Renowned pastor Billy Graham died last week, and will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda starting Wednesday. In giving the honor reserved for the “most eminent citizens” to Graham, Republicans have shown their values clearer than any legal declaration could have.
It is right and fair to mourn the loss of spiritual leaders who mean something to you, even if a core piece of their legacy is homophobia. His wake was like a scene from a movie, with thousands standing in the rain Monday to get their chance to enter Graham’s boyhood home and be in the presence of his casket.
And he’s been given the prestige of being ‘lain in honor‘ at the Capitol Rotunda. That honor, typically reserved for government officials, has only been given out to three other private citizens, and two of those were government employees killed in the line of duty. The only other private social advocate to be lain in honor was Rosa Parks.
And Billy Graham is no Rosa Parks.
For good or ill, Graham is the grandfather of the modern conservative brand of Christianity, and strayed from his desire to remain out of politics when he assisted the campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. Graham also is the architect of the ridiculous Mike Pence Rule, which argues that in order to keep from being sinful toward a woman, men have to simply never be alone with one because self control isn’t something that can be expected.
Graham also made millions from his preaching career and enjoyed no small level of fame, all while preaching the evils of greed to the masses. Graham enjoyed the status of ‘America’s clergyman‘ and left the world with a net worth of $25 million.
Also there’s the homophobia. It isn’t just his 1974 letter to a lesbian telling her to find healing for her sin or his 2012 full-page ads fighting to prevent gay marriage by constitutional amendment in his home state or even his infamous 1993 remark (that he rapidly walked back) that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality.
It’s that while he evolved from an arguably racist, sexist fire-and brimstone founder of what we see as today’s Religious Right to integrating crowds at his rallies, supporting women’s ordination and preaching that even those who never heard Jesus’ name had a place in heaven, Graham never softened on his hostility toward homosexuality.
Which means, the two social advocates to receive the honor of being lain in honor at the Capitol Rotunda are a woman who fought for social justice and equality, and a man who leaves a legacy fighting against it.
And this is what lays the Republican agenda bare as well. While it’s easy to dismiss conservatives asking for a MLK-style holiday for Billy Graham on social media, it’s impossible to dismiss that in the eyes of Congress, Billy Graham is the same level of “esteemed citizen” as Rosa Parks.
By laying Graham in honor, it is made clear that homophobia and radical conservative Christianity are to today’s Congress what civil rights were to Congresses past.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.