Friday, January 21, 2011

Billy Graham and the Rise of the Religious Right (revised)

Christianity Today recently interviewed Billy Graham and asked him, "If you could, would you go back and do anything differently?" Graham responded:
I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now.
Few people realize the significant role that Graham has played in the rise of the Religious Right in America. Graham was instrumental in creating the Christian Right as a political force while, at the same time, distancing himself from it publicly. He was a participant in meetings where the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was organized as a means to influence secular politics. In 1985, Graham sent Charles Stanley a telegram endorsing his re-election as President of the SBC in the most contested election during the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination. Most revealing, as he had done in the takeover of the SBC, he could be counted on to lend support to the Religious Right candidate in a tight political election:

Two days before the 2000 election, Graham went a step further and declared his support for a Bush victory. The setting for what can only be called Graham's endorsement of Bush was Jacksonville, Florida, located in a state where the evangelist was wrapping up a three-day crusade and where Bush had staked his electoral prospects. . . . On Sunday, November 5, Graham met with George and Laura Bush for a private prayer breakfast. The gathering took place after Bush had attended a worship service with prominent Florida evangelicals and before he commenced a whirlwind final tour of the state. Jeb Bush made sure to mention the breakfast on the Sunday morning news show Face the Nation. . . . After the prayer meeting, Graham (accompanied by his son, Franklin) posed with the Bushes for photographs and talked with reporters. "I don't endorse candidates. But I've come as close to it, I guess, now as any time in my life, because I think it is extremely important," said the aging evangelist. . . . "I believe in the integrity of this man," Graham told reporters, insinuating that he had cast his absentee ballot for the Republican candidate. "I'll just let you guess who I voted for," he added, making sure (as he had during the Nixon years) to reiterate his status as a registered Democrat.
[Stephen P. Miller, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), pp. 215-216.]

1 comment:

KJ said...

Billy's sugar daddy was oilman J Howard Pew. who also subsidized the Christianity Today magazine. The family-dominated Pew Charitable Trust continues to pour millions into the Graham ministries.

Billy's right-hand man Don Hoke was one of the 8 drafters of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. After leaving Graham in 1978, Hoke came to Knoxille, Tennessee where he led Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church into that hotbed of Christian Reconstruction, the Presbyerian Church in America.

With Hoke's assistance and Pew financing, Graham organized the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, an ecumenical evangelical response to the leftward tilt of mainline churches during the Vietnam War.

--Kent Johnson