Rev. Graham morally consistent, alas
BY NEIL STEINBERG email@example.com October 30, 2012 7:18PM
FILE- In this Dec. 20, 2010 file photo, evangelist Billy Graham, 92, is interviewed at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The Rev. Billy Graham was admitted to a hospital Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 near his home in western North Carolina to be tested for pneumonia after suffering from congestion, a cough and a slight fever, his spokesman said. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:37PM
Breakfast, Sunday, black coffee and scrambled eggs. My wife waves a page from the pile of newspapers spread over our kitchen table.
“Did you see this?” she asks. I glance up.
“Mmm, hmm,” I say, going back to my eggs and my section of the newspaper.
She seems to be expecting more.
“This ad by Billy Graham?” she continues.
“I did,” I say. “He’s been wrong about everything. He’s continuing his streak.”
“What?” she says. I set down my coffee, take the page and look at it again. A dramatic black and white shot of Graham, now 94, his lipless mouth set in the slightly frowning line that must pass as thoughtful determination in some circles.
“The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial,” the text begins. “It is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this Nov. 6.”
Left to my own, I had shaken that off with a shudder — “vitally important” to whom? Certainly not to me or anyone else trying to live our lives unencumbered by laws twisted to scratch the itch of religious fanatics.
This is sadly familiar stuff, hardly worth remarking upon. But now that my wife is asking, I try to explain.
“Billy Graham has been on the wrong side of every social issue for the past 70 years,” I say. “He was against the civil rights movement. He was against protesting the Vietnam War. He refused to tell Protestants it was OK to vote for a Catholic when Kennedy ran in 1960.” I gaze at the ad. “He’s just trying to go out the way he came in: throwing his weight behind the losing side of history.”
Ah, history. People forget their history, assuming they ever knew it in the first place. But the thing about history is it sits there, waiting, and all we have to do is look. Rev. Graham’s record is no big secret — sucking up to power starting with Harry Truman, flattering whoever was in the Oval Office, tsk-tsking whatever epic social movement was roiling the country.
In the 1950s Graham — to his credit — wouldn’t speak to segregated audiences. But he wouldn’t throw his influence behind the civil rights movement either, brushing off lunch-counter sitters and freedom marchers as those who “become addicted to sitting, squatting, demonstrating and striking for what they want.”
Rev. Graham later claimed, without offering any evidence, that Martin Luther King Jr. had asked him not to get involved in civil rights, the better to protect his access to the nation’s collective soul. Pretty to think so.
Ten years later, the nation was protesting the Vietnam War, and it was Rev. Graham’s turn to mock the 1965 Peace March on Washington.
“It seems the only way to gain attention today is to organize a march and protest something,” he told a rally, his pal Lyndon Johnson smiling on the stage beside him.
The list goes on. He helped Nixon pick the corrupt, bullying Spiro T. Agnew as a running mate, and was the hallelujah chorus when Nixon raged darkly about the Jews and their “stranglehold” on the media.
Ten presidents since Truman, and with the exception of the current president, Graham has buddied up to them all — he baptized Eisenhower, spoke at Johnson’s inauguration, counseled Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The price he paid was a remoteness from the true moral causes of the past 60 years, something long noted and worth noting again. Graham has always been, as theologian Martin Marty wrote in the Sun-Times in 1965, “a man in transit between epochs and value systems, he has chosen to disengage himself and distract us by shouting about the end of history.”
The biblical values Graham is referring to are not — we may hope — the necessity of being kind to your slaves or of stoning rebellious children. Rather, they are the keyhole that a dwindling population of self-absorbed religious fanatics use to perceive the world and — since people increasingly refuse to be limited by their view — they feel compelled to attempt to use the laws of the United States to force others to do what persuasion alone does not inspire them to do: to suppress the human rights of gays, for instance, or seize the control of women’s bodies from them.
They pretend that their religion forces them to be this way, but rather it is the opposite — they are this way, usually by training, and they reach for religion in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Barack Obama is a solid Christian, but he is able to both support recognizing gay rights and maintaining a woman’s right to chose. The Rev. Billy Graham, well, give him credit for consistency.