Reading through the headlines this morning concerning the death of roving evangelist Billy Graham I’m left with a big question. It’s a question that plagues me whenever people die, but especially famous people. Why are they canonized and elevated to something greater than they are?
This happens in life too frequently. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve sat at the funeral of someone I knew personally was a drunken old coot, or beat their children, or insert bad behavior here and heard them described as someone that would be God’s right hand man. I go into eye-rolling mode, thinking ‘Yeah, right’ when this happens and ponder the why yet again.
When it is someone with the fame of a Billy Graham the alleluia chorus of reverence and sainthood becomes deafening.
Here’s the thing though, using Billy as an example, he’s just a man, a man with as many foibles and flaws as anyone else. No saint.
Example: The damage his theology has done to the LGBT community. This is what one woman who works in the film industry had to say about the effect of his words through the years:
I’ve spoken and interviewed numerous LGBTQ Christians over the past few years who have been ostracized from the religious community they were raised in because of influences like Billy Graham. To read all these pleasant obituaries of him that gloss over his vehemently homophobic preaching is another reminder of how far we haven’t come. I can only hope one day he won’t be seen as America’s pastor.
That is not to diminish or lesser the good he has done, in particularly in the arena of civil rights, preaching with late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking out for justice and equality for the repressed African American community in those battle ground years of the early 1960s.
But, but, he led thousands to Christ through his preaching, his television shows and his crusades, I hear you say. That may be, but at best he was a failure in two of the most important roles a man fill, as a father and a husband. His failure created just the excuse other men needed to put their own ‘ministry’ efforts ahead of responsibility.
That is one thing that I hold Billy Graham responsible for. His life example that has been embraced, followed and copied by many. Graham enabled all of those overt severe, women-controlling, self-inflated with their own importance Christian patriarchal types. I’d venture to say he was the unintentional founder of the Christian Patriarch Movement. They observed his actions, and decided family is just not as important as their spirituality.
Graham may not have started the CPM, or ordered the men in the CPM to ignore their wives and treat family like an afterthought, but he has had an effect. I remember how many looked up to Graham with his gleaming expensive suits, well-groomed facade and electrifying speaking ability. His dynamic appearance, which so many wanted to emulate. I think it’s likely that Graham is why we have so many guys vying to be top of the heap on television preaching. Another thought, he is likely to be the reason we’ve been inundated with an ocean of televangelists, like so many carnival barkers pitching products no one needs.
Don’t believe me that Graham failed on the home front? Take a gander at a news article from the Washington Post examining the critical failures of Billy Graham in those areas. How else can you explain the compassionless nature of his son Franklin?
There’s been drug abuse, alcohol abuse, divorce and other negative happenings in his own family. Graham’s children, three of whom are divorced, would be the first to admit that their family had it struggles and to the imperfections of their father.
Billy Graham was as flawed and fully human as the supposedly-broken people he sought to reach. And that’s okay. What I find repugnant is to cast a fully human being into a saint upon death.
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