Remembering Billy Graham - the Homophobe Who Questioned AIDS As Judgment of God
Presidents and former Presidents all engaged on social media today to honor the televangist Billy Graham, who passed away at the age of 99. From Trump to Clinton and even to Obama, his praises were sung for being a great religious leader who has supported Nelson Mandela and the Civil Rights Movement, while ushering in the rise of evangelicals across the nation. However, missing from all these tributes is the other half of the truth about Mr. Graham, who also used his vast religious following to spew theological violence against the most marginalized communities.
“Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure but I think so,” said Billy Graham back in 1993 during the height of the AIDS epidemic that caused the death of millions of people globally at that point. It was a time when the world continued to fight for a cure.
Of course, like many who get called when using their own voice as that of God’s, he backtracked, stating: “l don't believe that and I don't know why I said it. I remember saying it, and I immediately regretted it and almost went back and clarified the statement… God stands in judgment of all sins, but AIDS is a disease that affects people, and is not part of that judgment. To say that God has judged people with AIDS would be very wrong and cruel. I would like to say that I am very sorry for what I said.”
We all know why he said it. He uttered the words that many in the Christian community believed as they, themselves, turned away much of the community that was infected by HIV and dying of AIDS during that time. The church was not a safe haven. Billy Graham played right into the projection that HIV was more of a “gay man’s disease,” and used his rhetoric to serve his anti-LGBTQ agenda. Whether overtly or covertly, it has been no secret that Graham’s method of the Gospel and Christianity only spoke to those who were heterosexual and willing to abide by the patriarchal system of men being dominant over women, and LGBTQ people being sin.
Throughout Graham’s career he was none too shy about his feelings on homosexuality. According to Pink News, “The preacher, who met with 12 U.S. Presidents spanning 60 years, preached that homosexuality is ‘detestable’ and ‘a sinister form of perversion’ contributing to the decay of civilization – and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association continues to advocate gay ‘cure’ therapy on its website.”
Even as recently as 2012, Graham at the age of 93 was a public supporter of an anti-marriage equality measure proposed in his state of North Carolina. "The Bible is clear — God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8," he had said.
It is painful to watch so many people who claim to be advocates of the LGBTQ community be the first to uplift and support a homophobe at his death. The inability to discuss how his rhetoric has caused more harm than good continues to hurt a community that has struggled to find safety within Christianity. Many of us have had some rough experiences with our sexuality and trying to find a home for our religious and spiritual beliefs. Although many churches have become more accepting of lives outside of the hetero-normative life, the praise in Billy Graham’s death is a reminder of how much more work needs to be done between the community of religion and sexual and gender identity.
I won’t be among those mourning the death of the late Billy Graham. However, I will choose this time to continue to fight against those who are called upon to be leaders of the congregation who use theology as a tool to hurt some of the most oppressed communities.