Franklin Graham — one of President Donald Trump’s top evangelical advisers — has called one of the president’s opponents to repent for his homosexuality, but most Americans, including significant numbers of Christians, do not share the minister’s views on LGBT issues. And some voters have called Graham’s words hypocritical, given his continued support for the president, a man who said he has never sought forgiveness from God despite a history of sexual behaviors many would consider un-Christian.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has attracted a bit of praise for sharing how his Christian faith and sexual orientation — he is gay — are not at odds, but complement one another. At an event this month for the Victory Fund, a nonprofit that helps LGBT people win office, Buttigieg shared how his marriage to his husband, Chasten Glezman, — a union that Vice President Mike Pence and most conservative Christians would argue is inconsistent with marriage as defined by the Christian faith — actually made him closer to God. He told the audience:
“Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”
Much of the response to Buttigieg has been positive, but Graham took to Twitter on Wednesday to push back on Buttigieg’s embracing of his sexual identity. Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, tweeted:
“Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman — not two men, not two women.”
Large majorities of most major Christian groups do not agree with Graham that same-sex marriage is wrong, according to a 2017 Public Research Religion Institute survey. Most white Protestants (68%), white Catholics (66%) and Hispanic Catholics (67%) all support same-sex marriage. A plurality of black protestants — 48% — support same-sex marriage.
But Graham is not an outlier in his belief that same-sex marriage is un-Christian. Six in 10 white evangelicals — the religious group that the minister belongs to — oppose same-sex marriage. But there are some generational gaps within white evangelicalism on the issue. Forty percent of those under 50 support same-sex marriage, while only 27% of those 50 and over favor allowing LGBT people to marry one another.
It is notable that Graham continues to support Trump, who was known for being a twice-divorced adulterer before allegedly violating campaign finance laws to keep adult-film star Stormy Daniels and Kate McDougal, a former Playboy model, from disclosing their affairs with him. Trump has denied both of the relationships. And Graham believes him.
After Trump denied the Wall Street Journal’s report about the alleged affair with Daniels, Graham told MSNBC’s Alex Witt last year that he believes the president. He said:
“Now, did he have an affair with this woman? I have no clue. But I believe at 70 years of age the president is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, whatever. We just have to give the man the benefit of the doubt. He says he didn’t do it. So OK, then say he didn’t do it. But we just have to think of our country. We’ve got to move this country forward.”
While Trump continues to deny the affair, his former attorney Michael Cohen has said it happened and that he oversaw paying Daniels the six-figure payment needed to ensure her silence about her story. According to Cohen, Trump feared that if Daniels had gone public with the relationship — which she said happened shortly after first lady Melania Trump gave birth to the president’s youngest son — he would lose the election, and specifically the support of the white evangelicals who were key to his victory.
White evangelicals have shown that nothing Trump has said or done will keep them from supporting him — including allegedly engaging in sexual acts the Bible and Christians speak against. But the group is increasingly in the minority among Americans of faith who believe that LGBT people should have the same marriage rights as other Americans.