What is Franklin Graham’s “Decision America” Tour All About?

In 1950, Billy Graham started a radio show called “Hour of Decision.” Cliff Barrows, Graham’s musical director, hosted the show.  It featured Graham sermons and usually ended with a call to make a “decision” to accept Jesus Christ as savior and be born-again.

Billy Graham’s sermons often included political commentary (usually something about the evils of communism), but when the evangelist talked about a “decision,” it was always meant in a spiritual context.

Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, is current on the road on a tour he is calling “Decision America.”  When a reporter asked Franklin “what is the question being decided?” by his tour,  he gave an answer that would have made his father proud:

If you can’t see the video in the tweet, here is a summary of what Graham says:

[By “decision” I mean] where do you stand before God.  Are you ready to meet Him…Life is coming to an end for all of us one day and are we ready to stand before God at that point.  I believe there is God.  He sent His son to die for our sins….The problems in this world is because of our sin of the human heart. So I hope many people will come.  I hope many people will put their faith and trust in Christ and they’ll have their lives changed forever.

But is this really what “Decision America” is really all about?  Is this tour just about the preaching of the Gospel?  We will have to see how the tour unfolds.

In the meantime, check out Alana Schorr’s Associated Press piece on Decision America’s Greenville, North Carolina stop.  The piece does not say that Graham used his platform to preach politics explicitly, but I think Schorr’s is right when she suggests that when Graham makes reference to the “trouble” our country is facing, he is probably referring to the Democratic attempts to impeach Trump.  It is hard to understand this in any other way in light of Graham’s court evangelicalism.

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Rev. Franklin Graham did not utter the word “impeachment” as he spoke to thousands of Christians here this week, the latest stop on a long-running tour he has dubbed Decision America — a title with political and religious undertones.

But evangelicals who turned out to see Graham didn’t necessarily need his warning that “our country is in trouble” in order to tap into their deep-rooted support for President Donald Trump during an intensifying political crisis hundreds of miles north in Washington.

“I do feel like we are, as Christians, the first line of defense for the president,” Christina Jones, 44, said before Graham took the stage. Trump is “supporting our Christian principles and trying to do his best,” she added, even as “everybody’s against him.”

The impeachment furor is the latest test of Trump’s seemingly unbreakable bond with conservative evangelical Christians. Trump suggested this week that the peril of impeachment would only cement his ties to that voting bloc, which helped propel him into office, and supporters who have stood by him through accusations of sexual assault and infidelity see no reason to back away from a president they view as unfairly beleaguered.

Frances Lassiter, 65, dismissed Democrats’ pursuit of a case against Trump as “all a bunch of crap” designed to push him from office.

Read the entire piece here.

Religious News Service Talks to Franklin Graham About Impeachment

Trump Graham

The court evangelical Franklin Graham remains loyal to Trump amid the House of Representative impeachment inquiry.  Today Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service spoke with Graham.  Rather than addressing the fact that the President of the United States called a foreign power to tell him to dig up dirt on the president’s political rival, Graham did what most court evangelicals do when Donald Trump is trouble. First, he changed the subject.  Second, he engaged in fear-mongering.

Instead of addressing the problems with Trump’s phone call, Graham described it as a “distraction” and called for the investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden.  Actually, it is Graham who is doing the distracting here.

Graham also told Shimron that he is concerned that Hunter Biden is using cocaine.  See what the court evangelical is doing here. The mention of cocaine is a dog whistle. Graham is betting that no conservative evangelical would ever vote for a candidate whose son uses cocaine. Shame on Graham!  No pastor or true evangelical leader would relish in the fact that Hunter Biden has struggled with drug addiction.  Graham is sacrificing Christian charity and compassion for political gain.

Here is a taste of Shimron’s piece:

Graham’s defense of the president echoed that of fellow evangelical Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, who has warned of a potential civil war if the House votes on impeachment and who has accused Democrats of worshipping the pagan god Moloch.

Sounding the alarm about a nation in peril is a tried-and-true evangelical strategy, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve argued this has been a typical part of evangelical political engagement for centuries — fear mongering,” said Fea. “You can’t make an argument to support what the president did on his phone call with the Ukrainian president. So what do you do? You play the traditional game of instilling fear in the electorate so they will see us falling off the cliff as a nation and this apocalyptic language will convince them they have to vote for Trump again in 2020.”

Read the entire piece here.

Sometimes I wonder if this kind of loyalty to corrupt presidents is part of the Graham family DNA.  As Shimron notes in her piece, Billy Graham (Franklin’s father) also stood behind Richard Nixon to the very end.  Here is Billy Graham biographer Grant Wacker:

Graham possessed boundless admiration for Nixon.  In the 1968 contest between Nixon and Senator Hubert Humphrey, as in the 1960 race between Nixon and Kennedy, Graham did not issue a formal or explicit endorsement of Nixon, but he made no attempt to camouflage his views either.  One week before the election the press reported that Nixon’s name was on Graham’s absentee ballot…

The relationship continued to thicken….Honor Billy Graham Day in Charlotte on October 15, 1971, won another visit from the president.  Some felt that Nixon’s remarks about Graham that day crossed the line from honor to adulation.  Less than a month before the 1972 presidential election, Graham declared on the Merv Griffin Show: “Nixon is the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.  In an election year that divides people…I [have] to be honest.

These events form the context in which Graham’s reaction to Nixon’s role in the Watergate controversy should be framed.  The details of the low-level crime and high-level mendacity that led to Nixon’s impeachment and forced his resignation in August 1974 have been rehearsed many times and need not detain us.  The crucial point is that Graham continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rat.  When the first hint of something amiss came to light in 1972, Graham dismissed it as pettifogery.  He pointed out that illicit undercover behavior was no stranger to the White House.  Through 1972 Graham allowed that the Watergate events themselves were troubling but insisted that Nixon had nothing to do with them.  As late as December he privately assured Nixon of his personal affection and “complete confidence in your personal integrity./”  Graham maintained that posture through January 1974.

Finally, on April 29, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee received 1,200 pages of transcripts of Oval Office conversations.  They showed that Nixon had participated in the cover-up virtually from the outset.  The transcripts also showed Nixon’s capacity for vulgarity and profanity.  Graham finally muscled up the courage to start reading New York Times excerpts in the middle of May. “The think that surprised me and shook me most was the vulgar language he used…I felt physically sick.”   Elsewhere Graham admitted to weeping and throwing up.  Graham biographer Marshall Frady said Graham attributed Nixon’s fall to “sleeping pills and demons.”  Graham insisted he was misquoted. But he was prepared to say that “all of Watergate was demonic because…it caused the American people to lose confidence in its institutions….almost as though some supernatural power of evil was trying to destroy this country.

Graham’s reference to Nixon’s language left many journalists and historians appalled. They felt Graham had proved incapable of distinguishing between the minor issue of cussing and the major one of undermining the government.  On the face of it they were right….

Graham’s entanglement with Nixon marked a turning point.  Until 1974 Graham had tumbled more and more rapidly into the vortex of partisan politics.  When Nixon crashed, his muddy reputation soiled Graham’s.  The Nixon years represented the bottom of Graham’s slide.  Graham acknowledged that Nixon’s magnetism had clouded his judgment.  In 1993 he would say, simply, that his friendship with Nixon had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics.  He urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake…

Will Trump-Supporting Evangelicals Learn Anything from the Graham-Nixon Relationship?

Graham and Nixon

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,  I wrote:

[Billy] Graham’s relationship with Richard Nixon brought him closer to the world of presidential politics than he had ever been before.  The two stayed in close contact during the years following Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the election of 1960 and the evangelist continued to speak positively about the politician in public venues.  In a 1964 interview in McCall’s magazine, Graham expressed his bafflement that he often heard people say  “I just don’t like Nixon.”  According to Graham, the former vice president was “one of the warmest and most likeable men I have ever known.”  Nixon claimed that Graham encouraged him  him to run for president again in 1968, and Graham, in turn, suggested that Nixon’s second change at the nation’s highest political office was part of God’s providential plan.  During Nixon’s years in the White House (1969-1974) , Graham made regular visits to the president, served as an unofficial surrogage (without formally endorsing him), advised Nixon on policy decision, and publicly thanked God for his presidency.  [Historian Steven] Miller goes as far to suggest that there were times when “Graham’s [religious] services or appearances seemed to double as Nixon rallies.”  Nixon used Graham to win evangelical votes, especially in the South. where Nixon needed the votes of white southern Christians–his so-called “Southern strategy”–and Graham believed that Nixon was a moral statesman, God’s man to lead a Christian nation.

But Graham would quickly learn that Richard Nixon was one man in Graham’s presence and quite another when operating in the cutthroat world of presidential politics.  During the Watergate scandal, Graham stood by the president.  During the 1972 election campaign, he chided Nixon’s opponent, South Dakota senator George McGovern, for saying that the Nixon administration was up to something sinister.  In one letter to President Nixon, Graham quoted Psalm 35:11-12, where the psalmist writes: “They accuse me of things I have never heard about.  I do them good, but they return me harm.”  [Historian Grant] Wacker says that Graham “continued to defend Nixon long after most Americans smelled a rate.”  In December 1973 , the evangelist told Nixon that he had “complete confidence” in his “personal integrity.”  When transcripts of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations (which included Nixon’s strongly anti-Semitic language) proved that the president was ultimately responsible for the Watergate break-in, Graham seemed more concerned about Nixon’s profanity on the tapes than the fact that the president was using his power to cover up his crimes.  When Graham read excerpts of the tapes in The New York Times, he claimed to feel “physically sick.”  Years later, Graham admitted that his relationship with the disgraced former president had “muffled those inner monitors that had warned me for years to stay out of partisan politics” and, as Wacker notes, “he urged young evangelists to avoid his mistake.”

There are a lot of similarities between Graham’s relationship with Nixon and the court evangelicals‘ relationship with Donald Trump.  Have the court evangelicals learned anything from Billy Graham?  Over at The Washington Post, Anja Maria-Bassimir and Elesha Coffman offer a revealing look into the way evangelical magazines responded to Graham’s relationship with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.  Here is a taste:

While Graham enjoyed private chats in the Nixon White House and urged his fellow citizens to rally around the flag at Honor America Day, another prominent evangelical, then-Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), warned that a bad graft between religion and politics was turning gangrenous. “We would always rather hide our wounds than heal them,” he said at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Chicago in May 1973. “It is always more comfortable to believe in the symbols of righteousness than to acknowledge the reality of evil. This is especially true in our national political life. And we have become adroit at manipulating religious impulses in our land to sanctify this political life.”

People in power, such as Hatfield, had to work even harder to resist such craven impulses. He noted: “When we are given a position of leadership, it becomes almost second nature to avoid admitting that we may be wrong. Confession becomes equated with weakness. The urge toward self-vindication becomes enormous, almost overpowering. A politician faces this temptation in a very special way, for somehow it has become a political maxim never to admit that one is wrong. Now, that may be wise politics. But it’s terrible Christianity.” These sentiments earned Hatfield a place on Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and a concerned letter from Graham, according to the book “Lonely Walk.”

As revelations about the Watergate break-in and subsequent coverup accumulated in 1973 and 1974, many evangelicals vacillated between Hatfield’s warnings and Graham’s reassurances. At first, only Hatfield’s allies in the small but vocal evangelical left sounded the alarm. Hatfield’s speech echoed the rhetoric of his friend Jim Wallis, who regularly hit these ominous notes in his radical magazine, the Post-American (later renamed Sojourners). Then, the far-from-radical magazine Eternity chimed in, as columnist Joseph Bayly wrote: “Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

Finally, the more staid Christianity Today — the magazine founded by Billy Graham — came around. It had printed Hatfield’s speech in June 1973, but also Graham’s “mistakes and blunders” comments several months later. Appearing reluctant, in June 1974, an editorial argued for Nixon’s impeachment. Authors acknowledged that “evangelicals can point to some in their ranks whose private or public conduct is disgraceful, perhaps even worse than that displayed by the Watergate participants.” Ten years later, Graham told the magazine: “I came close to identifying the American way of life with the kingdom of God.” He said he had learned his lesson. And near the end of his life, he said: “I also would have steered clear of politics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Good News on the Billy Graham Papers Front

Billy Graham Library

As many of you know, we have been covering the move of the Billy Graham Papers from Wheaton College to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Much of our coverage has been negative.  I have expressed concern that the papers will now be closed-off to researchers. Read our posts herehere, and here to get up to speed.

Now it looks like the Billy Graham Library is going to hire an archivist to care for the papers.

This appears to be a step in the right direction.  I am glad to see that the BGEA is advertising through the Society of American Archivists.  It looks like someone knows what they are doing. Of course the hiring of a professional archivist tells us nothing about what future access to the papers might look like.  We will see how it all plays out.

The Billy Graham Library supports the mission of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to proclaim the Gospel to all we can by every effective means available to us, and by equipping the church and others to do the same. Our staff and volunteers present the Gospel through the Journey of Faith tour, Memorial Prayer Garden, Homeplace, and evangelistic outreaches like Christmas at the Library. We also serve and equip Christians through the Billy Graham archives, Ruth’s Attic bookstore, Graham Brothers Dairy Bar, group programs, special events, memorabilia displays, student resources, communications, and donor ministry activities.

The BGEA archivist is responsible for the overall organization, management, supervision and preservation of the historical records program and the operations of the public research study center and program of the BGEA archives.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities

  • Oversee and manage BGEA archival functions and public research study center adhering to professional standards and requirements.
  • Process, arrange, catalog and store BGEA archival materials.
  • Manage archival collection and PastPerfect memorabilia databases.
  • Provide reference services to archival collections.
  • Plans and implement archival digitization and access initiatives.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of current archival processes, long term storage requirements, digitization of materials, and trends in electronic delivery systems.
  • Assists in the development and maintenance of the archive’s web presence (presentation and content).

Marginal Duties and Responsibilities

  • Coordinate with Library promotions director and assistant for memorabilia displays and development of special interest programs in the Library.
  • Coordinates with the Director, Media and Archive group for preservation, storage and access for study of the BGEA audio-visual historical collection.
  • Review archival policies and procedures on an annual basis to adjust, update and create as needed.
  • Maintain professional awareness and technical expertise in archival work through attendance at educational workshops and professional training as needed, through review professional publications, and in utilizing professional networks and archival societies.
  • Maintain budgets and financial records.

Reporting Relationships

  • Reports to the Executive Director, Billy Graham Library.
  • Works with; Ministry Operations Director, Ministry Development Manager, Guest Services Manager, Volunteer Program Manager.
  • Relates to a variety of BGEA departments and ministries.

Benefits

  • Employees filling regular full-time positions, who are working no less than 40 hours per week, are eligible to participate in BGEA’s benefits program.

Skills and Knowledge

Master’s degree in library science or archival training from an ALA accredited institution.

  • Has understanding and experience with evangelical history, archival collections and theological/educational  institutions.
  • Two or more years’ experience in library or archive setting.
  • Experience in processing and organizing archival holdings, development of catalogs and guide systems.
  • Experience in archival database operations and other technical requirements.

Physical/Mental Demands

  • Excellent communication skills, written and verbal, including the ability to present information in a variety of formats.
  • Demonstrate organizational and time management skills.
  • Possess good interpersonal communication skills.
  • Ability to move boxes, stack materials, retrieve memorabilia items, and access shelving.

Working Conditions

  • Ability to perform under pressure and work with tight deadlines.
  • Ability to work independently as well as a team environment.
  • Possess excellent computer skills, including experience with archival database systems.
  • Ability to work at a computer station for long periods of time.

 

Ministry Requirements

  • Maintains a personal, active relationship with Jesus Christ and is a consistent witness for Jesus Christ.
  • Faithfully upholds BGEA in prayer.
  • Participates in daily BGEA staff devotions.
  • Demonstrates behavior aligned with BGEA’s Mission Statement, Statement of Faith, Hallmarks, policies, and expectations.
  • Effectively represents Jesus Christ to those within both personal and professional spheres of influence.

Thanks to my colleague Devon Manzullo-Thomas for bringing this to my attention.

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.