Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear

February 21, 2018
Posted in Blog
February 21, 2018 Editor

Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

February 21, 2018

byCecil Bothwell

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?[7]

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 integration

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”.

and 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.

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


  1. [2]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. It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  2. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
  7. [7]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.

, , , ,


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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