By Paul M. Walsh (Billy and Franklin Graham) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
August 18, 2015; Deseret News (Religion News Service)

Franklin Graham is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and heads both the Billy Graham Evangelism Association and the international humanitarian and health aid group, Samaritan’s Purse. Lately, the 63-year-old Graham has been in the news for more than preaching the gospel and delivering aid in the developing world. A lot of the attention Graham has garnered in the past month or so involves his increasingly public positions on issues ranging from preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons to making sure boys and girls play with gender-appropriate toys sold by Target. The tax-subsidized evangelist (donations to his organizations are treated as tax deductible for federal income tax itemizers) has also attracted some distinctive attention on the fiscal side regarding his $880,000 annual income from the two organizations he runs.

Last week, he weighed in against the nuclear arms treaty with Iran, joining 200 retired generals and admirals denouncing the deal. “They made it clear that this [nuclear deal] threatens national security—and these men know!” Graham posted on his Facebook account, presumably concluding that those generals know more than their counterparts who issued a letter earlier in August endorsing the proposed treaty. “I think Congress had better listen,” he added.

Earlier, Graham inveighed against the proposed expenditure of $250,000 for a Muslim prayer room at Orlando International Airport. “Why do Muslims get preference?” Graham asked in a Facebook post, concerned that the room would be exclusively available to Muslims (not true) and wondering why evangelistic Christians or Jews aren’t given their own separate prayer rooms in airports. It might be that Graham’s fervor against the Muslim prayer room might be a little less a matter of equal treatment of religions and more connected to his recent vituperative comments about Muslim immigration. In July, he called for an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S.:

We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized—and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now?

As might be expected, Graham has weighed in against same-sex marriage, too. He denounced the openness of First Baptist Church Greenville in South Carolina to conducting LGBT weddings. The church was the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the prime supporter for many years of Furman College, though in the 1990s, the church broke with the conservative theology and politics of the Southern Baptist Convention. “According to God’s Word, what they are embracing is sin,” he posted. “This is disappointing and discouraging.”

This past month, he attacked Target for ending its practice of “gender-based signage,” particularly in its toy aisles, eliminating advertising and pitching toys by traditional gender roles (for example, assuming that boys should play with building sets and girls with dolls). “I think Target may be forgetting who has made their stores strong,” Graham opined. “It’s not gender-neutral people out there—it’s working American families, fathers and mothers with boys and girls they love. What’s next? Are they going to try to make people believe that pink or blue baby showers are politically incorrect?” That led Graham to a call to boycott Target, apparently for violating Biblical teachings about the kinds of toys boys and girls should play with. Along with Target, Graham is campaigning for a boycott of Wells Fargo for its television ad about a lesbian couple with a daughter.

Supporting Graham’s ability to pontificate on a range of public policy issues is that Graham is extraordinarily highly paid as the head of a faith-based charity. The Charlotte Observer, a newspaper that pays close attention to dynamics in the tax-exempt sector, revealed Graham’s compensation of $622,000 from Samaritan’s Purse and $258,000 from heading up the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His organization defended his salary in the usual way, saying it compared Graham’s rate to comparable organizations to find the appropriate number.

Given that his salary is higher than nearly all other U.S.-headquartered international aid organizations (the Charlotte Observer said it was the highest among international aid organizations) and vastly higher than the salaries of pastors except for a couple of televangelists, Graham’s compensation is getting widespread public attention and some criticism from people who think $880,000 might be excessive. Unlike some of the nation’s highest profile religious leaders who have tried to correct the negative image associated with high-flying televangelists, Graham isn’t spurning wealth or engaging in “reverse-tithing” as a demonstration of his religious belief. To the contrary, he’s simply packing the dough away:

Year Salary at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Additional BGEA Compensation from BGEA and Related Organizations Salary at Samaritan’s Purse


Additional Compensation from Samaritan’s Purse and Related Organizations
2013 $205,919 $34,772 $440,927 $181,325
2012 $99,910 $30,224 $437,255 $175,620
2011 $97,000 $18,307 $421,198 $163,853
2010 $2,817 $7,813 $409,851 $151,556
2009 $106,407 $13,798 $473,440 $143,225
2008 $267,013 $35,679 $416.987 $117,785

Worth noting is that most of the years of 990s filed by the BGEA list salaries for Billy Graham himself and for W. Franklin Graham IV, Franklin Graham’s son, and other family members. Also, this chart doesn’t reveal the contributions to Franklin Graham’s two retirement packages, which, in 2008, when added to his salaries, came to $1.2 million.

Thanks to the Charlotte Observer, donors to Graham’s two charities now know they are supporting Franklin Graham’s increasing income and growing criticism of people like Muslims and gays who don’t fit into Graham’s view of what’s acceptable. So, in a sense, is the American public, in giving those donors charitable deductions.—Rick Cohen