Social media doesn’t usually shock me, but it got me this week. I was genuinely taken aback by the bile and viciousness I saw toward Billy Graham and his family from progressives, especially LGBT progressives. What I saw in dozens of tweets from accounts with shiny blue checkmarks was hatred of the simplest and most unembarrassed kind. It bothered me, not least because it threw me: This is Billy Graham we’re talking about. Not a politician, not a culture warrior. Is it even possible to be meeker and milder as a Christian than Billy Graham was, and still actually believe the gospel?
Ruth Graham (no relation), a progressive journalist at Slate, admits she “winced” at these tweets too. But, she says, she probably shouldn’t. After all, Graham kinda sorta maybe deserved it:
I can’t defend Graham’s tone-deaf forays into LGBTQ issues, though he wasn’t nearly as concerned with the issue as many of his peers. He was arguably ahead of most white pastors on the racial conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s, but certainly no crusader. He was caught on tape denigrating Jews in the Oval Office during the Nixon administration. Ninety-nine years on Earth provides a lot of time for growth and self-reflection, and Graham eventually apologized for these moral errors. But he never flipped around and became an activist with sustained attention to social justice. No one is obligated to forgive him.
Read that carefully. Billy Graham’s sin, in the end, was that he never became a progressive. And for that reason, “no one is obligated to forgive him,” and we ought not shame those who eulogize him with “Have fun in hell, <expletive>.”
What unsettles me about the modern progressive movement is its spite. I have used this space and other spaces to hold conservatives accountable for their spite and hatefulness. But I’m honestly not sure if there are any progressives doing the same for their side. When even Slate’s Graham-sympathetic eulogizers are making moral equivocations in the service of vile sentiments toward a bereaved family, I have to wonder whether the woke Left has any prophetic voices left within its own tribe.
And this is another example why I continue to struggle with the idea that progressives are as upset as they are at Trump and the Republican Party simply because they’re that bad. Every time I am close to accepting that this is true, I see something that makes me think that the vicious polarization in American political culture would be happening right now even if it were Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney in the White House. Ruth Graham’s apologia for hatefulness is evidence of that. I’m seeing more evidence every day.
By happy coincidence, Jon Ward has a piece today on evangelical Eric Metaxas and his enthusiastic Trump support, which has alienated some of his fellow evangelicals. Here’s how Ward concludes the piece:
In normal times, friends of Metaxas who disagreed with him politically would consider it barely more than a nuisance — easily overlooked in light of their many shared beliefs, and even more so because of Metaxas’ ebullient and mirthful personality.
The human instinct, often, is to find a way to make peace. But Trump is so disturbing to many that they cannot bring themselves to simply shrug it off and move on, as much as they’d like to. Some, in fact, told me privately that they find their friendship with him frayed and maybe even broken.
Read the above two paragraphs again, and then go search “Billy Graham” on Twitter, and then re-read Ruth Graham’s paragraph. If Billy Graham‘s memory is the catalyst for such excoriating hatefulness, and if the task of our journalists is to justify that hatefulness instead of shaming it, are we really supposed to believe that the fraying of friendships over politics is ultimately about how awful Trump is? Or could it be about how awful we’ve become?