I've listened to the faithful take the moral high ground on quite a few issues over the years. Sometimes I've pushed back, but more often than not I've kept my powder dry. But after reading a little Franklin Graham and a lot of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury indictment this weekend, I'm going to go ahead and fire away.
Here's a philosophical question: Can immoral means achieve moral ends? That seems to be the question facing one of America's leading evangelical voices, Franklin Graham. In my opinion, he embodies both the hypocrisy and the moral bankruptcy of the contemporary evangelical movement. When he wears his political hat, he says one thing but means another. He preaches one standard for some, but a different one for others, and then tries to convince us that it's all morally consistent. Graham is, more than anything, a proud Christian activist in America's culture wars who pays lip service to political impartiality.
Graham says, "I have no faith in the Democratic Party, nor do I have any faith in the Republican Party. The only One who can turn this around is Almighty God."
Spoiler alert: That's rubbish.
Graham likes to proclaim his lack of faith in both political parties before leading his flock in another round of Evil Secular Progressive Bingo. Watch below as he checks all the boxes.
"Since the election, we have seen career bureaucrats and left-wing politicians [emphasis mine] on the federal and state levels working with secular-progressive activists to derail any progress made to restore religious liberty protections on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, freedom of conscience, and a host of other issues."
And then, "The plans of secular progressives to continue their assault on people of faith were stopped—but only by a slim margin."
And..., "The Scripture tells us that our spiritual enemy, the devil, seeks to steal, kill and destroy. His work has escalated around the world and, sad to say, many of our politicians have supported the progressive secular movement. Our country is darker and more godless. Meanwhile, secular progressives have tried to redefine God to justify the LGBTQ agenda, anti-God and anti-family ideology, and a culture of death that promotes abortion and euthanasia."
And finally, there's this: "The freedom to preach the lifesaving Gospel of Jesus Christ and to live our lives for Him is under attack like never before, and we must stand together and make sure we vote. I’m not telling you who to vote for—you ask God about that. But be sure to vote. Stand and be counted. Pray like never before. And then go to the polls and vote for candidates who support religious freedom and whose views align with Biblical values."
He doesn't want to tell you which party to vote for. No, that's up to you and the Lord...who Graham would imply is watching, judging, and prepping the hellfire, but you go ahead and vote your conscience. He's not telling you who to vote for because he already told you who to vote for. The stakes couldn't be higher.
And the Catholic Church too
Next, I want to briefly mention a decades-long criminal conspiracy involving high-ranking officials who were operating a child sex ring. No, I'm not talking about Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, but the Catholic Church. If you haven't been following the latest sex abuse story coming out of Pennsylvania, you should be. It's a horrifying tale of abuse, complicity, and conspiracy to hide the evidence of pedophile priests who used positions of authority to abuse children.
Perhaps most disturbing, Church leadership knew it was happening and did little more than engage in an elaborate coverup. In fact, there's a Wikipedia page dedicated to the thousands of sex abuse scandals from around the world that have rocked the Catholic Church over the years. It's never a good thing when your church has a Wikipedia page to keep track of its child sex abuse cases.
Here are just a few horrifying tidbits from the Grand Jury's indictment. Brace yourselves, this will piss you off. (Note: Full Grand Jury indictment is here)
- Credible evidence that 300 "predator priests" abused at least 1000 children in 6 of Pennsylvania's dioceses. These numbers represent only the known cases.
- "Make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say "rape"; say "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues."
- "Don't conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work."
- "Even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults."
- "If a predator's conduct becomes known to the community, don't remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser."
"Finally and above all, don't tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don't treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, "in house."
That's just from the first three pages of the indictment. The next 874 pages describe in painful and uncomfortable detail not only the sexual abuse but the concerted effort by Church leadership to hide it. Many of these abusers were never held accountable, and sometimes even retired with Church pensions.
Well, as one diocese put it, "the experience will not necessarily be a horrendous trauma."
Sure it won't, not necessarily. Keep in mind, this is only Pennsylvania. Think about it, if this was the standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania, what was it like everywhere else? What about the other 49 states and 30+ countries where Catholic priests operate? This is just the tip of the iceberg.
You might say that I'm cherry-picking my villains, that I'm missing all the quiet Christian virtue that does not make the headlines. Fair enough. But, unfortunately, the biggest mouths end up defining a movement. When Franklin Graham says one thing but means another; when he has one standard for the Clintons and another for the Trumps because it's politically expedient, good people notice.
When Pastor Creflo Dollar needs $64 million for a new jet because we're told that's what God wants, good people notice. Same thing when Pastor Jesse Duplantis claimed he had a conversation with Jesus who told him to raise $54 million for another new private jet. Good people notice.
Who would have thought God and Mammon would make such a cute couple? And when a respected religious institution like the Catholic Church shelters priests who rape kids, and does so not just once, but over, and over, and over again, good people notice.
The last fifteen years have seen the rise of 'The Nones,' or those who identify as non-religious. According to Pew Research, that number stands at 23% of the population, up from only 16% back in 2007. For those born after 1981, that number is over 34%, hinting that this demographic wave has not yet crested.
One of the main reasons for this shift is the distaste at the mix of religion and politics that we've witnessed since the 1980s. Franklin Graham's crusade comes at a considerable cost, he's winning battles but losing the war. And the Catholic Church may have hidden its grotesque sins for decades, but judgment day is at hand.
The saddest part about this is that the most Christ-like Christians among you are also the quietest, the most humble, and the least likely to bring attention to yourselves for the good works you do. In other words, you practice what Christ preached in Matthew 6. That's praiseworthy. Sadly, however, in many prominent cases, your shepherds have turned out to be wolves. To those of you that fall into this category of quiet, humble virtue, I'm sorry you've been so poorly led.
Finally, I want to end by throwing out a crazy hypothesis. Our society is secularizing, that is undeniable, not so much because of any LGBTQ campaign to "queerify" the youth, or because of some vague secular-humanist-atheist agenda, but because the values that many of America's religious leaders espouse are hypocritical, corrupt, and morally bankrupt.
What do these guys even stand for anymore? Getting rich? Getting power? Getting off? That moral high ground they bragged about turned out to be a dung heap. In many cases, these leaders have become morally indistinguishable from the philistine values they claim to despise. Many evangelical Christians used to proudly call themselves the Moral Majority. Today, they are neither.
At some point, people like Franklin Graham decided that in order to preserve the myth of a virtuous Christian America, some moral compromises would have to be made in the political sphere. They traded their values for the win and their moral credibility for a few Supreme Court justices.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, chose moral cowardice over accountability and will face a reckoning for doing so. They traded the innocence of the children under their charge for the good reputation of the Church. Now both are in tatters. Every parent will now look askance at their priest.
And so the shambling horde of 'Nones' will continue to advance, not because of any emerging alternative, but because of the nihilism of today's religious right.
To answer my initial question: Can immoral means achieve moral ends?
Maybe. But at what cost?
We're going to find out soon enough.