in the case of the media and take sides as liberals and conservatives in the case of politicians. Obeying laws which are legitimate is our responsibility as Christians and we must support the authorities when these incidents happen. We must realize that these incidents which become so controversial involve a small portion of the public and a small portion of the police when it comes to race and prejudice. When all of Mr. Graham’s detractors including those who sent the ‘open letter’ , which was really written to the public, come anywhere close to the good which Mr. Graham has done in this world and precious souls which have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior as a result of his ministry, then they may have something to say. Until that happens, their comments are hollow and deserve no credibility.

  5. No doubt this is a complicated issue and for us believers in Jesus Christ, Romans 13:1-8 is very instructive on this. We are to obey those in authority over us and certainly law enforcement servants are under the authority of the governing officials and we are to obey them; we do not get to choose, whether or not. However, I think there has been and is becoming a real spirit and attitude of anarchy in our country, partially enabled by elected officials setting an example of non-obedience to established laws. I have had the same thoughts about not resisting the authority of the police as Franklin Graham has expressed. It is when resistance to arrest takes place that people get hurt or killed such as what happened in New York, Ferguson, MO, and elsewhere. Aside from tensions of racial prejudice , what is the source of the rebellion? As believers in Jesus Christ we know about the source; he appeared to Eve in the Garden ,in Genesis. The main solution to this is to listen to each other and to go to prayer before our Lord that His Holy Spirit would heal our land. May each of us trust God to heal our land and our culture.
    Paul Hanson

  6. I do respect my fellow Covenanter’s and their opposition to the way Franklin Graham seemed to dismiss a very complex issue. I wonder if Franklin actually thinks the whole issue of racism and racial profiling by police is this simple or if he was just trying to give smart advice to avoid tragedies like this until more complete solutions can be implemented.

    My question was, Has anyone talked to Franklin personally to find out what he meant or why he said the things he said them? Are we called to “call out” a brother in a public way like “An Open Letter…” before we have made some effort to resolve the matter privately? Perhaps because he is a public figure no one who signed believed there was any biblical obligation to confront Franklin privately as the teaching of Jesus would seem to suggest.

    1. I totally agree with your comment. It would appear that the desire to meet should have been the first response.

  7. I was not surprised that leaders of the ECC would go on record to criticize Graham. If you have read any of the writings of Efrem Smith and Soong-Chan Rah you will find that they are of the same mindset of Sojourners of which Glen Palmberg was a board member. That’s perfectly O.K. but the membership should know.

    1. We need more Covenanters like Efrem, Soong-Chan and Glen. As far as Franklin Graham’s latest bizarre comment, see the story below from today’s paper. Do you agree with Graham that Mr. Patel is at fault for walking down the street and his attack and subsequent hospitalization the “just rewards” for not obeying the police officer? I don’t.

      Ex-Alabama officer indicted on federal civil rights charge in confrontation with Indian man

      Updated: March 27, 2015 – 11:50 AM

      0

      BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A former Alabama police officer has been charged with violating the civil rights of an Indian man who was injured during a violent confrontation in February, authorities said Friday.

      Former Madison police officer Eric Sloan Parker is charged with using unreasonable force that left Sureshbhai Patel hospitalized. He was slammed face-first to the ground in the confrontation, which was captured on video.

      Parker will plead not guilty, defense attorney Robert Tuten said.

      “We are shocked, disappointed and overwhelmed by all the ways Eric Parker is coming under attack,” Tuten said in an email. “However, we are looking forward to seeing the indictment and having our day in court.”

      But U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said people “must be able to trust the police.”

      “Law enforcement officers who violate their oath to protect and use excessive force must be brought to justice,” she said in a statement.

      Patel was visiting relatives when police were called to a suburban neighborhood where he was walking Feb. 6. The 57-year-old grandfather’s injuries included partial paralysis.

      Parker, 26, of Toney has since been fired and faces a state assault charge. Patel also has filed a civil lawsuit.

      Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley previously apologized to the Indian government for the treatment of Patel, calling it a case of “excessive force.”

      The police chief in Madison, a suburb of Huntsville in the Tennessee Valley of north Alabama, also has apologized for what happened to Patel.

      Audio and video recordings released by police show Patel was slammed to the ground by an officer responding to a call about someone walking in a subdivision in the town. Patel spent time in a hospital and a rehabilitation center.

      Hank Sherrod, an attorney for Patel, said the man and his family were “very pleased by the prompt and decisive action” of federal prosecutors.

      Patel has made “tremendous progress” and recently took a few steps using a walker but remains in a rehab center in Huntsville, Sherrod said.

    2. The ECC might start with scrutinizing their own organization. The Graham ministries have had many attacks over the years without even one scandal being proven, they have stood the test of time and have been blessed by our Lord! It is so easy to throw stones but I think the ECC would be better served getting down on their knees and re-acquainting themselves with the holy scriptures. In my humble opinion the “social agenda” should be second to the “spiritual agenda” of the ECC and clearly this “open letter” is more about advancing their social agenda which I believe is all about dollars and cents! Yes I would even call it opportunistic! The Graham organization has had a profound effect on the world by leading people to Christ and they never forget their mission just ask Louis Zamperini! Shame on you ECC authors of the open letter!

  8. Franklin Graham’s comments are good advice, but as even he stated “most police shootings can be avoided” – not all. There is still a problem of racial profiling among law enforcement (no matter the race of the officers), and the other side of the problem, hate of and resistance to any authority figure. The problem is deep, and only the compassion shown by Christ can “fix” this.

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