Voices: Everything is a Bible issue: A response to Franklin Graham

Samaritan's Purse CEO Franklin Graham supported President Trump's executive order on immigration, saying refugee resettlement is "not a biblical issue." Columnist Jake Raabe begs to differ. (Photo: Anthony Correia / Bigstock)

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If you keep up with the news, you know last weekend was eventful. On Friday, Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority nations, throwing airports across the country into chaos. The same order also suspended refugee resettlement in the United States. The Trump Administration vowed to defend the order against challenges from courts, although the reaction throughout government agencies largely has been negative.

Jake Raabe 150Jake RaabeThe reaction from faith leaders has been mostly negative as well, with many condemning it as an unconstitutional and unethical ban on Muslims. Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham, however, was one of the few major voices speaking in favor of the measure. He told the Huffington Post he could support the suspension of refugee resettlement because it’s “not a biblical issue.”

I don’t feel the need to address Graham’s claim the Bible doesn’t speak on immigration and asylum-seekers; Mark Wingfield at Baptist New Global has done a great job of that already. The Bible does speak on these issues, and it does so extensively and clearly.

Separating decision & faith

Graham’s treatment of Scripture is equally troublesome. His claim implies the teachings of Scripture only matter to certain issues, and Christians can make decisions on other issues without reference to their faith. This is a fundamentally incorrect understanding of the role of Scripture in the Christian life and of discipleship in general.

The Bible isn’t simply a guideline for how to vote or a list of do’s and don’ts for getting to heaven: It’s an encounter.

When we come to Scripture, we find in it more than simply a set of teachings: We find Jesus Christ, the Son of God. All of the stories, commandments, poems and teachings of the Bible ultimately lead to this person. Christian discipleship doesn’t mean distilling the Bible into a series of topics it talks about and topics it doesn’t. Discipleship means submitting every thought, every decision, every word that comes out of our mouths to the crucified and resurrected Christ.

No independent decisions

We make no decisions independently, by our own logic. All decisions are submitted to Christ. In this, there is no issue that isn’t a “Bible issue.”

Graham, claiming Scripture doesn’t have bearing on the conversation at hand, claims: “We have a country, and a country should have order. … Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.” I suppose, by worldly standards, it makes sense to say we should keep strangers at bay (this ignores the odds of being killed by a refugee in the United States—about one in 3.6 billion).

Graham’s logic does not follow Christ’s example, though. The Christ we worship did not stray from danger. He walked directly into it out of love for those suffering. To call Christians to do anything other than love—even at risk to themselves—is to call them to reject the example of Christ.

I’ve long had concerns about Graham, but this claim especially is worrisome. He’s calling on Christians to substitute the self-emptying, life-giving gospel of Christ with an America-first, self-centered civil religion.

“Christ first,” not “America first”

“America first” is not a concept found in the Bible. “Christ first” is what Scripture teaches us to base all our decisions on.

I can’t imagine the Christ of the Bible turning away a starving child. I can’t imagine the Christ of the Bible allowing a people with more than they need to send the needy to their deaths.

Graham is calling us to make decisions about the well-being of others out of our own self-interest. He calls us to put our nation’s interest above Christ’s call. Every issue is a “Bible issue,” and Graham is teaching falsehood if he suggests otherwise.

We speak often about the “word of God” being a sword. What we too soon forget is that this sword is not in our hands. We don’t use the word as a weapon pointed at our enemies. When the word of God “pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” Christ wields it, and he points it at us, his followers. Scripture constantly calls our ideas and actions into question by the example of Christ.

I pray my brother Franklin will recognize this. Syrian lives and American souls are in danger.

Jake Raabe is a student at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.

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