If you noticed the flag at the State Office Building in Wailuku was flying at half-staff on Friday, Mar. 2 and wondered what was up, it was to honor the late Reverend Billy Graham. The 99-year-old evangelical preacher died on Feb. 21, and Governor David Ige–acting “at the direction of the President of the United States,” according to a Mar. 1 statement from his office–ordered the tribute to Graham at all State of Hawaii agencies and offices “as a mark of respect for the memory of Reverend Billy Graham.”
Spare me. Graham may have been popular with American evangelicals, but he was also a polarizing, extremely political figure who articulated very strong views against homosexuality. “Let me say this loud and clear! We traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare,” Graham told to a young woman who wrote to him in 1974, saying that she was in love with another woman, according to John Paul Brammer’s Feb. 22 NBC News story “Billy Graham leaves a painful legacy for LGBTQ people.”
Sometimes, Graham’s views on homosexuality got the best of him. According to Brammer, in 1993, Graham told more than 44,000 people gathered in Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Graham quickly apologized for those comments, but he never retracted his anti-homosexuality views.
Look, I’m not a believer, but many Christians who do believe don’t hold up Graham as someone deserving of honor. On Feb. 24, Reverend Broderick Greer of Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver wrote his own essay for NBC News on Graham. Titled “Billy Graham’s legacy is the evangelical pursuit of politics instead of Jesus,” Greer offered a thoughtful but harsh assessment of Graham’s true achievements.
“Under Graham and other evangelical leaders’ watch, white evangelical Protestantism has evolved into a hyper-nationalistic, militaristic and xenophobic corner of American Christianity,” Greer wrote. “That is unfortunately one of the byproducts of his ministry: It is less about his followers’ personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and more the domination they try to extend in God’s name.”
Photo of President Ronald Reagan giving Billy Graham Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/Wikimedia Commons