For seven hours today, the remains of the evangelist Billy Graham will lie in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Why? Billy was a family friend but this is not appropriate.
We aren’t Iran. We aren’t a theocracy. Watch Franklin Graham and Mike Pence strike a blow for further establishing of a homophobic white nationalist American theocracy this week by abusing the Billy Graham funeral/lying in state hoopla. And Trump will try to get in on the afterglow too.
The Religious Right is set to hijack Billy’s remains as his own son Franklin has long since planned to do.
I first met Billy Graham when I was nine. He visited my parents’ home and spent the day with us. I sat next to him and his then nine-year-old son Franklin, as they listened to my father preach in our living room that doubled as our chapel at my parents’ evangelical mission of L’Abri” (the shelter) in Switzerland.
I last saw Billy in the early 1980s when I was with my evangelist father Francis Schaeffer (“credited” as one of the founders of the religious right) who was undergoing treatment at Mayo Clinic. Billy, Dad and I met several times there when Billy was visiting for his checkups.
It seems to me that Billy died in the very year that the subculture of white evangelicalism he helped create has committed suicide by continuing to support Trump. And the double irony is Billy’s son Franklin has led what might now be called the Trump Crusade, not for Christ, but for power.
Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporter is Franklin Graham. Admired among far right white evangelicals, Franklin has defended Trump on television and social media through the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, the crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and the slur against Haiti and Africa.
When Barack Obama was president, Franklin Graham was part of the “birther” conspiracy that claimed the president was not an American citizen. He lied suggesting that Obama was not a Christian and might secretly be a Muslim.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Franklin held rallies in 50 states to pump up evangelical turnout on what he called a “Decision America Tour.”
There’s a bizarre symmetry here: To get elected Trump held Graham-like mass “evangelistic” rallies and led white Christians to deny the faith Billy Graham had once preached. They denied Graham’s Jesus for the sake of accepting earthly and utterly corrupting power as their new “personal savior.”
Trump becoming president may turn out to be the lasting Billy Graham legacy. Graham’s funeral in North Carolina on Friday, which Trump will attend, will serve as a reminder of nothing so much as how the evangelical movement has mutated and splintered from one generation to the next. And sadly Billy fused his faith message with 1950s American anti-communism in ways that are still playing out today. As Anthea Butler writes in Religion dispatches (February 22, 2018 Billy Graham and the Gospel of American Nationalistic Christianity):
With Graham’s death, it’s time to reconsider how his promotion of a nationalistic version of Americanized Christianity has influenced evangelicals today. Graham’s proximity to the office of the presidency and government since the Eisenhower administration is part of why we see scenes of eager evangelicals embracing President Trump. It’s also responsible for a large cohort of evangelicals who are actively supporting Islamophobia, isolationism, and America first policies.
Billy Graham may have been “puffed” by William Randolph Hearst newspaper reporters in his first crusade in Los Angeles, but the more important event in Graham’s ministry was his Washington, D.C. crusade in 1952. It was there that he would begin what was part of his lifelong work: fusing Christianity and Americanism together to create a potent cocktail of Evangelical Christian Nationalism.
When Billy Graham is buried this week, it will be the second Graham family burial to happen at the Billy Graham center. The first cast a light on just what a JERK Franklin Graham is aside from even his far right politics. Billy’s wife (and my mother’s good friend Ruth), died in 2007. And — to put it mildly — Franklin was exposed as a real low life by that event. He went against his mother’s last wishes as to where to be buried. Franklin wanted to create a sort of emperors’ tomb for his parents as an ongoing fundraising gimmick. With his parents buried at his center, Franklin figured – correctly – that he’d keep the visitors coming and the money flowing.
As the Washington Post reported (Graham: Wife to Be Buried in Charlotte June 14, 2007)
Ruth Bell Graham’s … burial site has been a matter of contention for months, threatening to break apart the country’s most famous Christian family. A Washington Post story in December revealed that son Franklin Graham, chief executive officer of the BGEA, had told potential donors that he planned to bury his parents at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Two of the other four Graham children, Ned Graham and Anne Graham Lotz, objected, as did Ruth, who called the library, a Disney-like building in the shape of a barn, “a circus.” In the presence of six witnesses, including Ned, a neuroscientist and a Graham employee, Ruth signed a notarized statement saying she wished to be buried in a memorial garden at the Cove, a mountain retreat center that she and Billy built about 20 years ago.
…Ned Graham said yesterday that when he visited his mother a week and a half ago, she told him she still intended to be buried at the Cove. He said he and his sister Anne first learned of the change last night.
“I know this goes against my mother’s wishes,” he said.
Franklin Graham is cashing in on his parents’ deaths by making a shrine of their final resting place, and this was against his mother’s wishes. White evangelical Trump supporters don’t care about such niceties these days. They are into Franklin’s magical thinking — that Trump is president because of God’s will, notwithstanding details like being a scum woman-abuser– and no doubt think that Franklin is even more in touch with God’s will – even in matters of where his mom wanted to be buried – than the rest of us, let alone his mother.
Billy made magical thinking mainstream. He shaped an evangelical movement that then became as political as he was in his Nixon-supporting years and unlike Billy, this movement never repented of trading Jesus for politics. Full circle: Billy Graham sought to forge a movement that was distinct from the Southern racist fundamentalism of his day, yet that is precisely what today’s evangelicalism has become again.
Magical thinking isn’t a very good basis for policy or politics. “I believe Donald Trump is a good man,” Franklin Graham said on CNN, last month. “He did everything wrong as a candidate and he won, and I don’t understand it. Other than I think God put him there.”
Graham’s converts from the 1950s to 1990s (my generation, old, white, and tired) lined up to support not only Trump but Roy Moore. One of their very own, Sarah Huckabee, stands up every day and knowingly lies for Trump, covering for his multitude of sins on everything from racism to his lies about paying off porn stars, to abusing scores of women and denying that the Russians attacked our democracy to help get him elected.
Graham and the neo-evangelicals, as they called themselves, tried to create religious revival in the United States. Fifty years on what they got instead was Trump and Roy Moore, climate change deniers, white nationalism and the NRA’s lock on the party evangelicals uniquely empower.
Franklin Graham actually went to bat for the NRA. He blasted President Obama for his stand against military weapons being legal. Graham parroted the NRA/Gun-Lobby line in a Facebook post (January 6, 2016): “Your executive actions will do nothing to change this horrific problem. You can take all the guns in America and put them in a pile on the Mall in Washington DC, and those guns will stay there and will eventually rust and decay. Not one gun will crawl out of that pile and shoot or harm anyone. It takes a human being, and a human heart bent on evil, to pick up a gun, load it, and pull the trigger.”
Do evangelicalisms’ leaders remain interested in the spiritual at all these days as Billy Graham sincerely was? Or has their agenda become merely political? Trump is the answer to those questions.
The fatal arc of decline is clear. To use the biblical analogy of Saul, before he converted and took the name of Paul, holding the coats of the killers stoning St. Stephen to death, Graham’s son’s Franklin, is “holding Trump’s coat” while he stones American decency to death. Franklin even says this is God’s will.
Billy Graham’s veneer of pious civility is long gone from the white evangelical movement. It’s been replaced by Billy Graham’s own worst inner demons that he repented of after he’d become Nixon’s confidant. As he sat by Dad’s bedside Billy told Dad and me how he lamented supporting Nixon and never would “be political” again. The context of this conversation was when Billy was explaining to my father why he would not support Dad’s anti-abortion efforts.
Franklin never got the memo. The image of the white evangelicals these days is not of sinners repenting as they surge forward to the altar call while the hymn “Just as I Am” wafts over them, but rather of Nixon-type online trolls supporting gun rights by spreading vile lies about grieving high school students.
If Trump remains the defining bookend bracketing the Billy Graham era of white evangelical empowerment historians may judge Graham’s stated purpose to reach “the lost” for Christ as failed. His lasting significance may rather be understood as having contributed to the creation of a power-crazed movement that enabled an American tragedy.
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Thank you for this article and your new book. It’s brilliant! I totally trust ever word you say because you have first hand experience,. Coming from a regressive evangelical upbringing to become a great progressive thinker is where America need to move towards a positive future. Today’s political agenda is has pushed us back fifty years in just one. If we allow this fascist movement to continue we will be hurled back to the Stone Age. I will read your book and I’m sure I will highly recommend it. You are a refreshing voice of experience and reasoning in a post truth era.
Why ? … Sheesh Frank… come on … the answer is simple … cause Trump and Franklin are damned ( literally and figuratively ) and determined to ‘ milk ‘ Billy Graham’s death for all the publicity and money they can get out of it .
To be honest before its all said and done I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Franklin steeped within the depths of heresy as he is … choses to circumvent Protestant theology completely … claiming to venerate Billy to the status of Sainthood … and then sell relics for a godawful fortune to the deluded minions .
In as far as the theocracy issue . Once again … come on Frank … you know as well as I that the age of Theocracy was brought to a close the minute Israel demanded a human king never to be reinstated until the return of the Messiah .
But that doesn’t stop the christofascist right in America from trying to turn our Pluralistic society… ( FYI ; we are a ‘pluralistic’ country not secular ) ..
…into an autocratic Kuriacracy
Lastly …in regards to Billy’s claims of ” reaching the lost ” throughout his life . According to the statistics gathered by several Christian and secular organizations in the 80’s and 90’s …. less than 5% of those answering Billy Graham’s alter calls … held on to their new found ‘ faith ‘ beyond 24 – 36 months … So where are they now ? Hmmm … damn good question … but they sure as hell aint in no church / Church .. Biblical or otherwise
So – ” …. know them by their fruits ” ? So far ole Billy’s fruits from temporal ephemeral converts to progeny are looking mighty damn rotten indeed .
…. remembering the Biblical adage of the sins of the father passing down to the sons .
There is nothing, not one minute thing, similar between the good man, Billy Graham and his apostate son, Franklin Graham.
As an addendum … lets not go blaming the ills of what passes for evangelical christianity in America on Trump .
Trump is but one symptom of a church long in decline ( since the mid 70’s early 80’s ) that decades ago began trading in the Truth for the acquisition of wealth and power … having tossed aside the Bible they claim to adhere to preferring the Gospel of Ayn Rand instead .
I watched this happen before my very eyes .. was even part of it for awhile … from seminaries to churches – leadership to congregation – piece by piece – bit by bit .. the evangelical church trading in the Truth for a tantalizing lie … and God … for a god of their own making … or as I’ve put it .. for a god who’s hand they can shake .
And for the record .. from Catholic ( Roman & Orthodox ) to Ecclesiastical … right down to the most Liberal imaginable … across the US the majority one by one have fallen down the same Rabbit Hole as well ..
“a church long in decline ( since the mid 70’s early 80’s ) that decades ago began trading in the Truth for the acquisition of wealth and power … having tossed aside the Bible they claim to adhere to preferring the Gospel of Ayn Rand instead .”
On could also substitute “the Gospel of Ayn Rand” for “a doctrine of ‘social justice’ and replacement theology”. Because that’s where many evangelicals are now going.
The SBC has more money than most countries and is trying to take over ours.
Thats what they’d like you to believe … fortunately for all of us though … its an abject lie . Fact is the SBC is riddled with debt barely able to keep its ugly head above the financial floor engulfing it … but they sure do tell a mighty fine story .. don’t they .
I mostly agree with what Frank wrote, but I don’t have a problem with Billy Graham lying in state in the US Capitol Rotunda. He was an American icon that shaped American politics (for good and ill) and his being honored in the Rotunda is much like Rosa Parks who was also given a similar honor.
I agree on this, Joelyn. I believe Billy deserved every second of being honored in the Rotunda.
Lying in state is for people who served the government and military not civilians and religious civilians at that and we our supposed to have separation between church as our dear Jefferson proposed !
I am from a military family with members serving in our elite special forces as we speak and all feel this is disgraceful!
There will come a time when this shall be felt with I assure you …..
Obviously, there is no law that limits lying in state exclusively for government and military as several American game changers have been given this honor https://www.aoc.gov/nations-stage/lying-state-honor. I see no violation of the separation of church and state by giving Mr. Graham this honor, but if folks want to be upset over it, have at it,
Ahhh .. did you happen to take the time to look over the list of those previously granted the honor ? ( by the way your link is corrupted )
Not one solitary religious leader among them despite the fact that twas religious leaders of the past who ;
Established the majority of our Ivy League colleges and universities
Served gallantly and with honor on many a battlefield and war
The Whitehouse and POTUS has had many religious advisors in the past .. many of which served multiple POTUS’s .. none of which were recognized or honored as Graham has been
etc – et al – ad nauseam
In other words joelyn … Do the research Twice ( or three or four times ) and get your facts straight before Commenting/Replying /Posting once
While I do not agree with it, I do believe he served as religious advisor to 3 or 4 presidents, so that is what I think is qualifying him for this service.
Acting as Whitehouse chaplain / advisor does not qualify one for the honor . Nor does it in any way circumvent the US Constitution , Bill of Rights and DoI’s strict interpretations and mandates on the division between church and state .
And the fact is … no other POTUS other than Drumpf .. desperate for attention as he is … would of allowed this to happen … including according to an interview this week … the ONLY legitimate evangelical that ever held the office … President Jimmy Carter
Fact is … if it were physiologically possible … Justice Scalia himself would be spinning in his grave at at least 10,000 rpm or more over this … being the Strict Constitutionalist that he was
Fact is … this action is nothing more than the Evangelical Rights further attempts to once and for all destroy all semblances of Democracy as well as the intended Pluralistic nature of our country replacing it with an Autocratic Kuriacracy once and for all .. of which they and they alone of course will be in charge of ..
… along with Franklin’s attempts to profit on his fathers death
“Lying in state is for people who served the government and military not civilians”
Rosa Parks was a civilian.
“Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and third non-US government official to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Parks
“non-US government official”
Rosa parks and Billy Graham in the same breath?
Evangelicals are racist to the core ….
Some Evangelicals may be racist to the core, but pointing out that Parks and Graham shared the same honor is appropriate.
Not even close little lady . Rosa Parks risked her life for the benefit of all …. whereas all Billy Graham ever was was one more Billy Sunday screaming ranting and raving evangelist snake oil salesman which this country has had more than its fair share of in light of our ongoing ” religious insanity “… who changed absolutely nothing .. never mind the game .
Suffice it to say … unlike yourself I had first hand experience with ole Billy and his organization … unlike yourself I was one of the few Evangelical leaders willing to tell Graham and Co. where to shove it …and …. NO ! and unlike Frank I’m unwilling to be nice out of some misguided respect for the dead … cause the fact is young lady .. from Billy Graham on down the chain his was a world full of grifters and con artists more interested in his/their own wealth and fame than the well being or souls of others
Suffice it to say .. Franklin … is but a minor exaggeration of everything his father was behind the scenes .
In as far as crossing the dividing line between church and state by allowing a blatantly Religious leader … emphasis on R-E-L-I-G-I-O-U-S … the place of honor ? Either you’re extremely uninformed when it comes to the Constitutional mandate on the division of church and state … or you’re trolling …
But either way … you are utterly clueless
From what I read about him Billy Graham was not a racist and he outwardly refused to preach to segregated crowds in the south in the 50s and 60s.
I agree Frank. Very excellent blog.
I agree with Frank. Why is this man lying in state? It’s Franklin’s cheap, opportunistic agenda to create a legacy. Shame.
… more like Franklin’s opportunistic agenda to make a buck …. but hey … either way works .
Evangelicals should be discouraged from voting as their members are unfit to make decisions for America as evidenced by what their people have done once they gained power!
Frank is correct in his assessment on this blog and as Jefferson stated in that famous letter to those Danbury Baptists that we must rebuild that wall of separation between church and state and tear down that wall around Bethlehem!
Just an opinion
” Evangelicals should be discouraged from voting as their members are unfit to make decisions for America as evidenced by what their people have done once they gained power! ”
Love it Nine … that goes hand in hand with Alexis de’ Tocqueville’s comment in ” Democracy in America ” when he said that this country was filled with ” unexplainable religious insanity ” … that in his estimation ,,, might well lead to our eventual downfall … along with that ” Tyranny of the Masses ” he alluded to .. both of which played a part in placing Herr Drumpf in office
As Billy Graham is laid to rest … all aint exactly well in good ole Tighty Righty Whitey Trumpaziod Android Evangelical christofascistville ;
( if you’re concerned about the link go directly to the fivethirtyeight website and look up the article titled ; ” How Trump and Race are Splitting Evangelicals ” by Bacon / DeVeaux )
‘Americanized Christianity’ sounds a lot like ‘Nationalized Socialism’. *wink*
Still costing the taxpayers money.