February 21, 2018
Photo above by Richard Bromley | CC BY 2.0
[NOTE: For a differing view with my reflection on it, please also see my February 23, 2018 post about Billy Graham.]
WN: Billy Graham’s passing (February 21, 2018) will occasion countless eulogies the world over; he will be touted as the Most Influential Christian of the 20th century, and one of the Most Influential Christians of all time. These claims are indisputable.
But was Graham a follower of Jesus?1
In my novel Chrysalis Crucible, information about which is to be found elsewhere on my website, Graham emerges as a foil for everything the protagonist Andy is discovering is wrong about the Christianity of his youth.
At one point, we read:
Andy was amazed at the speech. How could he respond? Was this what Fiona really believed? Was this what George Beverley Shea meant every time he sang “America the Beautiful” at a Billy Graham crusade? Was it ever just “God” all in all for Americans? Was it instead invariably “God and Flag”? And when, Andy knew by some intuitive logic, did it end up becoming just “Flag”? Wasn’t that the course of Nazism and the Übermensch? Had the Americans become the Nazis? Was Billy Graham propagandist for Amerika Über Alles, a religious Joseph Goebbels? Where were these questions coming from? What inner wellspring was being tapped? Why could he not stop thinking? (Northey, Wayne. Chrysalis Crucible (p. 361). Fresh Wind Press. Kindle Edition, 2015.)
A little later one reads:
Let’s discuss Billy Graham and ideology, seeing as he trained at Wheaton College, too. Once, he went behind the lines [in Vietnam] to preach to the GI’s about salvation. I’m sure this was at the expense of the American government. If not, it was obviously done with their full permission. Why? Because Billy Graham was a good propagandist for the ideology of the war America was fighting against the Communists.
I can guarantee that in no part of Dr. Graham’s gospel message was there a call to ‘love your enemies.’ On the contrary, if soldiers became Christians and proceeded the next day to blow their enemies to bits—for the love of whom Jesus died, too—Reverend Graham would have fully approved. He did, in fact. And that’s ideology at work alien to the Gospel. Specifically, that’s American anti-Communist ideology triumphing over the Gospel. Or Darkness overcoming the Light, to use biblical language.
So I ask, how is that in keeping with Jesus’ teachings? Did it ever occur to Evangelicals to go to North Vietnam with the message that God loves the Viet Cong, too, and that one should lay down one’s life for them rather than take theirs? Apparently not. So when Billy Graham went to the American troops with the ‘Gospel,’ should not part of his message have been that they should stop the slaughter because God loves the North Vietnamese as much as he does Americans? Or does God not love America’s enemies?
My conclusion from simple observation is that Evangelicals routinely practise an under-your-breath ideologized footnote theology that reads repeatedly, ‘Except our enemies,’ when quoting John 3:16 and all similar New Testament ethical teachings. How could Billy Graham tell the North Vietnamese that God loves them when he fully blessed his own country in displaying the exact opposite feeling—hatred unto death? How could he do this when he was still praying with the President for victory in the War, when he apparently willed the utter inversion of the Gospel regarding treatment of neighbour, enemy, and Creation? (pp. 362 and 363)
“Gary,” Andy responded, “Billy Graham apparently supported the bombing of the dykes in North Vietnam, though it might have meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese. Doesn’t God hate the sin of Communism, yet love the sinners, the Communists? You can’t evangelize the dead, Gary—unless you’re Jesus ‘leading captivity captive (p. 571).’”
The novel repeatedly asks whether Graham was a promoter of the Gospel or of American Empire. The article below claims it was the latter. The same author also wrote The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire, an unauthorized biography.
It takes an atheist assessment to rightly judge Graham “The Prince of War” – and hence purveyor of anti-Gospel, of anti-Christ. “Against which,” we read in my novel, quoting theologian Walter Wink, “the revolt of atheism is pure religion (p. 422).” While I cannot agree with every point of the author below (I know obviously less about Graham than the author), I share in large strokes Bothwell’s conclusions.
I guess the clearest indication of the ongoing legacy of Graham is his son, Franklin Graham. Like father like son rings too true here, with Franklin Graham, who heads The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, obsequious sycophant to all things Christian American Empire. Dr. Graham, you modelled well the marks of anti-Gospel, of anti-Christ, tragically perpetuated in your son.
For more on my website about Billy Graham, please click here.
Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.
Graham’s message was principally one of fear: fear of a wrathful god; fear of temptation; fear of communists and socialists; fear of unions; fear of Catholics; fear of homosexuals; fear of racial integrationand above all, fear of death. But as a balm for such fears, he promised listeners eternal life, which he said was readily claimed through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior.
For a nuanced understanding of Billy Graham’s attitudes/actions in response to racism, see “Billy Graham’s Record on Race Was Both Ahead and Of His Time”.
Based on that Biblical mandate for all governments [to be obeyed], Graham stood in solid opposition to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, all but addressed to Graham, King noted, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ … If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. ”
Columnist and former priest James Carroll had much the same take, noting that “Graham had his finger on the pulse of American fear, and in subsequent years, anti communism occupied the nation’s soul as an avowedly religious obsession. The Red scare at home, unabashed moves toward empire abroad, the phrase ‘under God’ inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, the scapegoating of homosexuals as ‘security risks,’ an insane accumulation of nuclear weapons, suicidal wars against postcolonial insurgencies in Asia—a set of desperate choices indeed. Through it all, Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”
While Carroll had most of that right, the record suggests that, over and over again, it was Graham who sought presidential blessing, rather than the other way around. Letters enshrined in the presidential and Graham libraries reveal a preacher endlessly seeking official audience. As Truman said, years after his presidency, “Well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those counterfeits I was telling you about. He claims he’s a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president.”
Through the years, Graham’s politics earned him some strange bedfellows. He praised Senator Joseph McCarthy and supported his assault on Constitutional rights, then scolded the Senate for censuring McCarthy for his excesses. He befriended oil men and arms manufacturers. He defended Nixon after Watergate, right up to the disgraced president’s resignation, and faced public scorn when tapes were aired that exposed the foul-mouthed President as a schemer and plotter. Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, reported on Graham’s denigration of Jews in his posthumously published diary—a claim Graham vehemently denied until released tapes undid him in 2002. Caught with his prejudicial pants down, Graham claimed ignorance of the hour-and-a-half long conversation in which he led the antisemite attack.
In every way, Graham was the spiritual father of today’s right-wing religious leaders who so inhabit the national conversation. If he cloaked his suasion in public neutrality it was the hallmark of an era in which such intrusion was deemed unseemly. If today’s practitioners are less abashed, it is in many ways reflective of the secure foundation Graham built within Republican and conservative circles.
Graham will be cordially remembered by those who found solace in his golden promises and happy homilies, but the worldly blowback from his ministry is playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chechnya and Korea, the Phillipines and Colombia—everywhere governments threaten human rights and pie in the sky is offered in lieu of daily bread.
In the words of Graham’s ministerial and secular adversary, Dr. King, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Farewell Reverend Graham. Let justice roll.
Please click on: Billy Graham
- One respondent to that question wrote me: “… you are not even acknowledging the souls he has saved — which are millions by the way— which is far more than what you or I or that so-called author have won”. That so-called author is as noted an atheist, so not trying to save souls. It does appear, however, that he has been and is up to lots of good!
My response: There has been a long-observed phenomenon beginning in the U.S. at least with D. L. Moody in the late 19th century, continuing on with Billy Sunday, then Billy Graham in the 20th century, imitated by countless numbers of lesser wannabes: a phenomenon of evangelism without the Gospel. A tragic illustration is the fact that up to 80% of the Hutus who slaughtered the Tutsis in 1994 were Christians, many evangelized by Evangelicals. “Saved – or taking/serving the sacraments” yes, but completely oblivious of the Gospel of Peace preached by the Prince of Peace. Another is that in excess of 80% of American Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics have supported all the wars initiated by the United States in the Greater Middle East – and elsewhere. One could go on and on rather indefinitely.