No Politics, No Billy Graham

Frank Viola quotes Billy Graham on what he’d do differently with his ministry if he had it to do all over again:

I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

My hunch is that Graham is thinking of his close association with Nixon and how Watergate tarnished his reputation. Or possibly the Graham-Nixon recordings that make the evangelist sound anti-semitic. As Steven Miller pointed out, Graham clearly had a “kitchen cabinet” position with Nixon, and that ended up hurting him.

To his credit, I’m sure he doesn’t mean his support of civil rights, even though that hurt him with fundamentalists and led to the break with men like Falwell. As Miller points out in his book, Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, Graham’s stance was carefully finessed, but even that was too much for the rising Christian Right. Graham has since indicated that all he regrets is the finessing.

Like Graham, I grew up in the piedmont of North Carolina. I went to college not far from where Graham lives in Montreat. Down in NC, Graham is known as a good man and a “simple country preacher” who made it big but got used by politicians. His statements play into that reputation.

But the problem is that Graham was always political. His ministry began with heavy elements of anticommunism. In the revival that made his name, the “Canvas Cathedral” revival in Los Angeles, 1949, Graham called communism “a religion that is inspired, directed and motivated by the Devil himself.” It was this forceful message that led to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst telling his editors to “puff Graham,” which launched Graham’s national career.

Graham had more than a distaste for communism. He made it clear that he sought a national revival to make America a proper leader in the fight against the godless threat. Communism became the Assyria to America’s ancient Israel; a threat used by God to punish the wayward nation.

Here’s historian Daniel K. Williams from his book God’s Own Party:

Graham infused America’s anticommunist struggle with an underpinning of evangelical theology. Fighting communism was a religious duty, and the American government was engaged in the work of the Lord when it opposed the Soviet Union. The “American way of life” was therefore the Christian way of life, and a threat to one was a threat to the other. By turning to God, Americans could avert an imminent Soviet attack. “Soviet Russia may well be the instrument in the hands of God to bring America to her knees in judgment,” Graham told an audience in South Carolina in 1950. “God may well do it today unless America repents of her sins of immorality, drunkenness, and rebellion against God.”

Graham was not apolitical. He fused religion and politics together in a way that made him very popular with people like Hearst, Eisenhower and Nixon. If you took away that anticommunist message, then maybe he wouldn’t have been drawn into the realignment of the Republican party, but he also wouldn’t have been the great Billy Graham.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
All Cycles Come to an End
Where the Fire Comes From
Being Agent Scully
  • drax

    I’d be interested to see what the date of the quote of him wishing he’d steered clear of politics. Earlier this month he had his car parked right in politics’ garage.

    • Reginald Selkirk


  • Custador

    The “great” Billy Graham?!

  • Nox

    Billy Graham is not an innocent victim of the entanglement of politics and religion. Graham is the engineer of that entanglement. Since the beginning of his ministry, his openly stated mission has been to take over the world for Jesus (a mission he has had a frightening amount of success in).

  • Andrew

    Arguably he has lost it and that newspaper ad mentioned by Drax was his son, Absalom. I mean Franklin.

    But to stay clear of politics he would have had to stay clear of the end times mania, which he clearly did not. I wonder if he was actually repenting of the actual damage he caused? Or merely regretful of the damage he accidentally caused himself?

    • drax

      The ad in question had Billy’s image and signature. If the ad can be attributed to his son Franklin, and it’s possible that it can, then this most recent article could be attributed to Franklin as well. Eiteher way, it stinks of hypocrisy.

  • Blessed Jim

    Less than one month ago Billy was telling people to vote Republican because Obama was the minion of satan. Now, like a lot of Republicans, he is trying to rewrite history to cover his failure as a leader. Frankly, I have even less respect for him after this article than I did before the election.

  • Gregory Peterson

    We shouldn’t forget that Rev. Graham had co-founded Christianity Today, with his racist, “voluntary segregation” advocating father in law, Dr. L. Nelson Bell, largely with money from J. Howard Pew. For more on that, I would start with “White Evangelical Protestant Responses to the Civil Rights Movement,” by Curtis J. Evans . Harvard Theological Review / Volume 102 / Issue 02 / April 2009, pp 245-273

  • Bob Seidensticker

    Graham wouldn’t get into politics if he were to do it again, but why? Because he realizes that politics and religion shouldn’t mix? Or because he got burned and his reputation tarnished?

    This statement is seen as Graham nobly wanting to elevate himself from the filthy business of politics, but I don’t know that that’s what he really meant.