I feel mixed about Billy Graham’s passing and his legacy, though mostly negative. A good handful of my gay Pagan friends have expressed understandable disdain for him and what he leaves behind, given how he spoke hatefully about homosexuality. Unfortunately, Graham’s son is even worse, another dime-a-dozen, polarizing evangelical hater we can do without. Thinking realistically, I strongly suspect the son won’t change, much as some are surely naively wishing he will be “inspired” to be more like his father. I have one friend on Facebook who wrote this as a wish before they then deleted the post after I filled them in about Graham’s stance on gays.
When you are actually a member of a group that is spoken of so hatefully, it’s different than being an ally of that group, no matter how well-meaning you are as that ally. A gun pointed at one’s own head is different feeling than when it is pointed at your friend’s, much as the latter is painful and enraging to witness. Allies can only empathize and understand up to a point. Hence, I would have to be self-hating in the deepest way to block out feeling my own and the collective pain of my gay brothers right now to then somehow “rise above” and speak respectfully of Billy Graham. For my own self respect and integrity and for that of my fellow gay men, I just can’t.
That all said, speaking from the concept of relativity placed along a spectrum of “bad to absolute worst,” I do wish all evangelicals were more like Rev. Graham, who was “bad” behaving as opposed to “worse” or “the worst” among all the offenders of such social and (un)spiritual conduct. For he too adhered to the sticky wicket of hating on us gays in the name of being “true” to the Bible and its teachings. Such extreme, troubled thinking and speaking has been a big part of visible, vocal “spiritual” expression in the U.S.A.– by Graham and his generally even more intolerant ilk. Billy was accepting of other faiths and races, as I heard liberal Christian apologists say on public radio earlier today, and they are right, of course. But, yet again, that leaves just us homosexuals as the token pariahs or “filth,” one group among the masses, the rest all to be loved by “good Christians.” So, Graham was part-way to decency, which still left him short of full arrival there. Logically, how was he completely a “good Christian” then when Christ himself preached to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” leaving no group of people, including gays, to be left out of that admonition? Expecting me to praise Graham would be like expecting a black person to think and speak kindly of an inherently racist leader upon that leader’s death, even though said leader had expressed and done goodness in so many other ways. The white, heterosexist patriarchy holds its haters close and dear, including Graham. After all, it’s “just gay people” and nobody else.
It’s simply too soon to expect those of us who were direct targets of Graham’s deeply hurtful beliefs and words about us to “get over” this. Healing takes time. Maybe someday I will have more positive things to say about this old preacher, maybe, though maybe not– regardless of how healed I and my brethren have become over this spiritual level of toxic shaming Graham participated in doing. Ultimately, I trust and hope, Graham will have to account for that somehow in the after life now that he’s shed his mortal coil. Regardless, his relevancy for me and my fellow queers is fast-fading away, and therein lies the healing.
I feel very similarly about the current Pope as I do about Graham, except maybe a little softer towards the former because he seems to be wrestling a bit with his beliefs against gays, perhaps. The Pope in his position is the gentlest of “bad” compared to his “absolute worst” predecessors, and for that I am guardedly thankful. On other fronts these days, there interweaves a network of far more hardcore, villainous-behaving leaders and followers who we GLBTQ+, other minorities, women, and disenfranchised/vulnerable groups of people are up against. We need to do all we can to neutralize them from power as peacefully as possible.
Reflecting on Billy Graham’s legacy, I am reminded how organized religion has not done well by me or my gay brethren. This has been particularly the case for Abrahamic faith institutions– though filled as they are with wonderful, loving individuals. Hence, this is a big reason why I am not a member of such an organization. I worship the gods alone and in small groups, making my way on rare occasion to a local Unitarian Universalist Church, where I take the best, leave the rest, and am accepted, at least formally, as I truly am, a gay Pagan.