Reading a Web transcript of Franklin Graham's remarks to a Christian
conference on AIDS, I thought of a relative of mine. I'll call her "Cousin
Like Graham and his famous father, Billy, Cousin Pittypat identifies
herself as an evangelical Christian. This term gets tossed around a lot in and
out of the diverse evangelical movement, but it is rarely accompanied by the
In the "Oxford Companion to Christian Thought," Fuller Theological Seminary
Professor Robert K. Johnston says evangelicals range from Anabaptists to
Lutherans. In essence though, they are folks "who believe the Gospel is to be
experienced personally, defined biblically, and communicated passionately."
In Cousin Pittypat's case (not an uncommon one), these beliefs include
A few years ago, when her hero, Pat Robertson, predicted apocalypse for
Orlando, Fla., as payback for Disney World's annual Gay Days events, Cousin
Pittypat waited in righteous anticipation for a hurricane, earthquake or
terrorist attack. In 1997, when the Southern Baptist Convention called for a
boycott of all things Disney, no one shunned Mickey more enthusiastically than
Not surprising, Cousin Pittypat is also convinced that AIDS is God's
punishment for same-gender sex. Which leads me back to Franklin Graham and his
Prescription for Hope conference last month in Washington, D.C.
Born-again in a Jerusalem hotel room in the mid-1970s ("after a period of
rebellion and traveling the world"), Graham was ordained a minister in 1978.
Now 49, he is the CEO of his father's vast Billy Graham Evangelical
Association and the president of a 32-year-old charitable organization called
"Samaritan's Purse," which is named for the parable in Luke 10:25-37.
Samaritan's mission is to provide "spiritual and physical aid to hurting
people around the world," and it has a $150 million annual budget to do it.
The group's conference on AIDS drew nearly 1,000 people (one of whom was U.S.
Sen. Jesse Helms, but we'll skip that for now) from 80 countries. Here are
some of Graham's opening remarks:
"If Jesus Christ were here today, we would find him showing love,
compassion and his healing power to those infected by this horrible disease."
Even more stunning: "I would suggest to you tonight that HIV/AIDS is a
plague of biblical proportions and we should attack it with the same level of
commitment, zeal, money and resources that we have rightly applied toward
combatting international terrorism."
Speaking to the homophobic Christian, Graham said, "Regardless of how (HIV)
is contracted, we should demonstrate the same love, compassion and care that
Jesus Christ would if he were physically walking among us today . . . As the
church of Jesus Christ, we must reach out with open arms in love,
encouragement and compassion rather than condemnation."
Alluding to more than just-say-no, Graham included education in his six-
point plan of action.
"We should do all we can to give people a fighting chance. Knowledge is
power," he said.
Meanwhile, government should work with Christian ministries to "provide
tangible, physical assistance" to people infected with HIV or AIDS. Said
"Let's reach out in ways we've never reached out before and demonstrate
with actions -- not just words -- that we care for others because God cares.
The 40 million infected with HIV are 40 million souls. The Bible tells us that
every soul is precious in the sight of God. Shouldn't they also be precious in
Are you listening, Cousin Pittypat? All the rest of you Cousin Pittypats
out there? That's one of your guys, doing what he says Jesus commands him to
do. I believe you call it "preaching The Good News."
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle