Monday, April 23, 2007

Missing the Boat

It's been a while since I've commented on a Billy Graham article. Readers who note that I only seem to mention him when I disagree with him won't realize that I actually have enormous respect for what he's accomplished in the name of Christ. Still, there are certainly times when I wish he would handle issues just a little bit differently.

Here's an example from last week (click the link for the full article):
Q: I know you won't agree, but I believe every generation needs to make up its own mind what is wrong and what is right. After all, there are lots of things that people used to think were wrong that are widely accepted today. — C.P.

A: Dear C.P.,
It's true that our society tolerates ways of behavior today that would have been rejected a few generations ago—but does that make them right? Or can we honestly say we live in a better world because of them? For example, would anyone honestly argue that the widespread breakdown of the family today is a good thing? I doubt it.

The Bible tells us that God has told us what is wrong and what is right—and the older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom of those unchanging moral truths. Think, for example, of the Ten Commandments (which you will find in Exodus 20:1-17). They tell us to honor both God and our parents, and to avoid murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting what doesn't belong to us. They form the foundation of a stable society, and when we ignore them, both our lives and our society will suffer.
As with most of Graham's responses, my issues aren't so much with the doctrinal issues Graham raises, and more with how he responds to the question. Instead of what he wrote here, highlighting the "widespread breakdown of the family," why didn't Graham grant that the person asking the question had actually made a very good point? For example, slavery used to be widely practiced, and even sanctioned by the church. Now, there is almost universal agreement that slavery is not only "sinful," but an evil practice that we should be ashamed is a part of our history.

Why not grant that our perception of "right and wrong" can change over time, even while holding to "eternal truths"? By granting what the questioner has right, you put him/her in a more favorable state of mind to listen to the points at which you may still disagree, and a dialogue is engaged. Why can't we (as evangelicals, not just Graham) work more toward an active dialogue with those we disagree with? It's not like everything a non-Christian says must be wrong, simply because a non-Christian said it!


  1. And then too, since Rousseau (if not before) there's been a philosophical contingent who actually does argue that the "widespread breakdown of the family" is indeed a good thing.

    But you're right: C.P. made a good point, and failing to acknowledge that—and then asking rhetorical questions which really aren't as open-and-shut as Graham might think—end up weakening the force of his answer.

  2. I'm not familiar enough with Rousseau to comment, but will certainly concede that "widespread breakdown of the family" tends to be used as a Christainese code, implying a whole package of things that don't necessarily entail all the evils that Christians often suggest they do.

    I may or not agree about the positive or negative repercussions of such a "breakdown." I expect we'd need to define our terms.

    But that wasn't even the point, as you already noted. Even assuming that Graham is right that "breakdown" is a bad thing, he didn't handle the response to the question as well as he could have, in my opinion.



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