Billy Graham did not go to Chick-fil-A (and he didn’t tell you to go there, either)

Billy Graham did not go to Chick-fil-A (and he didn’t tell you to go there, either) August 6, 2012

Steve Knight does not believe that recent statements allegedly from evangelist Billy Graham are really statements from Billy Graham:

Let me tell you about Billy Graham, just as he is, because based on what I experienced working for the man for six years, two statements issued under his name last week (and one earlier this year) significantly collide with the well-established values of this great humble faith leader.

… I sincerely fear that Billy has become a puppet for the political persuasions of Franklin Graham (and to a lesser extent, Anne Graham Lotz).

Hophni Phineas Graham

Knight is not alone in suspecting that the increasingly political statements coming out in Graham’s name actually reflect the views of his son. Pretty much everyone who is familiar with the man’s outlook, with his long track record, and with his ailing health, suspects the same thing.

“Billy Graham is 93 years old,” Knight points out. The iconic evangelist is also “in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease (among a host of other age-related ailments)” and has “been having fluid drained from his brain on a regular basis for over a decade.”

Knight continues:

When I worked for BGEA and Mr. Graham was still leading evangelistic crusades around the country, it was well-known that all of his sermons, articles, letters and books were ghostwritten — and had been for quite some time.

There’s also a track record in recent years of Franklin Graham redirecting his father (and mother) against their own wishes. …

The tragedy of what’s happening right now is that Billy Graham long ago made a personal commitment to avoid picking political sides, especially since being tricked by Richard Nixon in the 1970s in a case that led to a public apology in 2002 after tapes of their private Oval Office conversations were released. Up until this point, the Nixon debacle was arguably Billy’s only political misstep, but with each new anti-gay statement put out by BGEA his legacy is being tarnished.

I wrote about this back in May, when Billy Graham’s likeness and signature were used in full-page ads endorsing North Carolina’s anti-gay Amendment One referendum. That ad was uncharacteristic of the elder Graham, but it reeked of the familiar stink of his political-hack son. Jan Edmiston and Alvin McEwen both shared my suspicions. As did many others.

Knight notes that at the time of the Amendment One ad, Billy Graham’s official biographer, William Martin, disagreed with that suspicion, saying, “Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.” Knight disagrees. So do I. So do many, many evangelicals who have closely followed Billy Graham for decades — so many of us, in fact, that Martin was asked to weigh in.

Franklin has also been asked to weigh in. Reporter Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times asked Franklin if his father would speak publicly to confirm his support for these recent statements released in his name.

“That ain’t gonna happen,” Franklin Graham said. “I can promise you that.”

Gee, why not?

I can’t prove that Knight and I and a great many others are right about this. All we can do is suspect and speculate. But Knight’s suspicion and speculation about Franklin’s manipulation of his ailing father rings true:

My concern is that here’s how things like this continue to work: Franklin Graham (or Franklin and his sister Anne Graham Lotz) have an agenda (in all three of these cases, “traditional marriage”), they get a BGEA copywriter to draft the text, then a BGEA graphic designer does the layout (in the case of the ad), Franklin approves the copy and/or design, then Franklin drives out to Little Piney Cove (Billy’s cabin home outside of Asheville, N.C.) and holds the piece of paper in front of Billy and asks, “Daddy, can we publish this?” And Billy nods (or whatever he’s capable of doing at this point in his life), and Franklin goes back and publishes this stuff with his good father’s name all over it.

Billy Graham and/or Franklin Graham had the opportunity to put all such speculation to rest last Wednesday.

On July 26, a statement was released in support of Chick-fil-A’s stance against marriage equality. Franklin Graham says his father wrote that statement. I’d bet a week’s worth of waffle fries that Franklin wrote it and attached his dad’s name to it in just the manner Knight describes above.

Here’s how that statement ended:

I plan to ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday.

The key word there is “visiting.” The statement doesn’t say Graham will be “sending an assistant to pick me up some Chick-fil-A next Wednesday.” It doesn’t simply suggest that he will be “eating” Chick-fil-A next Wednesday. It says visiting.

That’s specific and deliberate and necessary to accomplish Franklin’s goal in forging this statement under his father’s name. He was exploiting his father’s moral authority — a resource Franklin does not possess when speaking in his own name — in order to help create the political spectacle of long lines at Chick-fil-A locations. The statement wasn’t about what Billy Graham himself planned to actually, physically do. The statement was about what Franklin Graham wanted his followers to actually, physically do.

So what happened when Billy Graham showed up at his local Chick-fil-A last Wednesday? Did the crowds of evangelical chicken-eaters step aside to allow this 93-year-old, revered reverend to pass to the front of the line?

Well, no.

“Billy Graham” said he would “visit” Chick-fil-A last Wednesday. But Billy Graham did not do that.

When you’re 93 years old and “in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease (among a host of other age-related ailments)” you’re no more capable of visiting a fast-food restaurant a dozen miles away than you are of penning a partisan screed directing your son’s followers to do so.

The pro-Chick-fil-A statement from “Billy Graham” got a lot of press attention before last Wednesday. The evangelist’s no-show was a non-story.

At the conclusion of his Times report, Oppenheimer relays an email message from top-dollar Christian PR guru, A. Larry Ross, who confirms that someone else had visited Chick-fil-A and brought back a lunch for the elderly evangelist. Right. Sure.

Another person who refused interview requests was the Rev. Billy Graham, who lent his name to a July 26 statement praising “the Cathy family’s public support for God’s definition of marriage.” Mr. Graham said he would join Mr. Huckabee’s planned day of support: “As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A” on Aug. 1.

But it turns out that the 93-year-old minister did not write his own statement.

“Considering Mr. Graham’s age and limited mobility, his statement was more an expression of sentiment and solidarity with the Cathy family and their cause than actually a commitment to go to a Chick-fil-A himself,” a spokesman, A. Larry Ross, said on Monday.

Franklin Graham, Mr. Graham’s son, said in an interview that the statement had emerged from his conversation with his father last week. “He said: ‘I want to support the Cathy family. What they are doing is right,’ ” the younger Mr. Graham said. He took his father’s sentiment to a group of advisers who prepared a statement, he said.

Franklin Graham would not name the other contributors to the statement and said his father would not speak publicly: “That ain’t gonna happen. I can promise you that.” His father does not hear well, he added, and he suffers from other pains of age.

Billy Graham has been avowedly apolitical, and bipartisan, for decades. But the symbolism of this fight apparently proved irresistible, whether to him or his handlers.

As it turned out, Mr. Graham ate in.

On Aug. 1, an e-mail from Mr. Ross arrived in early afternoon: “This is just to confirm that evangelist Billy Graham just enjoyed a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries, sweet tea and a chocolate shake for lunch at home today,” Mr. Ross wrote.

I hope Billy enjoyed the shake, if they even gave it to him. I doubt Franklin even bothered telling him why he was drinking it.

Will Billy Graham ever confirm that any of this was his idea or that he even agrees with what is being said and done in his name?

“Ain’t gonna happen. I can promise you that.”

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  • Ursula L

    While normally I don’t consider motivation to be a particularly compelling justification for bad actions (intent is not magic after all), I think it is relevant in this case where you are ascribing motivation to later actions based on a proof of bad faith in his earlier actions that isn’t supported. 

    The point is, he was and is bigoted.  If his actions are effectively bigoted in every way, holding back the title of “bigot” pretty much means that nothing can be labeled as bigotry, the acts of a bigoted person acting on their bigotry.  

    And he acted on that bigotry in deciding to try to prove his sexual morality by never being alone with a woman other than his wife.  That choice did nothing to prove his sexual morality.  There are lots of other ways to act sexually, both moral and immoral.  

    His decision tells us nothing about what he thinks about the enthusiastic consent of his sexual partners, aside from the moment of consent at the time they made their marriage vows.  So he gets no points for public sexual morality.  It does show us exactly how bigoted he was and is against women, throwing away every quality a woman might have other than the fact that he considered her a sexual temptation. 

    The fact that he didn’t recognize his own bigotry doesn’t change that.  Being so immersed in bigotry that you don’t even see it doesn’t excuse you.  It makes you even worse.

    He was bigoted.  His son was bigoted.  He treated his own bigotry as good, and his son’s as either irrelevant or good.  And the organization that he created and passed on to his son has the exact same bigoted properties. 

  • Keulan

    I’m not convinced that Billy Graham isn’t a bigot. There’s the Nixon tapes where he said some really anti-semitic things. Then there’s Ursula’s points about how he publicly interacted with women. Here’s an example of some bigoted things he said about atheists in response to a letter from a woman about her atheist friend. In light of the above, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was also an anti-gay bigot.

  • Also? Billy Graham isn’t immune to the pleasures of hobnobbing with the elite. There’s a story of the Bush family actually calling up Billy Graham over the telephone to settle a debate over some aspect of religious doctrine.

    Whar are the chances Jane Average could call up dear ole Rev Billy for a chitchat about something the Bible says?

    The point is, that he’s wealthy enough and insulated enough that he’s probably out of touch with anything his average-person believers have to deal with.

  •  Whether or not Billy Graham is a bigot is actually tangential to the issue at hand: the real matter is whether he’s the sort of bigot who goes in for big public displays of bigotry. And what his public record shows is that he does not seem to be the sort of person who would make public displays of forthright bigotry.  He seems, in fact, like someone who tries very hard to keep his bigotry private.

  • Some people seem pretty invested in declaring that Billy Graham is a bigot prima facie and then finding the evidence to support that claim.  Exploring the cause of that initial investment might be interesting, but I fear it would lead to loud cries of persecution and discrimination and silencing.

    Be that as it may, it seems to me potentially fruitful to consider the path of Billy Graham.  Coming out of a dreadfully racist and discriminatory society, he made specific efforts to ensure his crusades were not racially segregated.   Coming out of a church system where leaders routinely stole and embezzled funds to live lavish lives, he pushed for full financial transparency in his organizations.  Coming from a system where women could be routinely sexually used and discarded, he took steps to ensure he would not do that.

    Perfect?  Nope.  But at least he _tried_.  And he _tried_ on a stage larger than a blog comment thread.

  • Dan Audy

    I don’t follow his denomination or even his religion but  Billy Graham is one of the best models for a religious leader that right-wing Evangelicals have.  While he has failed on a lot of things I think the fact he makes the effort towards treating women as equals in a movement that has been systematically trying to undo The Quiet Revolution and push women into fewer positions of authority than they have historically held.  I feel that there is plenty worth criticizing him over without overreaching to tar him with the darkest brush possible.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Anyone can lie on the internet, and Rightwing christians have lying down to an art. Got any actual proof?

  • Yes, as they say, “Only Japan could come up with a game filled with this much hot-blooded American patriotism.”  

    The entire thing is voice acted in English by American VAs, but written by Japanese.  Hence why some of these lines seem so awkward.  The VAs make it up with copious amounts of delicious raw ham.  It is like, what if they took overblown stereotypes about American boisterousness and weaponized them.

    Such a pity it was never actually released in the U.S.


  • malpollyon

    “Coming from a system where women could be routinely sexually used and discarded, he took steps to ensure he would not do that.”
    What? How is that connected? It’s not like sexual assault is something brought by the rape fairy at random intervals whenever a man is alone with a woman. What he took steps to ensure was that he never be *accused* of doing that.

  • Billy Graham probably was homophobic and misogynistic in that comfortable at-home way that sees no problem at all with thinking of women as wickedly sexual beings responsible for men having sexual thoughts, and LGBT people as sinners who’d lost their way but could be forgiven if they tried hard enough to be straight.

    There are a whole bunch of people like that, and forgive me for being ageist, but that’s pretty much what I expect from a committed Christian born around WWI.

    Thinking casually of any women and all LGBT people (and, despite his efforts to end segregation, my guess is most black people) as inferior to straight white men, is bigoted, but it’s not the same as the active ugly ill-will that leads to pouring millions into campaigns against gay marriage.

    You can even be the kind of Christian who believes gay marriage is profoundly wrong and also think that the millions that “Christians” are spending to prevent it could be better spent on worthier causes, like relieving poverty.

    Everything I have heard about Billy Graham suggests that he wasn’t the kind of Christian who got into being aggressively divisive over shibboleths like abortion and gay marriage. As for why he didn’t publicly condemn his son when he could have… well. I don’t think someone should necessarily be judged by not speaking out against his own son.

    Everything I ever heard about Billy Graham suggests I would have disliked him if we’d ever met. But it does seem likely that his son is taking advantage of his age and ill-health to misrepresent his views – and that really sucks.

  • Vass

    I’m going to go ahead and say I hope he really made those comments. I hate people campaigning to prevent people like me from having civil rights, but I find the idea of someone using their elderly, sick parent as a puppet more upsetting. It makes me what else he does counter to his father’s wishes and interests. This does not speak to which is the more plausible explanation, just what I hope.

    (Also, @JonathanPelikan, can we not do the  “if I become demented or brain-injured, please kill me” thing? I know you think you’re only speaking for yourself, but actually that attitude is in a direct line with people discounting, neglecting, and outright murdering people with disabilities.)

  • Ross Thompson

    “Coming from a system where women could be routinely sexually used and discarded, he took steps to ensure he would not do that.”
    How is that connected? It’s not like sexual assault is something
    brought by the rape fairy at random intervals whenever a man is alone
    with a woman. What he took steps to ensure was that he never be
    *accused* of doing that.

    Unless, of course, he had reason to know that he was incapable of controlling himself when he was alone with a woman, and that he’d invariably force himself upon her.

    But that’s probably not the picture he wanted to paint, either.

  •  There are a whole bunch of people like that, and forgive me for being
    ageist, but that’s pretty much what I expect from a committed Christian
    born around WWI.

    I wouldn’t call that “ageist” so much as “the result of observation.”  My grandmother, for instance, is 91 years old.  My grandfather was a Teamster in Detroit and my grandma was a life-long Democrat who personally knew Jimmy Hoffa.

    She voted McCain in 2008.  Because Obama’s black.  She’ll tell you she doesn’t have anything against black people, but her entire reason for voting McCain was because Obama is black and that guy who was Mayor of Detroit at the time was black and also corrupt as hell, so all of those guys are corrupt.  And “those guys” specifically meant “black politicians.”

    The other day I was in the car with her and she was pointing out black people and talking about seeing a bunch of black people having a picnic in the park across the street from her condo.  It was casual racism with grandma.  Hooray!

    Now, that’s not to say that every single (white, for the purposes of argument) person in their 90s is, by definition, going to be bigoted.  But it is something that’s pretty common.  Although that largely depends on where the person is from and background and everything else.  It also depends on the type of bigotry.  I wouldn’t be shocked to find a 90 year-old homophobe, since that’s still very much a thing (duh).  I’d be slightly more surprised to find a 90 year-old racist, since we’re a good 50 years past the Civil Rights Movement.  I’d be, frankly, shocked to find out that Billy Graham or my grandmother can’t stand the fookin’ Irish, though.  That’s some old-school bigotry right there (at least here in America…).

  • Isabel C.

    @Geds:disqus :  From what I heard, my grandfather couldn’t stand the fookin’ Italians back in The Day. (Mom said she once even had the classic “Well, what about Mr. So-and-so? He’s Italian, and you work with him and get along really well…” “Oh, he’s one of the good ones,” conversation.) So I’d be less surprised.

    In general, though, yeah.  Plus, there’s a thing where–at least for my living grandparents–there’s more anxiety about the costs of aging and the way the world’s changing, which makes them more likely to believe various bits of Fox News bullshit. Which is tough: on the one hand, I think trying to get people to stop believing that sort of thing is a good idea. On the other hand…they’re ninety, so…well, is the possibility of change and the capacity for harm worth the argument at this point? On the third hand, they still vote. I dunno. I think public figures are more responsible and accountable for their views, and for changing those views in accordance with the times and apologizing when prior views have hurt people.  In this case, though, a decade or so of Parkinson’s doesn’t (from my limited knowledge of the disease) really let you do that.
    So I don’t know. I know that Franklin Graham is a dick. That’s a certainty I can cling to. 

  • Lori

    If, as seems likely, Franklin is using his aging father as a puppet for
    his own views that’s vile and Franklin should be ashamed of himself. He’s not the only one who should be ashamed either. There must be other people within the family or
    organization who know the truth about the situation and if they’re
    letting Franklin get away with what he appears to be doing then they
    should be ashamed of themselves too. There’s no acceptable excuse for using someone that way or allowing someone to be used that way. That said, this situation didn’t just came out of nowhere.

    As for why he didn’t publicly condemn his son when he could have…
    well. I don’t think someone should necessarily be judged by not speaking
    out against his own son.  

    I basically agree about this, but I also think that if Billy Graham cared about the credibility that he had built up during his decades of ministry he should not have left his organization in Franklin’s control. He and therefore created the situation where Franklin is his public spokesperson on religious issues. By the time he turned things over, Franklin’s asshatery was well established and Billy should have had a pretty good idea how the whole business would turn out. Not that Franklin would use him as a sock puppet, but that sooner or later he would totally trash Billy’s legacy, and Billy still put him in charge. That means that Billy either agrees with Franklin more than people want to believe or he felt that giving Franklin a boast was more important than protecting his legacy.

  • So if Billy Graham is well up on current events, he is aware of the things that many people are speculating about him and his son Franklin?  He is aware that people are accusing his son of things which–you say–are not true? And Billy Graham refuses to speak on camera in order to clear his son’s name?

    If all that you say is true, Mr. or Ms. Random Commenter, then why on Earth does Billy Graham hate Franklin Graham so very much?

  • Ursula L

    Unless, of course, he had reason to know that he was incapable of controlling himself when he was alone with a woman, and that he’d invariably force himself upon her. 

    And if that was the case, the right thing to do would be to lock himself up.  Limit his own behavior and opportunities.  

    Not structure his ministry in a way that limits the opportunities of women within the organization because he refused to work with women as equals. A woman who has done no harm shouldn’t find herself locked out of a job or promotion because the boss refuses to work with women.  

    And anyway, if he would sexually attack any woman he was alone with, that would include his wife.  Being married to him doesn’t mean that she consents to violent sexual attack every time they are alone. Even if he kept himself from raping other woman by shutting them out of his organization, he’d still be raping his wife. 

  • Ursula L

    Coming from a system where women could be routinely sexually used and discarded, he took steps to ensure he would not do that. 

    No, he didn’t.

    If he didn’t want to use and discard women, then the thing he needed to do is not use and discard women.

    Refusing to be alone with a woman has nothing at all to do with not using or abusing her.  

    Attacks and abuse can happen when other people are around.  (Consider situations of gang-rape.)  Attacks and abuse don’t have to happen just because no one else is around. 

    Billy Graham’s solution did nothing to protect any woman.  He never claimed that he was trying to protect women because he’d attack a woman if he was alone with her.  He didn’t care about women at all when deciding to shut them out of his organization by limiting the ways in which they could work in his organization.  

    He was very, very clear that what he was protecting was his reputation.  He didn’t want anyone to think he was having sex with a woman other than his wife.  

    And protecting his reputation meant limiting the opportunities of women in his organization.  Opportunities where a woman might feel called to the ministry, and he denied the possibility of her spiritual calling. And professional opportunities in any job or office which required working closely with him – the jobs with the highest status, and best pay. Ensuring that women suffered financially for the sake of his reputation.  

  •  So, in the course of your private conversation, did Billy tell you how he felt about homosexuals? And if so, what exactly did he say? Thanks.

  • Fred, thanks for picking up this story and continuing this conversation. I think the New York Times story confirms what I stated in my article about how BGEA operates when it comes to these kinds of statements. Billy Graham may have very well told his son Franklin he wanted to “support Dan Cathy,” but it’s Franklin and his copywriters at BGEA who put the harsh culture war rhetoric in Billy’s mouth.

    And to “hoaxdetector,” your argument that Mr. Graham is in great health is completely undermined by A. Larry Ross and Franklin Graham who used Mr. Graham’s poor health as excuses in their responses to the NYTimes’ questions. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

  • “hoaxdetector,” your argument that Mr. Graham is in great health is completely undermined by A. Larry Ross and Franklin Graham who used Mr. Graham’s poor health as excuses in their responses to the NYTimes questions. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

  • Dma

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

  • Original Lee

     Agree with you 100%.  My dad had Lewy Body dementia, which is sort of like Parkinson’s plus Alzheimer’s.  Towards the end, he was rarely verbal, and even then spoke in a barely articulated whisper that only my mom could sometimes understand.  At the very end, he couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.

  • tanyam

    I know we Christians are loathe to air our dirty laundry like this, but I believe that a bold lie is being told, so I thank those who have bravely challenged Franklin Graham in what may one day be called, “Billygate.” As the Catholic church is busy teaching us, it does no good to hide our sins from the public. Putting words in your ailing father’s mouth is surely wrong.

    After Knight’s original posting, there were a bunch of helpful comments which included reminders about what B. Graham actually said and did when he was lucid. He refused to join Falwell’s Moral Majority, and refused to say condemning things about gay people even when he was asked directly. (Famously, “what would you do if your son was gay?) I would guess his views would be conservative, but he refused, time and again, to be drawn into these things. I don’t believe he would do so now. He would NOT take a position on a piece of legislation. He would NOT take a position on chicken.

    And over on John Shore’s page is this reminder:  “According to its 990 IRS form (the latest I could find online), in 2010 Samaritan’s Purse paid Graham Franklin $561,000. That same year the organization received $10 million in government grants.”

    If we’re not appalled, we ought to be. That is an astonishing sum of money for the head of a non-profit. We were rightly scandalized a few years ago when the salaries of those directing the Red Cross were brought to light. This is equally distressing.  Franklin is not an admirable figure, he puts me in mind of the many Christian leaders, especially in dynasties, who turn out to have very clay feet.

  • So none can disagree with you self proclaimed fountains of all wisdom huh? 

  • Graham recently did an interview with 
    Greta van susteren. He seemed to be in pretty good control of his thoughts etc.  Too bad you didn’t take the time to Google something like that. Of course that might have interfered  with your convictions huh.

  • Eskimopie2200

    Steve Knight is Jay Bakkers buddy and wants to discredit the Graham.
    What a pityful gossipmongers.

  • JonathanPelikan

    When it’s mid 2012 and  the issue is whether gay people deserve their human rights, all of them, then the answer is ‘no, you can’t’.

  • JonathanPelikan

    My intent was not to speak flippantly about this sort of thing, nor was I speaking for anybody but myself and what’s going to go into my living will when it’s recorded. I apologize.

  •  Grammar, spelling; an RTC cares not for these things…

  •  Two years is a long time when you’re in your 90s and suffering from Parkinson’s.

  • PJ Evans

    Grammar, spelling; an RTC cares not for these things…

    Nor anything else, apparently, except demonstrating how narrow-minded they actually are.

  • Nanci

    Political neutrality, yes, as far as the Democrat/Republican thing…Soft on homosexuality? Not so much! The radio station founded by Billy Graham in Black Mountain, NC has Focus on the Family on the air twice a day, and has had for MANY years, certainly since the days when he was in FULL control of his faculties. Dr Graham has never compromised “conservative biblical values”, say what you will.

  • PJ Evans

     He should have compromised them when he realized that they were not Christian values.

  • @facebook-1073340374:disqus  you are either a troll, lazy, or both.

    The next time you accuse someone of not taking “the time to Google something like that”, you might consider posting a link to the search results from Google

    Or hey, how about alink to the actual interview itself

    Why couldn’t you manage such a simple task? Well, you might just be too lazy to cut and paste URLs, but I’m guessing it’s because you’re a disingenuous troll.

    You see, the Greta Van Susteren interview was from December 2010. That is not “recently”, that is over a year and a half ago, and it’s before any of these controversial statements appeared in print. 

    Or maybe you didn’t want to post those links because if people followed them, they’d notice that Mr. Graham appeared to have difficulty answering the very first question asked! Maybe you didn’t want people reading the transcript of the interview because they’d notice that there were very few actual questions asked, most of the answers given were reminiscences of past events, and subjects relating to evangelism and/or theology were only touched on twice, and very briefly.