Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At least Billy Graham never embraced Stalin

     Let's be clear.
     I wasn't sorry about the amazing progress that the United States has made regarding gay rights over the past few years.
     A triumph for human dignity, a breakthrough accomplished far sooner than most would have guessed it might possibly occur.
     But I'm also a newspaper columnist, and one thought did cross my mind, just a few days ago, while gazing at an empty screen: as welcome as it is that all decent people suddenly realized it's cruel to oppress GLBT individuals and their families based on nothing more than musty theology, that does pluck one arrow out of my quiver. Good for society; not so good for those in the opinion business.
    Okay, I know. Boo hoo, it's like a medical writer complaining, after they cure cancer, because battling the disease was so interesting.
    So I don't welcome the news that burying the issue might be a tad premature. That it's too early to tuck away the issue on the shelf of dead social questions, along with Free Silver and the 8-hour workday.
Rev. Billy Graham
Rev. Franklin Graham
    On the other hand, I'm happy to be able to point out this: No sooner did I stand, pouting, over the loss of an issue, then good old Rev. Franklin Graham, Rev. Billy Graham's son, stumbled out of his Appalachian shack (or, more likely, mansion) lets out a howl and starts blowing kisses toward ... ready, wait for it ... Vladimir Putin, who, when he isn't seizing the land of his independent neighbors and denouncing the United States, is oppressing and murdering gay people in Russia.
    In a column in the Washington Post Monday titled "Franklin Graham's detestable anti-gay statements," Jonathan Capehart shines a flashlight into the well of a Graham op-ed from the end of February, where the evangelist muses how America once "held the moral high ground," but now that has been snatched by Putin who, despite being a godless communist, at least has the moral sense to protect children from the evil designs of homosexuals posing as their parents. Graham writes:
    Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—Russia’s standard is higher than our own?
     In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.
     "Gay agenda" is a giveaway term, like "lib," which tells you that the speaker has been driven insane by bias and partisan politics. Of course, Franklin Graham only joins a parade of Right Wing haters flocking to Putin. "The Russian president has some curious bedfellows on the fringes of European politics," the Economist wrote this week, "ranging from the creepy uniformed followers of Jobbik in Hungary to the more scrubbed-up National Front in France."
    Birds of a feather.
    Although "driven" insane might be the wrong verb to describe Franklin Graham's journey. At the risk of paraphrasing Lady Gaga, he was born this way, or at least raised this way.
      As much as I don't like to visit the sins of the father upon the son, in Franklin Graham's case, what can you really expect? If you consider the career of the Rev. Billy Graham, what comes into sharp focus is how his faith inspired him to be on the wrong side of literally every significant moral issue of his time. He sat out the civil rights protests of the 1950s, preferring to baptize Eisenhower and turn up his nose at those “addicted to sitting, squatting, demonstrating, and striking for what they want.” In 1960, he rebuffed John F. Kennedy's pleas to tell his Protestant flock that they wouldn't go to Hell if they voted for a Catholic. He linked arms with Lyndon Johnson and mocked those protesting the Vietnam War. He was Nixon's apologist and lackey all through Watergate, nodding in approval and murmuring "amen" while Tricky Dicky raged against his enemies, including "The Jews." If Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins and Sam Harris spent a month in a cabin working feverishly together, they couldn't come up with a greater indictment illustrating the ethical blindness that can go hand-in-hand with fervent religious faith than the career of Rev. Billy Graham.
     “A man in transit between epochs and value systems, he has chosen to disengage himself and distract us by shouting about the end of history,” Martin Marty wrote of Graham in the Sun-Times in 1965.
    Nearly half a century later, that sentence, true for the father, is now true for the son. With Billy Graham in his extreme age—he's 95— Franklin has picked up the baton. Barack Obama obviously won't let him come to the White House and whisper in his ear. Maybe Vladimir Putin will.
     Give Billy Graham credit for that much -- when Harry Truman banned him from the White House, at least he didn't try to make friends with Joseph Stalin. But then what son doesn't want to surpass his father? It is more his tragedy than ours that Franklin Graham has decided to rival his dad in combining moral myopia with fawning over power. Perhaps someday we'll see Franklin Graham standing before the cameras in Red Square, talking to the media about getting on his knees with Vladimir Putin. It's in his blood.


  1. You forgot to add that Billy Graham was & is a vicious anti-Semite.
    I'm sure Franklin also is one, but hides it far better than his rotten to the core father.

    1. I DID, Becca. Tucked it in on my morning polish though, thanks for the reminder.

  2. Billy hid it pretty well too, but was caught on tape agreeing with Dickie Nixon and Haldeman expressing his true feelings. Overall, BG has managed to come across as less rabid than some of the evangelicals, but I've never understood his role as "unofficial counselors to Presidents." Jefferson and Madison would have been appalled. I think his enduring popularity has something to do with the chisled profile. And the hair. If you're going to go into the God business a good head of hair is an advantage.

  3. Unreal. Thanks for the column. Methinks we haven't yet seen the bottom yet.

  4. I suspect that I'm a LOT older than most of the people who read and comment on these essays. With time, there comes a sense of perspective which makes me think a bit more kindly of Billy Graham. Graham was not always on the side of the angels. He was flawed especially when it came to politics. Others took advantage of his naivety and vanity for their own base purposes. He was also a child of his times in many ways. Even so, I think he deserves a bit more charity when you look back at his life. Let's first talk about civil rights.

    Starting in 1954 he insisted that his crusades be integrated even in the south. He became good friends with MLK and posted the bail to get King out of jail in Birmingham. He explicitly condemned the evil of segregation during a period and in places where that would not endear him to his listeners. Graham might not approve of the marches and demonstrations but let's not forget that many back then disapproved of what they saw as tactics which could easily lead to violence. Today, demonstrations are a dime a dozen and we forget how revolutionary and even threatening they once seemed to others. Graham's example and public condemnation of segregation helped many to eschew the evil of discrimination. That may seem like small change today but I assure you that it wasn't back then.

    Billy Graham did make an ass of himself when it came to politics. It's easy to forget in today's increasing pluralistic society that most people didn't really distinguish between Christianity and America. Religious leaders had a lot more clout back then and their support was desired by politicians. Graham desired to have a positive influence but he was extremely naïve in not realizing how he was being used for their purposes particularly by Nixon. Graham's meeting with His meeting with Truman was a fiasco but he had not been briefed on the protocol of meeting with the President. Of course, Truman was po'ed with Graham afterwards with the comments he made to the press. That photo of Graham kneeling on the lawn praying sure didn't help either. However, Truman graciously gave Graham a tour of his presidential library in later years knowing then how Graham had just been ignorant.

    After having been played for a fool for decades by politicians thanks to his desire to gain a positive influence, Graham finally admitted that he had "crossed the line". He further went on to say that the “hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” I give the man some credit for admitting he hosed up and for doing so publicly. Unfortunately, his son appears to be making the same kind of mistakes. Graham did not spend much time with his son while he was growing up but the desire to have an influence through politics still burns strong in his son.

  5. Advocate of the anti-ChristApril 22, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    Stalin was a freedom fighter against fascism. Eternal glory to his name.

  6. Billy Graham didn't sound all that naive in those 1972 White House tapes, fervently seconding Nixon's concerns about the malign influence of "Satanic" Jews and the way they control the media. He also hoped that in a second term Nixon might be able to do something about that.

    Franklin may not be the same kind of old-style anti-Semite. One gets the the impression that the important role the state of Israel plays in the now-fashionable "end of days" narative may have shifted attitudes among the current crop of evangelicals, although, were I a Jew I wouldn't think that means they have my best interests at heart.

  7. That sounds just like an Oscar Hammerstein song lyrics.

  8. "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" -- South Pacific

    A great song for its time.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.