Franklin Graham's foolish mercy mission.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 11 2003 6:23 PM

Jesus in Baghdad

Why we should keep Franklin Graham out of Iraq.

(Continued from Page 1)

Some, like the highly respected Michael Cromartie, director of evangelical studies for the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, may argue that such interference would endanger a fundamental American principle. "Religious liberty and religious freedom trump other concerns," Cromartie says. "And it is not the job of the Bush administration to tell private relief agencies which countries they can and cannot enter."

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In fact, religious liberty does not trump all concerns. Among the concerns it does not trump is the safety of our soldiers and the desire not to have the entire Muslim world wanting to wage war against America. And make no mistake: Franklin Graham's mission to Iraq will help convince the Arab world that America is out to convert Muslims to Christianity. What Graham is doing probably isn't illegal; it's merely immoral.

The administration's sudden fastidiousness about civil liberties has everything to do with who Franklin Graham is: not only a friend of Bush's, but, along with his supporters and the Southern Baptist Convention, arguably the largest and most loyal voting bloc in Bush's re-election strategy. And so Bush refuses to do unto Franklin Graham as was done unto Sister Souljah. This is cowardly. To be fair—or maybe to be generous—Bush may be leaving Graham alone because he thinks that Samaritan's Purse does good humanitarian work and that's what the Iraqis need most desperately. And I do believe that half of Graham's motivation is genuinely to help feed people—the other half being the desire to save the souls of some Muslims by helping them find Jesus before they die of thirst.

There is a way Graham can help Iraqis without hurting America. He could organize a national fund-raising effort to help Iraqi families and pledge that all funds will be distributed by a neutral group like Mercy Corps, Save the Children, or Doctors Without Borders. Better yet, he could give the money to the Red Crescent. Imagine the photo of Franklin Graham—and George Bush—handing over a check, generated by gifts of millions of Christians, standing in front of a great big Islamic crescent. This would not only help the Iraqis in the aftermath of the war, but could improve interfaith tolerance.

Though it frightens me to engage in a battle-of-the-Bible-verses with Franklin Graham, I do have to point out that when Jesus was sending forth his disciples to preach the word, he pointedly told them to stay away from Gentiles and out of Samaria because the Gentiles/Samarians would not welcome the message (Matthew 10:5). There would be a time for that, he seemed to be saying—but not now.

Steven Waldman is editor in chief ofBeliefnet, the leading multifaith spirituality and religion Web site.

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