Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rev Billy Graham, "America's pastor" had roots in Chicago

     Starting from a tiny basement church in the western suburbs of Chicago, the Rev. Billy Graham created a ministry that spanned the globe.
     The Wheaton College graduate who became the most popular, enduring and influential evangelical leader of the second half of the 20th century died Wednesday at his home in North Carolina, according to spokesman Mark DeMoss. Known as “America’s pastor,” he was the unofficial chaplain to the White House, of particular importance during the Johnson and Nixon years.
     Graham, 99, had long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments.
     In 70 years of spreading the gospel, Graham's message of personal deliverance through Jesus Christ was conveyed by speeches, books, magazines, radio, television and the internet. Through his trademark crusades alone he preached directly to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries.
     During three weeks in June 1962, for instance, some 800,000 people attended his Chicago Crusade; 116,000 jammed Soldier Field on a single blisteringly hot day to hear Graham speak.
     It was Graham’s influence, however, not on the common believer, but on America’s leaders that most distinguished him from other evangelical figures.
     He personally ministered to every president, Democrat and Republican, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, who was the first sitting president to visit Graham at his home.
     Graham baptized Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom he also urged to run for president while the general was still Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
     Graham knew Richard Nixon’s mother, Hannah, before he met the future president. They became golfing buddies; Graham spoke at Nixon’s inauguration and at his funeral.
     Nixon credited Graham for his role in convincing him to try running for president a second time in 1968. Graham was also a frequent guest at the Reagan White House.
     Though most closely associated with Republicans, Graham was actually a lifelong registered Democrat, and was intimate with Democratic presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson — Graham delivered the invocation at LBJ’s inaugural in 1965.

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  1. Neil--This was a typically excellent obit from you, except one thing had me scratching my head: The reference to the "scandal that ruined the reputations of men such as Jerry Falwell."

    What scandal? Falwell may have been odious in his politics and public discourse, but I never heard that he was seriously accused of any personal impropriety. He tried to patch up PTL after the Jim Bakker scandal, and Bakker eventually accused him of trying to muscle in on Bakker's turf, but that's just bickering from a disgraced thief and rapist.

    1. You're absolutely right. I was thinking of Bakker. I've swapped them now. Thanks for the assist.

  2. This is a very generous account of the Reverend Graham's life, but a bit in the tradition of the Italian saying about obituaries: "Only saints die." It is somewhat ironic that George Will of all people offers a more equivocal treatment in the Washington Post, including more details about his dialog with Richard Nixon about Jews and the threats they pose to the nation. His devastating summary: "One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism by convicting him of toadyism." Will also covers Graham's unattractive comments about the My Lai massacre and the victims of 9-11. Unless I missed it neither piece mentions his odious son.


    1. I think his toadyism is fairly clear in this obit, particularly how he shucked the moral imperatives of his day. Anti-Semitism is particularly foul, and so it would tend to overwhelm Graham's life. He isn't known because he was an anti-Semite, but because he was uniquely talented at sucking up the president of the United States. That's why the piece is written as it is.

  3. Wow, you must have really researched the hell out of this one, NS. (Uh, pun intended...)

    I can't say that I was planning on reading an obituary of Mr. Graham, when I saw the news today, but I appreciate the one-stop-shopping aspect of having a fine one posted right here at EGD. Of course, it having been written by an esteemed local Jewish agnostic is a bonus! As he looks down from heaven, he's probably dispatching an angel to the other place to tell Nixon that the "'stranglehold' on the news media" lives on! ; )

    I agree that the toadyism is clear and think you did a nice job of presenting a pretty full picture.

    Anyway, fine work, as usual. May I ask when you first began on what must have been an ongoing project, Neil?

    1. Thanks. The value of a clip file. I have no memory of writing it -- 10, 15 years ago. I know I had to revise it in 2012 when the tapes of him yucking it up with Nixon came out. I know I had to migrate it through various systems.

    2. One more reason to envy you, Neil: anything that I wrote more than a couple years ago, is either handwritten (some legible, most not) or on 8-inch Radio Shack diskettes or some other unrecognizable format. Glad you saved your stuff anyway.



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