Yes, We have a Decision, America

A Response Statement from Moral Movement Tennessee to Franklin Graham’s ‘Decision America Tour 2017’ Recently Launched in Our State

May 17, 2017

On Monday, our brother Franklin Graham began his series of rallies in Tennessee that will continue from Chattanooga to Memphis until Sunday. Publications for the event state that he will share “the good news of Jesus Christ at each prayer rally.” We find our communities in need of ‘the good news’ at a time of exasperated anxiety and fears from political divisions. However, if Monday’s rally in Chattanooga provided any indication, we are compelled as local clergy and faith leaders to ask why the good news Franklin Graham preached sounds so different than that of Jesus. 

Jesus’ gospel starts in Luke 4:18, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” In its original greek the word poor in this text can directly be translated as ‘ptóchos,’ those who have been made poor by economic exploitation. It is this public agenda of Jesus that moved us as clergy and concerned citizens to act on our faith last month, during Holy week, to be arrested in the Governor’s office pushing for the expansion of Medicaid to 280,000 of our neighbors without access to healthcare. It is also this gospel that starts with preaching good news to the poor that led many of the over 100 Tennesseans to hold vigil outside our Senator’s house just yesterday after clergy were locked out of his district office when trying to deliver a statement of concern about the thousands in our communities at risk of being impacted by extreme policies in Congress. Franklin Graham spent much time at his rally discussing faith and politics, a topic we would welcome further dialogue with our brother on, but we take pause in those who preach the gospel and contemporary social issues without discussing healthcare for the poor and sick, living wages for workers, fairness in the criminal justice system, quality public education for all children, and equal protection under the law. 

Instead, Franklin Graham used his prayer rally in Chattanooga to champion President Donald Trump as a defender of religious liberty and even went as far as to say “He did everything wrong, offended almost every people group, but I believe he won because of God... He wanted him in that position and [Trump’s] going to stay in that position until [God’s] vision is complete.” Just like the National Day of Prayer Franklin Graham and others participated in at the Rose Garden a few weeks ago, we find such declarations tobe nothing more than part of the larger spectacle of idolatry and power dressed in thinning religious garb. This is not the prayer that the God of the Bible hears. 

American history is filled with religious voices on both sides of our great public debates. Abolitionists cited the Bible as they preached about slavery; slave-holding plantation owners paid preachers to refute them with other verses from the same Bible. A century and a half ago, as he led the faith-rooted struggle against slavery in America, Frederick Douglass wrote, "Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked." So we know that while the antebellum theology of Franklin Graham and others is rooted deep in the American fabric, it does not represent the God who hears those prayers. In Exodus, when God first spoke to Moses, the voice from the burning bush said, “I have seen the oppression of my people… I have heard their prayers.” The God of justice hears the cries of those suffering from poverty and homelessness, those who are denied access to health care, those who face the brutality of racial violence, those excluded because of sexual orientation, and all those who continue to be pushed to the margins of our society by political extremists in our state legislature and Washington D.C.  We invite and hold out hope that brother Franklin Graham might join us in the work of acting on faith in Tennessee’s public square as we continue building a moral movement that is diverse and focused on anti-poverty and pro-justice issues in state. The decision before us is clear-- uphold religious nostalgia that aligns itself with oppression or take up the call Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made in his final speech in Memphis, Tennessee almost 50 years ago, “to make America what it ought to be.” 

In faith,

Bishop Melvin Talbert                                    
Nashville, TN                                                  

Rev. Ken Edwards                                        
Mount Juliet, TN                                              

Justin Jones                                                     
Nashville, TN                                                   

Rev. Gordon Myers                                        
Arlington, TN                                                   

Ellen McPherson                                            
Nashville, TN                                                   

Rev. Morgan Gordy                                          
Franklin, TN                                                     

Rev. Herbert Lester
Nashville, TN

Rev. Edward Wolff
Jonesborough, TN

Sophia Agtarap
Brentwood, TN

Rev. Ingrid McIntyre   
Nashville, TN

Rev. David Kidd
Nashville, TN

Gayle Ray
Nashville, TN

Rev. Stephen Handy   
Nashville, TN

Rev. Dr. Matthew Kelley
Franklin, TN

Rev. Chris Buice
Knoxville, TN

Rev. Laura McMasters
Pulaski, TN

Lenda Sherrell
Mounteagle, TN

Rev. Joseph Breen
Nashville, TN