Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons Learned from Franklin Graham and the Pentagon's National Day of Prayer

This article was originally published by Technorati on 23 April 2010. To see all my Technorati articles, click Lifestyle in the Contents listing on the sidebar.

Well it looks like the Franklin Graham-Pentagon National Day of Prayer imbroglio is over. After complaints from Muslim participants and a formal objection by a religious rights group, the Pentagon Chaplain's Office disinvited Graham from the May 6th service.

Perhaps the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes the yearly Pentagon event, acted unwisely in selecting as its Honorary Chairman Graham, who has called Islam an "evil and wicked religion"; has said Muslims are "enslaved by their religion"; and has confirmed his opinion yet again that he believe that Islam is "just horrid."

The decision was especially ill-taken, given that the National Day of Prayer is meant to be an ecumenical endeavor.

In a 2001 Wall Street Journal op-ed submission, Graham defended his post-911 reference to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion" by expressing his conviction that as a minister he feels obliged to "speak out against the terrible deeds that are committed as a result of Islamic teaching."

Without touching on the inaccuracy of this statement, one might ask a more pertinent question: why? Why does Reverend Graham deem it necessary to speak out again Islam at all?

The antipathy that Baptist ministers feel toward Islam is already well-known. Does he really believe that his full-frontal attack upon the ramparts of this stately old castle of a religion will bloody anyone but himself? Will it win any converts?

Perhaps, rather, Graham is playing to his base? He isn't a politician. He doesn't need to do that.

But these opinions were rendered just after 9/11. In the aftermath of that gut-wrenching attack, such hyperbole could easily be forgiven with just the slightest olive branch.

But Graham chose to come out fighting: "I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb, don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone." And then there was that word "horrid."

Our egos get us into trouble when we become overly identified with our own opinions, as if they are fellow soldiers with us in life's foxhole--we die together.

The trick is to dis-identify from those opinions. It's fine to have opinions, everybody does, but we don't need to go around expressing them, especially if they're negative. The old adage, "If you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all," has no pulpit exclusion.

And it shouldn't cause anyone any pain when someone else disagrees with our opinions. As Eckhart Tolle puts it in his book A New Earth, "In Zen they say: 'Don't seek the truth. Just cease to cherish opinions.'"

Zen or not, this is good advice for Baptists too. But those among us of religious inclination are particularly given to a live-or-die attitude about any position touching upon the faith. It's unnecessary. If we know God, it's in a personal way quite separate from our opinions about God, all of which will be sorted out in the life to come.

Tolle also has some advice about religions and the ego. He says, "If you believe only your religion is the Truth, you are using it in service to the ego. Used in such a way, religion becomes ideology and creates an illusory sense of superiority as well as division and conflict between people."

This is precisely what we're seeing as a result of Graham's statements.

Virtually every religion has this built-in feature, that it is the one true religion. Come to your own conclusion on this issue as you choose.

But if it's true, then it's true. We'll find out who's right in the next life. Until then, it's an opinion. We need not spout it indiscriminately.

The better tack is to let our lives speak for themselves because divisive statements like Graham's probably won't win any converts anyway.

Photo Credit: Romanian Television Network

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