The Exploitation of Billy Graham

My previous blog was a warning against mixing pulpits and politics. I feel even more strongly so this week. A few days ago an aged Billy Graham allegedly came out in support of (Mormon) presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, calling all Christians (read evangelicals) to vote for him in the upcoming election. There are so many things wrong about this. Frankly, it just doesn’t sound like something the Billy Graham we have come to know and admire would do or say, especially in this final season of his very long life. I’m guessing that the 93-year old evangelist and his reputation are being exploited by right-wing politicos and certain key family members. Whatever is really going on in the backrooms, it is further proof of the Republican captivity of the contemporary evangelical church.

For decades Billy Graham has been the quintessential hero of a trans-partisan evangelicalism. He has stood on an ecumenical platform to proclaim a biblically-faithful and Christ-centered Gospel worldwide, and backed up his message with a life of exemplary morality and gracious statesmanship. In recognition of his achievements and personal charisma, he has been catapulted up into the role of spiritual confidante to numerous United States presidents since the 1940s.

For the most part he has conducted himself as a religious statesman through these years, lending a spiritual tone to many American administrations. His one horrible stumble was to be discovered on tape affirming some of the anti-Semitic prejudices of then-president Richard Nixon. Duly chastened by this egregious gaffe and the lack of moral courage it seemed to display, Graham distanced himself thereafter from alignment with politicians and their agendas. This is the image of a chastened Graham that emerges in his official biography, Just as I Am (1997). In his latest and possibly last book, Nearing Home (2011), which won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2012 Book of the Year award, we discover an irenic spiritual giant at peace with his own soul and looking forward to eternity.

That’s why this alleged Billy Graham announcement in support of Mitt Romney and his values feels so dissonant. To “use” Graham at his stage in his life, permanently recused from public ministry, now widowed and alone, and suffering from Parkinson’s, is to my mind a possible form of elder abuse. When others take into their own hands the reputation of a great person during their final days, and willfully tarnish that reputation for short-term political gain, can it be labeled anything less severe?

I grew up admiring Billy Graham. As a family we listened to many of his crusades on our radio, and tears would well up in our eyes as Cliff Barrows would lead the mass choir in another verse of “Just As I Am” while Billy reiterated the altar call and assured those wavering in the audience that “the buses will wait.” Members of our own extended family responded to those calls and were forever changed. I’ve been to Forest Home, up in the mountains east of Los Angeles, where a much younger Billy knelt with his doubts about the veracity of Scripture and resolved to preach “The Bible says . . .” The rest, as they say, is history. There’s a plaque to mark the spot up there at Forest Lawn. Billy Graham had an important hand in the establishment of Christianity Today and numerous initiatives that moved conservative Protestant Christians out of Fundamentalism and back into a viable brand of faith with a future. Years ago I attended Wheaton College, where they named the building that housed the graduate school as the Billy Graham Center. It’s always risky conferring honors on someone whose journey is not yet over. Ever since I have hoped and prayed that he would finish well. For these and other reasons, I am not only sad but really mad about what conservatives are willing to do to try to win an election in America.

The day after Mitt Romney met with Billy Graham and his heir-apparent son Franklin Graham, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website airbrushed out its assessment that Mormonism was a cult. Hmm. For some conservative evangelicals the offensive thing is that Billy Graham is being made out not to care about the serious doctrinal deficiencies of the quirky Mormon faith. They sense that Billy Graham with his full wits about him would never have fallen into that trap, and they are probably right.

But the thing that I am most unsettled about is the willingness of so many conservative Christians to use the Christian faith to promote a partisan political agenda. The full-page ad in our local San Diego Union-Tribune, paid for by Shadow Mountain [Southern Baptist] Community Church, is a case in point. With a magisterial Billy Graham visage in the background, looking like a candidate for Mount Rushmore, it reads in part: “I [Billy Graham] strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues.” Indeed it does, but the Bible also speaks about a host of moral issues not included in this transparent summary of Republican themes. And while religious leaders do have the freedom to meddle in politics, is it really their role? Please let the church be the church.

If these sorts of partisan shenanigans indicate what it means to be an evangelical nowadays, it is little wonder that so many young people are declining to identify with the label anymore. And even some aging professors are being to reassess their self-identification. Be it hereby known that I strongly oppose this exploitation of Billy Graham, and I have reason to believe that I am not alone.

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16 Responses to The Exploitation of Billy Graham

  1. Ken Sisler January 14, 2013 at 3:41 am #

    As someone who grew up in the Baptist Church and later became a Mormon, I have the utmost respect for the Rev. Billy Graham. The reason Dr. Graham supported Mitt Romney is evangelicals have similar moral views with Mormons such as opposition to same-sex marriage and both groups are pro-life. Billy Graham’s support of Mitt Romney had nothing to do with theology.
    By the way, Glen, I remember you as a great athlete at Newmarket High School in Newmarket, Ontario. You were on that great 4 x400 relay team that won so many championships. I knew your sister, Ruth Ann.

    • Glen G. Scorgie February 16, 2013 at 1:08 am #

      Ken, I apologize for my delay in responding. Please help my aging memory by giving me a bit more information about our association back in those high school days. Thanks for connecting, and best wishes. I meant no disparagement of Mitt Romney–merely mourning the politicization of an evangelical giant.

  2. Merle Strangway November 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I appreciate that you said what you did, in the way that you did.

  3. George Demetrion October 31, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Thank you Professor Scourgie for such an insightful reflection. I, too, share your concern about the politicizing of the presidential campaign and the reflex like response of too many evangelicals, as far as I’m concerned, in linking their faith to the Republican Party. If there is any good that comes out of this current election, perhaps it will be that from this time that evangelicals who are boting for the non Christian candidate (Mitt Romney) as oppossed to the publically professed Christian candidate (Barack Hussein Obama) will from this dat forth honor the important religious pluralism in the public square rather than to vote for a candidate because he or she is a rofessing Christian.

    Thus, I devclared from this time forth, that an evangelical who votes for a Mormon candidate for public office, will need to be willing, in principle, to vote for Moslem or even non-religious candidates even against a professed Christians, if said candidate is right on policy, public morality and character, and the professed Christian is less so according to the dictates of that person’s conscience.

    George Demetrion

  4. John Mustol October 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    May I say at the outset how much I appreciate this blog. Dr. Scorgie has provided a platform on which Christians can discuss the difficult issues of our day in the light of Scripture and the gospel with truth and civility. Thank you, Dr. Scorgie. I thank you also for this blog post that reflects not only your concern for truth and integrity within the church but also your courageous and heartfelt desire to see the gospel preached and lived in this world.

    Indeed, Glen, you are not alone. I too register my concern about the apparently common belief among American evangelicals that to be a Christian is to be a Republican. Besides the rather breathtaking parochialism of such a belief, it cannot be sustained, I suggest, if we correctly understand our identity as followers of Jesus. For the record, I myself am a registered independent and will remain so until I die. I will never align myself with any political party, faction, or group. Here’s why.

    As Christians, we are “citizens” of the kingdom of God whose Lord is Jesus Christ. This heavenly “citizenship” supersedes all other earthly citizenships, memberships, and loyalties that we may have. Our job is to submit ourselves, as best we can, to Jesus, his kingdom, and his values. These should govern our political conduct in this world. At times we may find ourselves standing with Republicans; at other times we may find ourselves standing with Democrats; and at still other times, we may find ourselves standing with neither. As a bumper sticker I saw once put it, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.” God is God. If I claim to follow God, I too must be non-partisan.

    When we Christians involve ourselves in the power-playing, wealth-seeking, truth-twisting (and killing), utilitarianism, and manipulative marketing that characterize today’s American political practices, we are risking the loss of our souls (Mt 16:26). In such an environment, it is all too easy to lose our way (and our ability to see our way). Further, to our own detriment we begin to gnaw away at the principle of separation of church and state that helps protect us from the state–and the state from us. The church must remain separate so that she can speak truthfully, critically, and prophetically to the state and to political factions. If we enmesh ourselves in partisanship, we become just another political player in the melee, shouting and fighting for attention (and money). To engage critically with Jesus, Scripture, and theology is hard. To seek to evaluate the policies, views, and methods of partisan groups and of ourselves in light of Jesus, Scripture, and theology is harder still. It is a spiritual and moral challenge of prodigious magnitude, and it is never finished. But, alas, it is a task to which we are all called if we are to be true to Jesus and his gospel. Everything must come under scrutiny–even our most “sacred” trusts and loyalties (Lk 12:53). The Apostle Paul writes, “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:1-2). If we are to engage in political activity, we must always begin here–before the throne of heaven where sits the Lord of heaven and earth–and we must return here often. It is only here, as individuals and as a church community, that our prejudices, false beliefs, and disordered loyalties can be confessed, repented of, and transformed (Rom 12:1-2)–again and again.

    Finally, let me suggest that, before the church thinks about politics, she should take up the long-neglected tasks to which she is explicitly called: the teaching and training of the flock in sound theology and the nurturing and development of Christian virtues and character. It is, perhaps, her dereliction of these tasks that has led to the alarming amalgamation (syncretism?) of evangelical Christianity with Enlightenment rationalism, utilitarianism, individualism, and economics that we see today. If the church actually did this, then perhaps she might experience renewal and produce people of sufficient spiritual knowledge and strength of character that she could then send them out into the tremendously challenging (and spiritually dangerous) world of politics to bring glory to Christ.

  5. David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Hi, Glen. Since I see no other comments on your post yet, I thought I’d try to offer more substantial comments. I am posting this both here and on my own site: http://piouseye.com/eyesite/2012/10/concerning-scorgie-billy-graham-exploited-or-christian-right-maligned/.

    On the subject of “willfully tarnish[ing]…reputation[s],” I note that, by presenting personal suspicions and distaste for political conservatism in lieu of evidence, you seem to willfully tarnish (subtly libel) politically conservative Christians who, for all your (lack of) evidence indicates, may well have acted in good faith. Isn’t assuming the worst about the motives of one’s fellow Christians bad for spiritual formation? Though I’ve not had the pleasure of reading your writings on Christian Spirituality, I can’t help but wonder if some of them might contain rules for properly sanctified thinking that you’ve violated in your post.

    Whether or not your attribution to conservatives of dishonest “shenanigans” signals that your spiritual formation isn’t what it should be, I would note that there are good reasons for Christians normally inclined to remain aloof from politics, Billy Graham among them, to seriously consider voicing their support for a candidate (Romney) and party (Republican) seeking to remove Barack Obama from office. Obama is not merely “pro-choice” in the standard Democratic-party sense (which is bad enough); he is the most radically pro-abortion president ever elected (Melbourne-born philosopher Peter Singer having never been eligible to run). Obama’s insanely pro-abortion record has been documented by LifeNews here: http://www.lifenews.com/2010/11/07/obamaabortionrecord/. See also: http://www.lifenews.com/2012/09/04/lila-rose-pro-lifers-must-expose-obamas-abortion-record-now/.

    I would suggest that for someone to at once claim to be a Christian, as Obama has, and to support the abortion policies Obama has supported, in fact makes that person guilty of blasphemy. We are not just dealing with a man who has erred on a minor side issue, or on a major issue in a minor way; we’re dealing with a man who has, while naming the name of Christ, opposed every effort to protect the unborn he’s had opportunity to oppose (even opposing “born alive” legislation to protect lucky survivors of abortion). Christians who vote for this man knowing his record are, I can’t help but believe, manifesting the profoundest possible moral blindness (if not outright rebellion, but I’ll refrain from my own game of negative motive attributions). Do you really believe that Obama is so right on one or more of the “host of moral issues” you mention that voting for him in spite of his anti-life record is justified? (Nevermind his newly “evolved” support for homosexual “marriage.”)

    In passing, I should also note that Romney is quite moderate and has a history of willingness to compromise with those on the other side of the aisle. (No doubt this is why doctrinaire Christian Right types like myself resigned ourselves to Romney as late in the primaries as we could, after all the candidates we really liked dropped out.) This is another thing about Romney that might have made him appealing to Billy Graham, who (as your article makes evident) has long been quite moderate himself (and a registered Democrat, if memory serves).

    I agree it’s a shame that some conservative Christians are willing to downplay “the serious doctrinal deficiencies of the quirky Mormon faith” in order to avoid biasing anyone against Romney; the Gospel must have the preeminence. If conservative Christians are unwilling to say, “We believe Romney’s religion is false, but his values, and his application of those values to politics, agree with ours sufficiently well to merit our support,” they should consider simply sitting out the election. However, be it hereby known that if a time comes when evangelicals decide that “let[ting] the church be the church” means telling Christians it is okay to vote for someone with Obama’s record on Life issues, then this non-young person will be declining to identify himself with the “evangelical” label anymore.

    • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      The post to which this comment is a reply is the one you should approve, if you’re planning to approve any. The middle posts (main comment and reply thereto) should be deleted. My original, already-approved “one liner” may be left intact. This comment may be deleted once acted upon.

    • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

      I’ve just (later on 28 October 2012) discovered that my “blasphemy” accusation, which some might judge extreme, has been made by at least one other person: my favorite preacher, John MacArthur: http://youtu.be/h0GqVyYYfHc. MacArthur, by the way, finds the radical agenda in the Democratic Party platform, something one should note given my statement that “Obama is not merely ‘pro-choice’ in the standard Democratic-party sense (which is bad enough).” To clarify my point, I should emphasize that the radical stance of the writers of the Democratic Party platform, like Obama’s radical views, is far from the norm for rank and file Democratic-party members, whose more moderate views I label the “standard Democratic-party sense” of “pro-choice.” Still objectionable, from my perspective, but still less extreme than Obama’s and the platform writers’ views.

      • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

        The second “still” in the last sentence should be omitted. Thus: “Still objectionable, from my perspective, but less extreme than Obama’s and the platform writers’ views.”

      • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

        The correct MacArthur video link is http://youtu.be/Ah5ox0dVnsc

  6. David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Hi, Glen. Since I see no other comments on your post yet, I thought I’d try to offer more substantial comments. I am posting this both here and on my own site: http://piouseye.com/eyesite/2012/10/concerning-sco…right-maligned/.

    On the subject of “willfully tarnish[ing]…reputation[s],” I note that, by presenting personal suspicions and distaste for political conservatism in lieu of evidence, you seem to willfully tarnish (subtly libel) politically conservative Christians who, for all your (lack of) evidence indicates, may well have acted in good faith. Isn’t assuming the worst about the motives of one’s fellow Christians bad for spiritual formation? Though I’ve not had the pleasure of reading your writings on Christian Spirituality, I can’t help but wonder if some of them might contain rules for properly sanctified thinking that you’ve violated in your post.

    Whether or not your attribution to conservatives of dishonest “shenanigans” signals that your spiritual formation isn’t what it should be, I would note that there are good reasons for Christians normally inclined to remain aloof from politics, Billy Graham among them, to seriously consider voicing their support for a candidate (Romney) and party (Republican) seeking to remove Barack Obama from office. Obama is not merely “pro-choice” in the standard Democratic-party sense (which is bad enough); he is the most radically pro-abortion president ever elected (Melbourne-born philosopher Peter Singer having never been eligible to run). Obama’s insanely pro-abortion record has been documented by LifeNews here: http://www.lifenews.com/2010/11/07/obamaabortionrecord/. See also: http://www.lifenews.com/2012/09/04/lila-rose-pro-lifers-must-expose-obamas-abortion-record-now/.

    I would suggest that for someone to at once claim to be a Christian, as Obama has, and to support the abortion policies Obama has supported, in fact makes that person guilty of blasphemy. We are not just dealing with a man who has erred on a minor side issue, or on a major issue in a minor way; we’re dealing with a man who has, while naming the name of Christ, opposed every effort to protect the unborn he’s had opportunity to oppose (even opposing “born alive” legislation to protect lucky survivors of abortion). Christians who vote for this man knowing his record are, I can’t help but believe, manifesting the profoundest possible moral blindness (if not outright rebellion, but I’ll refrain from my own game of negative motive attributions). Do you really believe that Obama is so right on one or more of the “host of moral issues” you mention that voting for him in spite of his anti-life record is justified? (Nevermind his newly “evolved” support for homosexual “marriage.”)

    In passing, I should also note that Romney is quite moderate and has a history of willingness to compromise with those on the other side of the aisle. (No doubt this is why doctrinaire Christian Right types like myself resigned ourselves to Romney as late in the primaries as we could, after all the candidates we really liked dropped out.) This is another thing about Romney that might have made him appealing to Billy Graham, who (as your article makes evident) has long been quite moderate himself (and a registered Democrat, if memory serves).

    I agree it’s a shame that some conservative Christians are willing to downplay “the serious doctrinal deficiencies of the quirky Mormon faith” in order to avoid biasing anyone against Romney; the Gospel must have the preeminence. If conservative Christians are unwilling to say, “We believe Romney’s religion is false, but his values, and his application of those values to politics, agree with ours sufficiently well to merit our support,” they should consider simply sitting out the election. However, be it hereby known that if a time comes when evangelicals decide that “let[ting] the church be the church” means telling Christians it is okay to vote for someone with Obama’s record on Life issues, then this non-young person will be declining to identify himself with the “evangelical” label anymore.

    • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      Please delete these middle post. The URL in it was in error, so (seeing no way to edit it) I re-posted.

      • David M. Hodges October 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

        I’m posting this typo notice to the version of my response and follow-ups that is to be deleted, for your convenience. “And even some aging professors are being to reassess their self-identification” should read “And even some aging professors are [->] beginning [<-] to reassess their self-identification." For whatever reason, I seem much better at spotting others' typos than my own.

  7. Jason Hespenhide October 22, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Once again Dr. Scorgie as I read your writings I find myself in full agreement.

  8. David M. Hodges October 22, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Just a brief note of my wholehearted support for….the right-leaning pastors politicizing their pulpits. You go Shadow Mountain!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Billy Graham Exploited or Christian Right Maligned? | Pious Eye (David M. Hodges)'s Web Site - October 28, 2012

    [...] One of my former seminary professors, Glen Scorgie, recently posted an article accusing politically conservative Christians of “exploiting” Billy Graham by getting him to endorse (Glen says “allegedly” endorse) Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election. (As Glen is Canadian, he will not be voting for either.) Glen’s article may be found here: http://glenscorgie.com/2012/10/21/the-exploitation-of-billy-graham/ [...]