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This Week in God, 5.12.18

The Rev. Franklin Graham believes Donald Trump's Stormy Daniels scandal is "nobody's business." He had a very different opinion 20 years ago.
Franklin Graham appears on NBC News' \"Today\" show. (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/Getty)
Franklin Graham appears on NBC News' \"Today\" show.

First up from the God Machine this week is a prominent religious leader who appears to have competing moral standards for presidents, depending on which party they belong to.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent Donald Trump supporter, told the Associated Press this week that he's aware of the scandals surrounding the president, including the Stormy Daniels story, but he's unconcerned.

"...I don't have concern, in a sense, because these things happened many years ago -- and there's such bigger problems in front of us as a nation that we need to be dealing with than other things in his life a long time ago. I think some of these things -- that's for him and his wife to deal with. I think when the country went after President Clinton, the Republicans, that was a great mistake that should never have happened. And I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody's business. And we've got other business at hand that we need to deal with."

The references to the Clinton impeachment scandal was of particular interest, because Graham's current belief that the campaign to tear him down "was a great mistake that should never have happened" appears to be a recent revelation.

In fact, in August 1998, Graham wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he presented a very different message. Rather than dismissing the personal allegations as something "for him and his wife to deal with," Graham argued at the time that allegations such as these were very much the public's business. "[T]he God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter," he wrote.

Graham added, in reference to the then-Democratic president, "If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?"

And yet, here we are, nearly 20 years later, watching Graham's ally in the Oval Office confront a sex scandal, and wouldn't you know it, he appears to have had a change of heart. Now, evidently, the "thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody's business."

In the Associated Press interview, Graham added, "This isn't behavior that has taken place since he's been president. These things happened long before he became president. That doesn't make it right. And I don't defend those kinds of relationships he had. But the country knew the kind of person he was back then, and they still made the decision to make him the president of the United States."

And that's likely what much of the religious right and other socially conservative evangelicals tell themselves: Americans knew all about Trump's lax standards, and so long as one overlooks the fact that he received fewer votes and relied on the intervention of a foreign adversary, Trump nevertheless became president. And so, bygones.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne had a column this week exploring whether hypocrisy from conservative elites is driving the public away from religious institutions. I'm left to wonder whether Franklin Graham read it.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* This seems like an area that will generate some new litigation: "Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a lifelong advocate of Christian education, moved on Wednesday to loosen federal regulations on religious colleges and universities, after a Supreme Court decision that restricted states from denying some kinds of aid to religious institutions."

* After over a century, the Mormon church is ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and BSA announced their intention to part ways on Dec. 31, 2019, in a joint statement released Tuesday night. The LDS Church said it has grown from a 'U.S.-centered institution' to an international organization whose members mostly live outside of America's borders. Therefore, it said it needs to start its own youth program that 'serves its members globally.'"

* An interesting new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News: "The nation's religious makeup has shifted dramatically in the past 15 years, with a sharp drop in the number of Americans who say they're members of a Protestant denomination -- still the nation's most prevalent religious group -- and a rise in the number who profess no religion."