FIRST-PERSON: Franklin Graham: a good balance between charity & plain speaking

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)--Along with other media types, those in the publishing industry speak of edge. Some magazines have it; some don't.

Let me explain. A magazine with edge is inclined to offend. It expresses strong opinions on inflammatory issues. You think immediately of such political journals as National Review, The Nation and New Republic. Magazines with little or no edge are more focused on happy talk, feel-good features and perky observations. Saturday Evening Post, Christmas Ideals and Martha Stewart publications come to mind here.

You find this distinction in the ministry. Paul had edge. Barnabas didn't. Of course, it's a matter of degree and timing. Paul could say sweet things in his epistles, and his Mars Hill message made appreciative reference to the listeners' culture. On the other hand, Barnabas was probably a little edgy in arguing with Paul over John Mark's worth to the missionary cause. But, on balance, Paul was more offensive than Barnabas. And the church needs both temperaments, both warriors and diplomats, if you will.

Those who watched the Sept. 14 prayer service in the National Cathedral heard Billy Graham say, "We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be.... The Bible says that he is `the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.'" Graham spoke here as a Barnabas, a "son of encouragement." Not much edge.

On the other hand, his son Franklin Graham spoke elsewhere in an edgier, more Pauline voice: "We're not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." And under fire, he has not backed down. Graham has simply added, "It is not my calling to analyze Islam or any other religions, though I recognize that all religions have differences. In the past, I have expressed my concerns about the teachings of Islam regarding the treatment of women and the killing of non-Muslims or infidels."

Which is right? Both, of course. Whom would you toss out of the early church, Paul or Barnabas? Neither, of course. But I would note that God used Paul rather than Barnabas to write Scripture. And while we can appreciate the father Graham's diplomacy, we must also cherish the edgier voice of Graham the younger.

Of course, you don't know Franklin Graham if you don't know the great outpouring of mercy through Samaritan's Purse. Through it each year, he helps channel tens of millions of dollars to the sick and hungry. And in these next months, his Operation Christmas Child will flood the world's children with gift boxes of toys and school and personal hygiene supplies. Many of the recipients will be Muslim. But Franklin Graham has not let beneficence trump plain speaking.

There is no doubt that the world prefers a Barnabas to a Paul. And I think we might say the church today shares that preference. So, while appreciating our Barnabases, we must also stand with our embattled Pauls. They may not be politically correct, but that has never been the church's calling.


Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.comeletusreason.com and www.listten.com.

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