BY MICHAEL GORDON
THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER / MCT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the second time during the presidential campaign, a group of African-American ministers in North Carolina has criticized Franklin Graham for challenging the spiritual beliefs of President Barack Obama, accusing the evangelist Monday of promoting a narrow form of Christianity that supports a politically conservative point of view.
Meeting in Charlotte, the group read an open letter to Graham that comes in response to a series of full-page ads that bear a photograph of his father, Billy Graham, and ask voters to elect candidates who support “biblical principles.”
In comments to The Charlotte Observer last week, Graham said his 93-year-old father supported the message, which endorses candidates who support the nation of Israel, “the sanctity of life” and “the biblical definition of marriage.”
Franklin Graham went on to say that Obama’s support for gay marriage and abortion rights challenges “God’s standard” and says, “it’s OK for people to sin.”
He said he has cast an early ballot for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose positions “are more in line with the moral teachings that I believe in.” During a meeting this month at his home in Montreat, N.C., the elder Graham offered to help Romney “ any way I can.”
State NAACP President William Barber accused Graham of “being seduced by the sirens of money and power,” and of “cherry-picking the easy parts of Christianity” that serve his partisan politics. In doing so, Barber said, Graham has ignored the broader messages of the Bible to help the poor, feed the hungry and treat the sick.
‘Hollow at best’
“These texts, Brother Graham, are so primary to our faith tradition but so secondary in your critique,” Barber said, surrounded by more than a dozen other ministers. Why do some Christian conservatives “say so little about what God says so much, and so much about what God says so little? To exclude this focus and try to make a claim of concern for Christian values is hollow at best and heretical at worst.”
Franklin Graham was returning from a trip to Africa, and was not available for comment.
But in a statement Monday night, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said it regretted “that some members of the NAACP find issue with the recent ads.” The ads deal with “biblical values” that Graham has addressed, the statement said.
“Certainly there are any number of topics about which other individuals and organizations in this country feel strongly and may prefer to discuss. We respect their right to use their voices and public forums to do so.” Barber said the press conference was not an endorsement of Obama, but a call to use broader, spiritually-based criteria than the one used by the Grahams to evaluate candidates.
The criticism didn’t stop there. Dr. Gregory Moss cited the recent decision by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which Franklin Graham heads, to remove a list of so-called religious cults on its website that included Mormonism. Romney is a lifelong Mormon.
Graham said last week that he didn’t know that the list existed and said it was not in keeping with the mission of the Graham organization. In addition, he authored a column in the current edition of the association’s Decision magazine saying it is OK for Christians to vote for a Mormon candidate.
The cover of the November issue arriving in the mail has campaign buttons that say “Pray” and “Vote,” along with this message. “Take a Stand for Biblical Values on Nov. 6.”
Graham also heads Samaritan’s Purse, a relief agency that responds to disasters worldwide. Its website says the agency plans to offer help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, now pummeling the East Coast.
As with Barber, Moss spoke directly to Graham.
“We have nothing against the Mormons. This country was founded on religious freedom, and we uphold those freedoms,” said Moss, who revealed an Obama T-shirt to his congregation during his Sunday sermon. “But to change your mind for political expediency lends you hypocritical and morally bankrupt.”
Barber was among a group of ministers who met with Franklin Graham this spring after Graham, during an appearance on MSNBC, seemed to question whether Obama is a Christian or a Muslim. He later apologized.
The tone of the Graham political ads surprised historians and longtime Graham watchers.
One accused the younger Graham of turning his father into “a mouthpiece of the religious right.” A series of similar Graham ads appeared statewide in support of a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to a man and a woman.
Franklin Graham said his father, who turns 94 the day after the Nov. 6 election, had approved both campaigns. “Nobody kidnaps my Daddy … his mind remains sharp as a razor,” Franklin Graham said.
In reading the open letter to the son, however, Barber raised the question of whether the father still speaks for himself.
“If we are wrong, and your dad in his latter years has changed his view of a more democratic, a more inclusive and a more loving world, then let him tell us directly,” Barber said.
“If you are misusing your father’s legacy, then please cease.”