At least Judas got 30 pieces of silver. Franklin Graham got a tax cut and the promise of a border wall.
Some may consider it unfair, likening the tragic villain of the Bible to Billy Graham’s controversial son. And no, their sins are not alike. Judas handed Jesus over to his enemies, then killed himself in anguished repentance. Graham is just a fervent supporter of Donald Trump.
But for all the surface dissimilarity of their deeds, the two men are ultimately guilty of the same transgression. Meaning betrayal. And here it must be said in the spirit of Christian humility that Graham is hardly the only one. As flawed and fallible human beings, every Christian at some point betrays Jesus. That’s what forgiveness is for.
But here it also must be said in the spirit of simple truth-telling that white evangelicals like Graham have been particularly prolific — and shameless — in that regard where Trump is concerned. He’s a racist, misogynistic braggart and bully who gloated about sexual assault, apparently cheated on his wife with a porn star, could not name a favorite Bible verse nor correctly pronounce the name of one of the best known books in The Book.
Yet white evangelicals — Graham prominent among them — embraced this swaggering sybarite and accepted him as a Christian. Trump, Graham once told an interviewer, “defends the faith.” Pete Buttigieg? Not so much. Last week, Graham attacked the South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential aspirant in a series of Twitter rants like the following:
“Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman — not two men, not two women.”
To spend any time listening to the Trump faithful is to live in perpetual cognitive dissonance. It is to hear Melania complain about cyber bullies or Don Jr. lament the loss of civility and to marvel at their ability to maintain straight faces. And yes, one feels the same when Graham questions Buttigieg’s faith after defending Trump’s.
But one also feels something else: a too-familiar sense of Christianity — white, conservative Christianity, at least — once again standing athwart onrushing change with its hand up yelling, “Stop!” They did it when Martin Luther King preached of his dream, when Betty Friedan decided she’d had enough, when Harvey Milk demanded the right to be. They are doing it again now. And you have to wonder:
Don’t they ever get tired of being wrong? Don’t they ever get tired of being the last ones to get it?
There is no shortage of scholarly exegesis reconciling homosexuality and faith for those who want it — “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines, for instance. So we won’t litigate that question here. No, the question that bears asking is: In their need for a strongman to make change stop, why were white evangelicals so willing to throw Christ himself aside? The answer may be that they never really knew Him to begin with.
He, after all, told them — told us — to visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger and give to the poor. One does not find those values reflected in the niggardly and narcissistic soul of Donald Trump. In fact, one finds them mocked and, yes, betrayed.
Franklin Graham and other putative Christians have enabled this. In so doing, they backstab the faith they claim. For a tax cut and the promise of a border wall? Maybe they consider that a good price, but they should know there is no such thing.
As Judas would surely agree.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.