Rev. Franklin Graham has criticized ESPN for honoring Bruce "Caitlyn" Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this week's ESPY award ceremony, saying he finds the decision "hard to swallow" given the number of wounded military veterans whose lives "define courage."
Graham, who is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse as well as Billy Graham's son, took to Facebook to weigh in on the issue.
"Caitlyn Jenner is being honored with the ESPN ESPY Award for courage? I find this hard to swallow after spending time with wounded military veterans and their spouses with Operation Heal Our Patriots-they are true heroes and their lives define courage," he wrote on Saturday. "Some have had 30 or 40 surgeries, not to change their gender, but to try to put their bodies back together after defending our country. And to recognize the very confused Caitlyn Jenner as a hero before the entire world? Give me a break. If you want an example of real courage, it's when Jesus Christ willingly allowed Himself to become your sin and died in your place on the cross-the Righteous One for the unrighteous."
As previously reported by the Gospel Herald, ESPN chose to give the prestigious award to former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner after he announced in a highly publicized interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer that he has decided to live as a woman named "Caitlyn."
Several weeks later, Jenner revealed "Caitlyn" in an issue of Vanity Fair magazine, where he appeared on the cover posing in makeup and women's clothing. Jenner's transition has been met with both praise and criticism, and he is now considered to be the face of the transgender community.
According to ESPYs executive producer Maura Mandt, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is being given to Jenner for "(showing) the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years, and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces."
In giving Jenner the award, ESPN has been accused of overlooking other possible recipients, including college basketball player Lauren Hill, 19, who battled a brain tumor her freshman year at Mount St. Joseph University before she died and Army veteran Noah Matthew Galloway, who lost his left arm and leg in the Iraq War.
Past winners have included Jim Valvano, Muhammad Ali, Dean Smith, Nelson Mandela, Billie Jean King, Pat Summitt, Robin Roberts and Michael Sam
Shortly after Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair last month, Rev. Graham also took to Facebook to encourage the 65-year-old former athlete to seek the truth of the Gospel and find comfort in the lasting peace that can only be found in the power of Jesus Christ--not in changing the outward appearance.
"[C]hanging the outside doesn't change the inside. No man-made modification can fix what's wrong with the heart. Only God can fix the human heart," he wrote. "If we ask for His forgiveness and accept by faith His Son, Jesus Christ, He will wipe the slate clean," Graham continued, "The Bible says, 'Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new' (2 Corinthians 5:17)."
The 2015 ESPY Awards will air on ABC7 on July 15 at 8 p.m.