I was struck by this question again yesterday in class. We were reading Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address and I was asking students to compare Lincoln’s moral vision in the address with the anti-Confederate writings of some 19th-century Christian leaders. One of those Christian leaders was Henry Ward Beecher, the clergyman who historian Debby Applegate described as “The Most Famous Man in America.” Beecher’s wanted to punish the post-war South for its sins. Lincoln, as anyone who read the Second Inaugural Address knows, took a different approach.
In order to help my students understand Beecher’s influence I asked them if such a national Christian spokesperson exists for their generation. Billy Graham served this role for my generation, but evangelicalism today is such a diverse coalition that it is unlikely a Graham-like figure will emerge. With the exception of a few Catholic students who mentioned the Pope, most students could not come up with a Graham-like voice. Evangelicalism, like the rest of American culture, is experiencing an “age of fracture.”