A Gospel Greater Than Political Cynicism: A Defense of Billy Graham

, American religious figure.

, American religious figure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bible Says Respect and Honor our elders, not Manipulate Them!

“My concern is that here’s how things like this continue to work: Franklin Graham (or Franklin and his sister Anne Graham Lotz) have an agenda (in all three of these cases, “traditional marriage”), they get a BGEA copywriter to draft the text, then a BGEA graphic designer does the layout (in the case of the ad), Franklin approves the copy and/or design, then Franklin drives out to Little Piney Cove (Billy’s cabin home outside of Asheville, N.C.) and holds the piece of paper in front of Billy and asks, “Daddy, can we publish this?” And Billy nods (or whatever he’s capable of doing at this point in his life), and Franklin goes back and publishes this stuff with his good father’s name all over it.”-Steve Knight

There’s a scene in Disney’s 1992 animated film Aladdin where Jafar, antagonist’s pet parrot, Iago, mimics Princess Jasmine, with her own words, “I have the power to get rid of you.” Of course, this is a foreshadowing of Jafar and Iago holding Jasmine captive after *SPOILER ALERT!* Jafar becomes sultan through magical means.

Iago (Aladdin)

Iago (Aladdin) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I think what is interesting in these contrasting scenes is the idea of whoever has the power, they have the ability to determine who is speaking and what constitutes speaking, a premise that Gayatri Spivak discussed at length in a famous essay. The news of Billy Graham‘s re-politicization has come somewhat as a surprise. As both a political science major who was fascinated with Richard Nixon’s rise (and fall) to power, as well as a Baptist who has some personal admiration for Graham for his effort to racially integrate his crusades, I have my serious doubts about this new turn of events of a few reasons that I wish to briefly mention here.

First, let’s go back to the 1970s, even before that, the 1950s. Let’s say you have a best friend who is a war hero, a patriot, and devout man who is in the White House named Dwight Eisenhower. Of course, you are going to try to be good friends with his strange Vice President, from California, right? Billy Graham was at his peak starting with the “We Like Ike” era, andIke was a very good President, one of America’s few (dare I say outstanding at some points!).

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, in the late 1960s/early 70s, Richard M Nixon is elected then re-elected as President. Nixon’s history of fear-mongering is undone by his own political ambitiousness in the Watergate scandal. Watergate was a turning point in U.S. American history for a lot of reasons. The Presidency (by now, increased in power) but lowered in terms of stature in the eyes of the public. Journalists (and consequently, now, bloggers where everyone is a journalist) became the defenders of democracy to check the power of the President and his control of misinformation. The truth is a powerful thing. The truth was, Nixon was not as decent as he lead his friend of a friend Billy Graham on to be. Perhaps this is why a couple of theologians, James Cone and Vine Deloria assessed Billy Graham’s theology as covering up racism. It wasn’t that Graham was attacking people of color in his sermons, he was doing it with his actions, being too cozy with President Nixon who used the racist Southern Strategy to win votes, and who opposed busing so that schools could become racially integrated, you know that thing that Nixon’s Republican predecessor Eisenhower fought for. Graham’s reputation, because of his refusal to follow the Baptist tradition of Separation of Church and State, was diminished by his friendship with Nixon. Burned as naive, and hurt by political cynicism, the Reverend Billy Graham stayed out of partison politics for nearly four decades.

And now, he has made a return! Magically, he has become friends with another moderate Republican who is pious and even more of a pessimist than Nixon himself. Mitt Romney is a man who up until 2008, was a socially liberal GOP politician, until he made his “there’s only one real conservative in this primary” speech at CPAC. Mitt Romney is probably one of the worst politicians (Democrat or Republicans) from public policy standpoint when it comes to consistency. Politicians post-Nixon are supposed to lie, but should they be refuting their own arguments in public?:

Like John Kerry, Mitt Romney is another flip-flopper from Massuchussetts, but the thing about “flip-floppers” is that they believe that the U.S. American public is stupid, and will use any means necessary to maintain power. As long as I have been Christian, evangelicals have referred to Mormons as “a cult” but today, because of politics, that isn’t the case anymore. Personally, I would say the LDS is a heretical Christian sect in comparison with the likes of Unitarian Universalists, and academically speaking, the term “cult” could refer to any religion, but we know in popular culture, cult means any “extremist” religious sect under the dictates of an authoritarian leader. Hey, here’s an idea, how about we NOT rely on FreeDictionary.com for our definition of cult is, okay? There are dangerous suicidal cults, and that’s one thing, but another is anything that is seen as “new or bizarre.”

The thing about our notions of the bizarre is that they reveal what we view to be normative, and since Mormons have (hypothetically speaking) worked really hard to go mainstream, is there a reason to call them a cult? This leads me directly into the changes that have taken place at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association‘s website. We act as if an almost 94 year old man suffering from Parkinson’s disease, who’s btw has gotten fluid drained from his brain over the past decade or so, has the ability to go on his own website, and take down his longstanding views on Mormonism as a cult in the past few days. Religion, properly understood, in the first place, let me reiterate, Mormonism is a heretical Christian sect. As a Baptist and believer in separation of church and state, I affirm that there is to be NO RELIGIOUS TEST for political candidates at any level here in the United States. I can both affirm Billy Graham’s stances on social conservativism and agree with Steve Knight’s article doubting Billy Graham’s comeback. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that Richard Nixon’s resignation was a life-changing event for Billy Graham from all that I have read.

Richard Nixon has indeed been resurrected, in the form of his heir Mitt Romney and (IMO) Graham’s son Franklin. Franklin has had the history of being politically partisan for the right wing since the George Bush presidency, but even Bush (wisely) marginalized Franklin after controversial statements about other religions. It would seem this marginalization has lead to a desire for a political comeback in the form of being Iago for his father, doing damage to his father’s legacy while keeping Franklin’s own hands clean.

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2 thoughts on “A Gospel Greater Than Political Cynicism: A Defense of Billy Graham

  1. Pingback: A Gospel Greater Than Political Cynicism: A Defense of Billy Graham « Sola Dei Gloria

  2. Pingback: Political Theology Posts Around The Web | TheoNerd

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