And according to this Christian evangelist and humanitarian, the accusation is simply “not relevant.”
“It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record — that somebody can bring something up that he did when he was a teenager close to 40 years ago,” Franklin Graham said in an interview Tuesday with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “That’s not relevant.”
Graham is a prominent figure in evangelical Christian circles, partly because of his respected lineage. He is the president of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ― and a staunch longtime defender of President Donald Trump.
He was asked on CBN to comment on the sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh lodged by Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California who goes by Christine Blasey professionally. She said that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down and groped her when the two were high school students, around 1982.
Kavanaugh said he “categorically and unequivocally” denies her claims.
Graham said the allegations are an attempt by Democrats to throw a wrench in the conservative judge’s confirmation proceedings.
“They couldn’t find anything else in his record and so this is just an attempt to smear him and to smear his name and put a black dot on it,” Graham told CBN News’ Heather Sells.
When Sells questioned him about the message his views send to sexual abuse victims, he said, “Well, there wasn’t a crime that was committed.”
Graham then betrayed a lack of knowledge about Blasey’s allegation ― suggesting that even if the encounter did happen, “she said no and he respected it and walked away.”
Sells pushed back to clarify that this isn’t the story Blasey came forward with. In fact, Blasey said she feared for her life during the alleged assault and was able to escape only when another person interrupted Kavanaugh.
In response, Graham suggested it’s not fair to hold people accountable for things they did as teenagers.
“There’s a lot of things that I’ve done when I was a teenager that I certainly am ashamed of and not proud of,” he said. “People are up in arms over this like ‘oh, this is such a disaster.’ You’re talking about two teenagers 40 years ago. That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about today about this man being a judge on the Supreme court.”
“And they call it sexual assault?” he added. “No, I don’t believe it.”
Although Graham is a celebrated figure in American evangelicalism, other evangelicals observing the fallout from Blasey’s accusations have come to a different conclusion about how to evaluate her claims.
Rachael Denhollander, an evangelical Christian, was the first woman to speak out against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. In a tweet thread on Sunday, she said that part of the reason she waited so long to come forward was that she had watched friends and family members “eviscerate” victims who spoke out against much-loved candidates, pastors, teams or ministries.
“That showed me what they REALLY thought about abuse and what they REALLY thought about victims,” Denhollander wrote. “I knew it meant if faced with a choice between a survivor and their favorite ‘whatever,’ they’d attack the survivor.”
Amy Smith is an advocate for abuse survivors who runs Watch Keep, a blog that tracks reported incidents of sexual abuse in Christian communities. She called Graham’s comments “irresponsible and reckless” — and insensitive toward Blasey.
“The message he is conveying to anyone suffering from sexual abuse is clear: After a number of years, your pain is irrelevant and should be disregarded,” Smith told HuffPost.
She said Graham’s argument reflects a mentality she has commonly found among pastors ― that sexual assault is a sin to be handled quietly among the parties involved rather than a crime that should be reported to law enforcement. It’s no longer acceptable for people to wave off abuse allegations as irrelevant, she said, because the criminal nature of a sexual assault doesn’t change, no matter how much time has passed.
Christa Brown, a clergy sex abuse survivor who blogs about church cover-ups of abuse, said that Graham’s dismissive comments send a “dreadful” message to teenage boys and girls.
Sexual assault is not some ordinary “teenage” thing, Brown said. And it’s not appropriate for anyone to dismiss allegations of violent behavior.
“Kavanaugh is being considered for a lifetime appointment as one of the highest judicial officers of the land. His character matters, and the people of this country deserve to have full confidence in his character,” she said.
“These allegations must be fully vetted by people who are experts in dealing with allegations of sexual violence,” Brown added. “To do anything less than that is to be dismissive of sexual assault and sends a terrible message.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Christa Brown.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.