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You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ's authority, knowing that God is watching us. -- 2Corinthians 2: 17 (NLT)
Giving credit where it is due, the nomination and campaign of Donald Trump has had some positive benefits. It has revealed that the soft underbelly of racism, misogyny, and bigotry in this country is not as soft as we thought and on a much larger scale than anyone would have imagined. Within the church it has revealed that many Christians care more about their citizenship in Sodom than they do about their citizenship in heaven. We have discovered that Christians ascribe to Machiavellian theology that says it is ok to embrace the antitheses of Christ if it eventually may get you some perceived pious goal. It has also revealed that some of those within the Christian leadership market are not all they have appeared to be. Enter Franklin Graham.
Franklin is the son of the renowned evangelist, Billy Graham. He is the CEO of the non-profit organization Samaritan's Purse whose stated purpose is to provide spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, natural disasters, disease, famine, poverty and persecution in over 100 countries. At the same time he is the CEO for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose stated purpose is to spread the Gospel. Perhaps Franklin is best known however for being a political hack. An obvious shill for the Republican Party, Graham always finds a way to slither into politics while pretending to be above the fray. Even this year as we have seen the least Christian candidate ever in Donald Trump, Graham only sees the little "R" next to his name. I know this is anathema to many Christians because the name "Graham" is so deified but facts are stubborn little things and the facts all seem to indicate that Franklin Graham has engaged in a straightforward quid pro quo with candidate Trump. You know, "pay to play."
For those who may not have been in the 24 hour news cycle for the past few months, the term "pay to play" has been tossed around by nearly every republican spin meister in relation to the Clinton Foundation and the role Hillary served as Secretary of State. The general accusation made is that large donors to the foundation were granted favors by Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary. Thus they paid in order to get some play. Of course the way the accusations are leveled implies that the money paid went to Hillary personally. None of this is accurate of course but why let the truth get in the way of a good political talking point. The facts remain that the Clintons received no money from their charitable work on the foundation and the charity received an A rating when independently reviewed. Ninety percent of proceeds go directly to the charitable work, like providing lifesaving medications to the poorest countries in this world. You know, like the Bible says we ought to do. All of the contacts made to the Secretary were confirmed as having legitimate business with the office and no instances were found where people who had donated to the foundation received any special consideration. Nonetheless, all we have heard is pay to play, pay to play, pay to play. This week something has come to light that shows us what real pay to play looks like.
It is being reported that Donald Trump had started to plot his presidential run as far back as 2011. He had flirted with the idea for well over a decade but in 2011 he started strategically donating money through his specious foundation to influential evangelicals and conservative policy groups. He had a big problem you see. He was not a conservative. He had decades of proof of his liberal leanings and in order to stand a chance in grabbing the nomination for the Republican Party; he would need to buy some conservative street cred. While much of this is the usual way our dirty political system works, the involvement of evangelicals is especially disheartening. In 2012, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received a donation of $100,000 from the Trump Foundation. Samaritan's Purse received $25,000 the same year. Fast forward to the run up to the nomination and it was Graham, among other evangelical leaders who helped pave the way for Trump to meet with pastors and the Christian community. It was Graham who addressed the concerns about Trump's lewd past and dismissed them by chastising people that we are "all sinners." When Trump toured the devastated flood zones in Louisiana, against the local government's wishes, it was Franklin Graham leveraging Samaritan's Purse that loaned instant credibility. He publicly thanked Trump and Pence for coming down to "put a spotlight on the suffering of these people." Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was also on hand that day. Not coincidentally, the Trump Foundation also gave Perkins' church a $100,000 donation as well.
Do not miss this beloved because this is the textbook definition of pay to play. Donald Trump needed something. He needed to be supported by the evangelical machine. Without them, he stood zero chance of getting the nomination let alone winning the presidency. So he paid off some of the leaders in the evangelical community and they started stumping with him. They started defending him and making excuses for him. When tapes emerged with him stating that he loved grabbing women by the genitals, they screamed "Judge not!" Hey, $125,000 goes a long way. Now many may be looking at this and wondering how it is different than what was previously described regarding the Clinton Foundation. After all, the Clinton Foundation may have benefited the same way Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association did, no? Technically yes but what makes this different is the fact that Franklin Graham personally benefits from these transactions where the Clintons do not. As previously outlined, it is a known fact that none of the Clintons receive a dime for their work with the foundation. Sure, there is political capital gained but no "pay to play" as so many have charged. Not so with Franklin Graham who earns $622,000 per year from Samaritan's Purse and an additional $258,000 annually from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Yes you read those numbers right. Franklin Graham earns $880,000 per year for his "charitable work" and his work in "advancing the Gospel." The only way you can justify these types of salaries is to bring much more money in than they pay you. Thus every $100,000 donation you can muster counts in your favor come salary renegotiation time. This is a quid quo pro. This is pay to play.
It also needs to be noted that the reason we know these salaries is because the Internal Revenue Service requires non-profits to reveal salaries within a Form 990 tax filing. After Graham received blowback from taking nearly a million dollars in salaries he submitted requests for reclassification of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse from non-profits to a classification of an "association of churches." The IRS recently approved the switch for the Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse is pending. The benefit for the organizations? Very little but the benefit for Graham is enormous as the 990 no longer will have to filed and his salaries will not be exposed again. If you are thinking this all sounds very carnal and unseemly, you are in tune with the Holy Spirit beloved. For the key verse today it is only appropriate that we turn to Donald Trump's favorite book, "Two Corinthians." This is the Apostle Paul speaking to the Church in Corinth and reminding them about the stark difference between hucksters who preach and use the Gospel for their own personal profit and those who preach with sincerity. Paul reveals one of the dynamics going on in the hearts of those who would make merchandise of the Gospel. They have forgotten that God is watching. When you take $125,000 from someone you know you should be associated with, you may have forgotten that God is watching. When you then prostitute yourself on his behalf, sacrificing your witness for Christ, you may have forgotten that God is watching. When you think nothing of earning almost a million dollars in salary from organizations devoted to providing aid to the helpless and the Gospel to the world, you may have forgotten that God is watching. Unfortunately, Graham is nothing more than a huckster at this point, selling Christ out for his own carnal politics and personal gain. Hey at least he got more than thirty pieces of silver.