More on the Billy Graham Archives Move from Wheaton to Charlotte

BG-Library-Fall-Events

Religion News Service is running another piece on the Franklin Graham’s decision to move the Billy Graham Archives from Wheaton College to the Billy Graham “Library” in Charlotte.

Back in March, I weighed-in as part of another RNS piece on this topic.  At that time I said this: “By taking the papers away from Wheaton, where access is open, Franklin Graham and the BGEA can now control access and can thus control the narrative of his father’s life in terms of who gets to read them….Evangelicals must come face to face with both the good side and bad side of their history by taking an honest look at people like Billy Graham.  I am not sure this will happen in Charlotte.  The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte is not a library.”

I also wrote a post here.

Here is a taste of Tim Funk’s recent RNS piece:

This week, at Wheaton College in Illinois, specially trained movers will begin organizing, preparing and packing 3,235 boxes of paper items, 1,000 scrapbooks of news clippings dating back to the 1940s and more than 1,000 linear feet of videos, cassettes, reels, films and audio.

All of it documents the life and ministry of evangelist Billy Graham, the Christian college’s most famous alumnus. And soon, all of it will be headed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, N.C., Graham’s hometown.

The big transport trucks that will haul the valuable cargo won’t make the nearly 800-mile trip until mid to late June. But the controversy over moving the Graham materials all began more than two months ago. That’s when it was announced that, after June 1, the materials would no longer be housed at Wheaton’s highly regarded Billy Graham Center Archives.

Since it opened with Billy Graham’s blessing in 1980, more than 19,000 scholars, journalists and other researchers from around the world have spent 67,000 hours doing work there.

The BGEA’s Charlotte site does include the 12-year-old Billy Graham Library, but it was not designed as a research facility. Instead, it is a presidential-like museum celebrating the life of Graham, who died last year at age 99, and is a brick-and-mortar continuation of his worldwide evangelism efforts.

“The so-called (Billy Graham) Library is not a library,” said Edith Blumhofer, a longtime history professor at Wheaton who is now completing a study of the music of the Billy Graham Crusades. “It has no archives. It has no archivist.”

Read the entire piece here.

A Visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Gordon Conwell

I spent Monday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts (Boston-area).  Thanks to Gordon-Conwell president Dennis Hollinger for the invitation and Mary Ann Hollinger for her hospitality.

The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life sponsored conversation on evangelicals and politics that included Boisi director (and Jesuit theologian) Mark Massa, Dartmouth historian of American evangelicalism Randall Balmer, and yours truly.

A few takeaways:

  1. Gordon-Conwell is a seminary founded by mid-century evangelical stalwarts Billy Graham, J. Howard Pew and J. Harold Ockenga.  Over the last fifty years it has been an institutional fixture on the evangelical landscape.  During the course of the evening I did not meet a single Trump supporter.  This is the first time that I have been at a self-identified evangelical institution where I did not meet someone who wanted to make the case for Trump.
  2. I talked with several pastors-in-training (MDiv students) who wanted advice about how to deal with Trump supporters in their future congregations.  My advice:  preach the Gospel in season and out of season.   I hope they will avoid bringing politics into the pulpit, but rather preach in a positive way about what the Bible teaches regarding truth and lying, welcoming the stranger, caring for the “least of these,” loving neighbors,” the dignity of human life, and the pursuit of holiness.  I encouraged them, to borrow a term from Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter, to be “faithfully present” in the congregations and communities where God calls them to serve.
  3.  All of the evangelical millennials I chatted with were fed-up with Trump and the Christian Right.  It seems like a sea-change is coming.
  4.  During the formal conversation, Gordon-Conwell theology and missions professor Peter Kuzmic talked about how his fellow evangelicals in Eastern Europe were appalled that American evangelicals supported Trump.  I asked him publicly if the evangelical support of Donald Trump was hindering the work of the Gospel in Eastern Europe.  He did not miss a beat in saying “yes.”  This is tragic.  It is the case I have been making during the Believe Me book tour.  I told Kuzmic that I would like to take him with me on the road.  His testimony was a powerful one.  While court evangelicals continue to take victory laps over securing an originalist judiciary that might overturn Roe v. Wade, the witness of the Gospel is becoming more difficult, especially for missionaries.
  5. We talked a lot of about “fracture” within the evangelical community.  The days of a unified neo-evangelicalism (if there ever was such a thing) are over.  George Marsden once said that an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham.  Well, Billy Graham is now dead and there will be no one to replace him.  This is not a statement about whether or not there are any potential heirs to Graham.  It is rather a statement about the current state of American culture, a state that Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers has called the “Age of Fracture.” I want to write more about this.
  6. It was an honor to share the stage and the evening with Randall Balmer, a scholar who has taught me so much about evangelicalism.

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.

Franklin Graham Wants to Transfer the Billy Graham Papers from Wheaton to Charlotte

Billy Graham Library

Here is the official Wheaton College statement:

Wheaton College has received a request from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to transfer Dr. Billy Graham’s papers and the BGEA’s organizational records from the Billy Graham Center Archives on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in order to consolidate Dr. Graham’s historical records.

College leaders are in communication with the BGEA regarding its planned consolidation. Wheaton College affirms its longstanding respect for the BGEA and looks forward to continuing the positive relationship that the College and the BGEA have enjoyed for decades.

Wheaton College is grateful for the life and legacy of Dr. Graham, who graduated from Wheaton in 1943 and received an honorary doctorate in 1956. His relationship with the College spanned eight decades, including 27 years as a member of the Board of Trustees, after which he was a Trustee Emeritus for the rest of his life. His vision for global evangelism continues through events, initiatives and academic programs of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Forty years ago, Dr. Graham entrusted his papers and other materials to Wheaton College. Since then, Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center Archives has had the honor of curating and making available primary sources regarding Dr. Graham and the BGEA, as well as organizational records, personal papers, and oral histories from other sources documenting the history of evangelism and missionary activity of North American nondenominational Protestants. More than 19,000 scholars, journalist and other researchers have spent 67,000 hours in the Billy Graham Center Archives since it opened, producing dozens of books, articles and papers annually.

Wheaton College remains committed to the vision that Dr. Graham articulated at the dedication of the Center in 1980: “I hope and pray that the Billy Graham Center will be a world hub of inspiration, research, and training that will glorify Christ and serve every church and organization in preaching and teaching the Gospel to the world.”

The Billy Graham Center will continue to house the archives of numerous organizations and individuals central to American evangelism and missionary work worldwide, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Lausanne Movement, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, and Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, in the building that bears Billy Graham’s name.

Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) is a coeducational Christian liberal arts college noted for its rigorous academics, integration of faith and learning, and consistent ranking among the top liberal arts colleges in the country. For more information, visit wheaton.edu.

I don’t have horse in this race, but I do hope that scholars will have the same access to the Graham papers now that they are with Franklin.  Will the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte have a professional archivist to care for the papers? What kind of research facilities do they have? How will the papers be managed?

Right now, it appears that the “Billy Graham Library” in Charlotte is little more than a museum, Christian bookstore, snack shop, and prayer garden. The website says nothing about research.  Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College has the most extensive archive collection in the country devoted to American evangelicalism.

Franklin Graham Politicizes His Father’s Birthday

Franklin Graham can’t help himself.  Why not help the local economy by giving this job to a Charlotte baker?

2 reasons:

  1. He is a culture warrior
  2. He wants to control his father’s legacy

By the way, if you don’t know who Jack Phillips is, click here.

Just to be clear:  This post is not about whether the Supreme Court decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop was right or wrong.  (If it was me, I would have baked the cake).  It is about Franklin Graham using such a divisive figure to promote his father’s birthday.

Billy Graham’s *Decision* Magazine Says Christians Will be “Open Targets” if Democrats Take Congress in 2018

Graham Decision

An early issue of *Decision*

Court evangelical and fear-monger Franklin Graham obviously has the reigns at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).  The editors of Decision, the official magazine of the BGEA, recent published an article titled “How the White House has Strengthened Religious Liberty.”  Here is a taste:

The past 22 months have brought significant progress in restoring religious liberty in the United States. But if Christians do not remain engaged, those gains could be brought to a screeching halt or even lost after next month’s midterm elections. If progressives reclaim a majority in Congress, not to mention in state and local governments, believers will once again be open targets for punishment by left-wing activists bent on silencing those who wish to live out their faith in society.

The article goes on to praise Donald Trump for appointing Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, proclaiming that Christians will not “be bullied anymore,” protecting international religious liberty, and revoking the Johnson Amendment (which has not happened).  See the entire list here.

Billy Graham got burned by getting too close to politics.  I chronicle this story in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  So it is sad to see his organization and his magazine becoming so political.  How this will hurt the BGEA’s ability to spread the Gospel around the world is yet to be seen.  That will be a story for future historians to tell.

Will Christians be “open targets” if the Democrats are elected?  I don’t think so.  But even if we are, perhaps it is time for the church to suffer a little persecution.  It might do us some good and help us to figure out what we are supposed to be doing in these days.  It might also help us to articulate a more “confident pluralism” and relinquish our Christian nationalist longings.

Franklin Graham: “Progressive? That’s just another word for godless”

Trump Graham

Court evangelical Franklin Graham is traveling through California to make sure Christians vote for conservative candidates.  Here is a taste of a piece on Graham’s tour at The Hill:

Evangelist leader and vocal President Trump supporter Franklin Graham is currently on tour in California to urge Christians to vote in the upcoming primary as part of an attempt to combat progressive policy in the state, The New York Times reported.

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, is taking a three-bus caravan up the middle of California, which is home to some of the most contested elections this year.

He plans to hold 10 rallies to urge evangelicals to vote, the Times reported. His tour will end on June 5, the day of the primary.

“The church just has to be wakened,” he told the Times. “People say, what goes in California is the way the rest of the nation is going to go. So, if we want to see changes, it is going to have to be done here.”

Graham said that his tour is for Jesus and for supporting candidates that advance the social conservative causes — such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage — many evangelicals want.

“Progressive? That’s just another word for godless,” Graham told a group of supporters, according to the Times. 

He added that it was time for churches to “suck it up” and vote, according to the Times.

Read the entire piece here.

Billy Graham believed the church needed to be “wakened” to the good news of the Gospel and the re-dedication of individual lives to that Gospel.  Franklin Graham wants the church to be “wakened” to vote.  The political captivity of evangelicalism doesn’t get any clearer than this.

Why No Billy Graham University?

Returns to Alma Mater

Billy Graham at Wheaton

A great question from Adam Laats, author of the recent Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Edcuation.  Here is a taste of his recent blog post:

Moody had Moody Bible Institute. Billy Sunday had Winona Lake. William Bell Riley started Northwestern. Bob Jones had, well, Bob Jones. The list goes on and on. Falwell-Liberty; Oral Roberts-Oral Roberts; Robertson-Regent.

So why is there no Billy Graham University?

One possibility is that Wheaton has functioned as the de facto BGU. The Billy Graham Center is there, and the connection is pretty tight.

Maybe we’ll see a repeat of the Bryan University story. Back in 1925, after the sudden death of William Jennings Bryan in the immediate aftermath of the Scopes trial, fundamentalists rallied to open a college in Bryan’s memory. Some wanted it in Chicago; some wanted it to be a junior college. In the end, Bryan’s widow won the day with her plea to open the new school in Dayton, Tennessee. The junior-college idea was rejected in favor of a traditional liberal-arts university.

Read the entire post here.

Scholars Reflect on the Songs Billy Graham Chose For His Funeral

All-Hail-The-Power-Of-Jesus-Name-F-Major

Here is Mark Noll:

This list looks like something from one of the hymn pamphlets prepared by Cliff Barrows for a typical Graham crusade from the 1950s or ’60s, with slight modifications tilted toward the contemporary. Such pamphlets, in turn, resembled the way that Ira Sankey prepared his “Sacred Songs and Solos” from his musical work for D. L. Moody.

Sankey and Barrows, both fond of traditional hymnody but also very much in tune with the times, followed similar paths. They put to use “classics” that could be sung with enthusiasm and gusto (e.g., “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”). They found contemporary hymns that their own promotion made into classics, as Sankey did for several of Fanny Crosy’s compositions (“To God Be the Glory”). They featured music popular among the constituencies that came out to hear Moody or Graham and went away warmed in their hearts (“Because He Lives,” “Above All”).

They made especially good use of songs tied to the ministry of the evangelist, as the BGEA did for so long with George Beverly Shea and “How Great Thou Art” (for the funeral, “Until Then,” which I am remembering as sung on one of the Graham movies of the 1950s, but maybe I’m imagining). And with “Amazing Grace,” they take a hymn well known to many people, but with the bagpipes presented it in a form that had become super common (because, in this case, of how often bagpipe renditions were used at memorials after 9/11).

Read other reflections on the song list at Christianity Today.

The Billy Graham Motorcade Rolls Through Black Mountain

Graham Montreat

This is the Graham motorcade passing through his home town of Black Mountain, NC on his way to Charlotte.  Historian Ben Brandenburg, a history professor at Montreat College, took this picture.

Brandenburg wrote on his Facebook page:

Billy Graham Motorcade in Black Mountain. Solemn moment. But I was half hoping that Billy would resurrect from the Hearse and dismiss the Confederate Flag by the Town Square.

Great line.

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.

Writer Ruth Graham on “Being Ruth Graham”

graham-head-2Slate contributor Ruth Graham, who is not directly related to the recently deceased evangelist, says that “Billy Graham has hovered over me my whole life, and not just because I share a name with his wife and daughter.”  Read her recent piece at Slate:

Ruth Graham died in 2007 when I was about to embark on a daylong hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. Browsing a rack of newspapers on a coffee run before heading into the woods, I was jarred to see my own name in the headlines. Feeling uncharacteristically superstitious, I called my dad to let him know where I was going and what time I’d be back.

I felt a similar shiver of affinity on Wednesday morning when I read that Ruth’s husband, the legendary 20th-century evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, had died at age 99. I’m not related to that Graham family, but they have hovered over my whole life in more ways than our not-uncommon last name suggests. I am the granddaughter of a theologically conservative Protestant pastor and a woman named Ruth Graham. My childhood bedroom overlooked the cupola of the Billy Graham Center, a large building that opened the year after I was born. When I was 18, I moved a half-mile across the tracks to that same campus, Wheaton College, Billy and Ruth Graham’s alma mater. And I’ve spent much of my career reporting on evangelical culture, where Graham is revered as a lion of the faith.

She concludes:

When President Obama tweeted his respects on Wednesday, his mentions lit up with rebukes for honoring a “monster” like Graham. Decency, respectability, civility—lately it feels like these qualities are sometimes read as code words for a failure to speak truth to power. Indeed, it’s tempting to daydream about what theologically conservative Christianity might look like in 2018 if Graham had been just slightly more willing to afflict the comfortable. Instead, he was a natural moderate who had the misfortune to die in a moment in which fence-sitting has fallen out of favor. Perhaps that’s for the best, at least for this moment in history. But I believe something will be lost if Graham is remembered warmly only by his fellow theological conservatives. Call it self-interest, but I hope his good name endures. 

Read the entire piece here.

Billy Graham Round-Up

Graham and Ruth

Billy Graham in Norway, July 1955 (Wikimedia Commons)

I am having a hard time keeping-up with all the thoughtful reflections on Billy Graham’s legacy.  Here are some of the better pieces I have seen:

Steven Miller, “Who Was Billy Graham?: Placing America’s Evangelist in History,” Religion & Politics

Emma Green, “Billy Graham, the Great Uniter, Leaves Behind a Divided Evangelicalism,” The Atlantic

Ken Briggs, “Billy Graham stood tall, even when he came up short,” National Catholic Reporter

Richard Mouw, “I have no doubt what Billy Graham would have told the high school kids from Parkland, Fla.” Religion News Service

Ron Elving, “Billy Graham Walked a Line, And Regretted Crossing Over It, When It Came to Politics,” National Public Radio

Ian Lovett, “Will There Ever Be Another Billy Graham?” Wall Street Journal

Michael Gerson, “Billy Graham was consumed by grace,” The Washington Post

Tom Krattenmaker, “Today’s evangelicals should be more like Billy Graham.  We all should be,” USA Today

David Hollinger, “Billy Graham’s Missed Opportunities,” New York Times

Stephen Prothero, “Billy Graham Built a Movement. Now His Son is Dismantling It,” Politico

Chris Lehmann, “Billy Graham’s Crusades,” The Baffler

Stephen L. Carter, “Billy Graham’s Records on Race Was Both Ahead and Of His Time,” Bloomberg

Grant Wacker, “Billy Graham’s legacy for Christians, evangelical and otherwise,” The Christian Century

Daniel K. Williams, “Did Billy Graham Bring About the Evangelical Right?,” Newsweek

Do We Need Another Billy Graham?

OBama and Graham

As far as I know, Tara Isabella Burton is not a historian.  But her piece on Billy Graham at VOX is a model of balanced historical writing.  It is refreshing to see a piece that does not:

  1.  Claim Graham was the most important figure in world history since Saul of Tarsus.
  2.  Use Graham’s death to exorcise personal demons from evangelical childhoods.
  3.  Dismiss Graham because he failed to live up to contemporary moral standards.
  4.  Trash Graham as a huckster and peddler of superstition.

A lot of the pieces I refer to above have been written by historians.

Here is a taste of Burton’s piece, “Evangelical America Needs Billy Graham More Than Ever“:

As white evangelical Christianity in America comes to look more and more like Christian nationalism — a blend of GOP policy platforms, jingoism, white supremacy, and Christian rhetoric — it’s worth recognizing Billy Graham’s legacy as a spiritual leader who balanced a stringent, even uncompromising approach to his own faith with a ferocious independence from the American political arena. While today, faith and politics seem irredeemably intertwined (after all, 81 percent of white evangelicals famously voted for Trump), for Graham, political activism was — with the exception, as he himself recognized, of his disastrous friendship with Nixon — secondary to the faith principles he espoused.

In 2007, Graham defended his decision to distance himself from Falwell’s Moral Majority and its political successors:

I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.

In that regard, if he resembles any contemporary political figure, it is the Catholic Pope Francis — another figure whose theological convictions allow him to embrace perspectives and approaches from both sides of the secular political aisle, and who transcends the easy binary of left and right. Francis’s ferocious environmentalism, anti-capitalism, and commitment to eradicating income inequality, for example, have been lauded by the left, even as his views on abortion, say, place him in line with the “right.”

But Francis, like Graham before him, is a religious figure, not a political one, and words like “left” and “right” mean little. Both figures saw themselves as “pro-life” in the broadest sense of the word, a faith-based ethos that encompassed a variety of positions on the political spectrum.

Mike Pence famously caused controversy when he referred to himself as “A Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order.” But almost the same must be said of Graham.

A religious leader whose convictions informed his politics, and not the other way around, Graham showed America that theological convictions and a deep religious faith could exist for their own sake, and not be made subordinate to Republican partisan aims. And in an increasingly religiously polarized America — in which political and religious identity have all but fused — a spiritual leader who rejects those binaries is exactly what we need.

We need, in other words, another Billy Graham.

Sadly, I don’t think Burton will get her wish.  Read the entire piece here.

When Good Historians Talk About the “Right” and “Wrong” Side of History

MLK

I have never met Matthew Sutton, the Edward R. Meyer professor of history at Washington State University.  I admire his book American Apocalypse: A History of American Modern EvangelicalismYesterday he wrote an op-ed at The Guardian: Billy Graham was on the wrong side of history.”

Here is a taste:

When Billy Graham stands before the judgment seat of God, he may finally realize how badly he failed his country, and perhaps his God. On civil rights and the environmental crisis, the most important issues of his lifetime, he championed the wrong policies.

Graham was on the wrong side of history.

Did Graham, as Sutton suggests, “fail” his country or his God?  Sutton believes that he did, but this is not a historical question.

Sutton falls into the trap of claiming that there is a “right side” and a “wrong side” of history.  Such claims have nothing to do with history.  They have everything to do with politics.  They tell us more about Sutton’s politics than Billy Graham’s legacy.

I found this tweet from November 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election:

Read the rest of Sutton’s piece here.