More on the Billy Graham Papers

Billy Graham LibraryAdelle Banks has a piece on this at Religion News Service.   I was happy to weigh-in.  I also covered this here.  This is yet another example of evangelicals trying to control their historical narratives.  This is similar to what I experienced in writing the history of the American Bible Society.

So I wonder, is Franklin Graham worried that scholars and historians will find more unflattering things about his father?  Let’s face it, evangelicals need good history more than ever.  We need to look into the mirror of the past and see what we have done well and where we have failed.  I am afraid that this will not happen if more and more evangelical institutions try to control access to records in this way.  History will become hagiography.

6 thoughts on “More on the Billy Graham Papers

  1. Matthew,

    Yes. I agree with you about the purpose of archives. Still, there were undercurrents by one or two posters hinting that Franklin was attempting to hide or to obscure something in his father’s papers. My comment was intended to counter this conspiratorial tone.

    With that being said, there is no evidence that Franklin Graham has a grand design to restrict access to future honest researchers.



  2. John,
    I would not dismiss your theory out-of-hand, but don’t you think that the elder Graham’s papers have already been pretty well examined? In other words, I cannot imagine that there are scores of dark secrets lurking in the Wheaton Graham archives. It’s not like they were written in Medieval Latin or Old English and stored in a specially restricted area.

    I have never visited the museum and gift shop in Charlotte but I wonder if the younger Graham simply wants to enhance the stature of the facility by adding an academic resource center. It might be as simple as that. In my opinion, many evangelicals have a scholastic inferiority complex; Franklin might simply be attempting to address that perceived defecit.



    • James, the importance of an archive is that we can ask it new questions without having those questions controlled by dominant interpreters gating access. Archives preserve materials for long-term future availability to study in ways that are not helped by ideological concerns over control of the meaning of a legacy. It’s not about whether there are “scores of dark secrets lurking,” but about having a factually accessible set of records from his life, without filtering. Like or loathe him, this was a formative movement in American religion, with global effects, and his fonds in all its human complexity is a valuable resource for understanding that period and its reality.


      • Matthew,

        Do you have reason to believe that Franklin will not allow legitimate research access to the papers? Does it matter whether readers access the documents at Wheaton or in Charlotte?



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