Evangelist Franklin Graham has a devoted following, and most of his social media evangelism is greeted with praise, agreement, and good grace. A new post, though, has followers divided, and it’s no surprise — because in it, Graham quotes a missionary who compares religion to a viral disease.
Missionary Charles T. Studd is listed in the European American Evangalistic Crusades‘ Faith Hall of Fame as a missionary who spent the years between the 1880’s and 1930 as a missionary to China, India, and Africa, and is remembered for spreading Christianity far and wide, not only by evangelizing to others, but by teaching others to evangelize to still others.
Thus, the quote from him that Franklin Graham shared this Sunday is very apt — he did indeed pass his beliefs in a way like a virus, where they passed on from each listener to many more listeners. Still, the quote, shown below, didn’t go over well with all of Graham’s followers.
“True religion is like smallpox. If you get it, you give it to others and it spreads.” -Missionary CT Studd
It was just one short line, but it may have caused more contention among Graham’s fans than anything else he’s posted.
Followers quickly spoke up to say that comparing Christianity to a virus was offensive. Others noted that it would give fuel to Christianity’s fiercest critics.
I hate the word religion. I have a relationship with God that I would never compare to a deadly disease. Sorry…the quote is stupid
I get what the quote is saying but it has a negative connotation that the detractors will just latch onto and call all religions including our Christian faith as a disease.
Some of Graham’s followers were quick to defend the quote, understanding it in context — Studd, and Graham in his turn, meant only to compare the spreading nature of evangelism to the way a virus spreads, not to suggest a comparison to the destruction and devastation of disease.
While others took each word literally, the point was Spread, not deadly, or disease.
You people have no understanding at all about what Franklin Graham was trying to say. When you receive Jesus into your heart you can’t help but tell someone about it. It’s that contagious it’s like a fire inside of you. You can’t keep it inside it has to come out.
However, it’s worth noting that today, ‘viral’ is a term quite commonly used with no negative connotations — it’s used to refer to memes, photos, and videos, that spread on the internet as quickly as, well, a disease, passing from one person to ten or twenty who in turn pass it on to another ten, twenty, or fifty.
Though smallpox is certainly nothing to place on a pedestal or hope to share, Studd seems to have merely been ahead of his time in separating the idea of a viral spread of ideas from the negative connotations of the virus itself.
Should Franklin Graham have picked a less contentious quote, or is calling belief viral dead-on accurate?
[Photo by: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images]