Randall Balmer on Billy Graham

Graham and Nixon

Last week I was giving a lecture on American evangelicalism to the members of the Board of Trustees of a Christian college.  I told them that some future historian of American evangelicalism is going to write an article about how the election of Donald Trump influenced the first wave of articles about the legacy of Billy Graham.  It will make a great little project.

There have been a lot of glowing things written about Graham’s legacy.  There have also been a lot of really critical things written about Graham’s life and his legacy.

Randall Balmer does not fall into either category.  I appreciate his even-handed approach in this piece at New Hampshire’s Valley News.  A taste:

The burden of this very long prologue is to say that I approach the question of Graham’s place in history with an enormous reservoir of good will. I think he was a remarkable man, a person of integrity and rare talent.

To take one tiny example, anyone who has looked into a television camera knows how difficult it is to deliver one’s lines, even if they are prepared and memorized; to do so extemporaneously — and flawlessly — is an achievement. When I’m asked by reporters who will be the next Billy Graham (a favorite question), my answer is unequivocal: no one. Graham came to prominence at a unique moment in history, when new media were emerging. He and his associates exploited those media brilliantly to create the 20th century’s first religious celebrity.

No, there will never be another Billy Graham.

If I were to offer a “Yes, but” on Graham’s legacy, it would center around his political machinations. And here, in the interests of transparency, I should probably confess that I have never quite forgiven Graham for endorsing Nixon over George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, even though Graham himself apologized to McGovern for his comments during the heat of that campaign.

Read the entire piece here.

Indeed, Graham was the original court evangelical and that is how I treat him my forthcoming Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.