The difference between Jesus and God

GodBless2Cathy Grossman has a profile of Franklin Graham in USA Today. It's a really thorough and conversational piece that contrasts Franklin with his more famous father, Billy:

Billy Graham, who told the world everyone would be welcome in heaven if they just walked God's way, retired after his June crusade in New York.

Now comes the controversial son, who never fails to say Jesus is the only way.

Did you catch that? I'm convinced Grossman can't write about the Grahams without describing the father as inclusive and the son as exclusive.

Here's a passage from her story last May, headlined "The gospel of Billy Graham: Inclusion":

Franklin, however, has a more exclusive view of where and how to share the faith. Billy Graham always prayed "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" at nine presidential swearing-in ceremonies or related events.

But Franklin caused a stir by praying at George W. Bush's first inauguration "in Jesus' name."

I remember this passage because I found it so interesting that praying in the name of the Triune God could be considered inclusive and yet mentioning Jesus -- just one part of the Triune God -- was exclusive.

I don't think anyone would disagree that Franklin has a different style than his father, but I really am not sure that the examples she cites show a different understanding of either the exclusivity or inclusivity of Christ.

It turns out I'm not the only person who feels this way. This is from this year's article:

Franklin objects to his media image as the "exclusive" counterpart to Billy's image of "inclusion," although the only way visitors will be able to enter the library is through doors cut into a three-story glass cross on the end of the building.

"You have to go through the cross," he says, again with that crinkle-eyed smile. . . .

Americans of every faith -- and none -- were accustomed to Billy Graham, who used more inclusive language at civic events, such as Lord, God, Father, than he did at crusades intended for winning souls to Christ.

pledgegodIt wasn't until I got to this part of the story that I realized what was going on. Grossman is pointing out, possibly without realizing it, that Billy Graham was the master practitioner of two religions -- the Christian religion, in which he ran crusades and worked as an evangelist, and the civil religion, in which he supported the state by praying with presidents and marking sad and happy national events.

In civil religious ceremonies it is considered rather gauche to mention that you believe your fellow countrymen's souls are in eternal jeopardy. That's because the job of civil religionists is to unite the country behind shared values like patriotism. Like it or not, the cross of Christ is not a shared value of Americans. At civil religious events, the gathered pray to or acknowledge an anonymous, generic, all-purpose God who blesses Americans more than any other people. Civil religion also honors the country's military and remembers the saints (usually presidents) who went before. The Pledge of Allegiance is a good example of civil religion. Despite the love affair some Christians have with it, it is not in any way distinguishably Christian. The battles over whether to recite the pledge -- with the dreadfully imprecise God phrase -- are battles over civil religion.

A guide for journalists trying to understand the issue mentions the importance of not getting doctrinally specific when using civil religion in inaugural events:

It is crucial that presidents never mention "Jesus" or "Christ" in this context, which would cross the line from civil religion into sacral religion. American civil religion transcends denomination and religious affiliation. The "Almighty" of civil religion could be Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Even Wiccans might feel kinship with Jefferson's "Nature's God." Strict atheists, however, would be alienated.

So there you go. It would be good for reporters to help readers see the distinction between Christianity, other religions and civil religion when making the case about exclusivity or inclusivity.

Please respect our Commenting Policy