Sunday, October 28, 2012

Today, we witnessed yet another very expensive full page political ad campaign paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  You have to ask yourself first of all if this organization has any sort of tax exempt status as a religious organization.  Secondly, is this what thousands of poor deluded people gave their hard earned money for?
  The following is from my 1982 book, God's Bullies.  Sadly, the religious right wing is now more powerful than it was when the book was published.  I am no longer as hopeful for redemption as I was then.  But, one must believe that the pendulum of reason will swing back in favor of common sense at some point. 

GOD'S BULLIES

[Frank] Buchman [founder of Moral Re-Armament] became more and more friendly toward fascism as he be- came more and more anti-Communist. Although he lived until 1961, he never lived down the sentiments expressed in a 1936 interview: "I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of de- fense against the Antichrist of communism. Think what it would mean to the world if Hitler surrendered to the control of God. Or Mussolini. Or any dictator. Through such a man, God could control a nation overnight and solve every last bewildering problem." Without the ref- erences to Hitler, of course, evangelist James Robison of the current right has expressed precisely the same sentiments.

  Most of the political preachers in our time have been more diplo- matic than Coughlin and Buchman. They know how far they can go, which code words to avoid to keep from being labeled a racist or a big- ot. Billy Graham, some of the time, has contended that he has no poli- tics but God's. God seems always to lead him among conservative Republicans, where the money-if not always the political power-is. Graham tried to be friends with Harry Truman. But Truman told Merle Miller years afterward that the big-time evangelist was no friend of his. "He's one of those counterfeits .... All he wants to do is get his name in the newspapers." Actually, Graham wanted to get his picture in the papers, too, and that's how he came to be declared persona non grata in the Truman White House. In his biography of Graham, Marshall Frady describes the evange- list's moment of truth with Truman. Graham and two of his aides, Cliff Barrows and Jerry Beavan, showed up at the White House in white suits, white buckskins, and flower-print ties. Truman welcomed them into the Oval Office, saying he was a Baptist himself. "Well, I immediately began trying to preach to him," said Graham. Truman said he lived by the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. Then, Graham quoted Truman as saying, "If it just weren't for these god- damn newspapers after me every day, and that columnist Drew Pear- son, the sorry SOB .... " Graham then asked if it would be all right if he said a few words of prayer. He put his arm around Truman and stood praying "that God would bless him and his administration and that God would give him wisdom in dealing with all the difficulties in the country and the world." Barrows was punctuating the prayer with "Amen," and "Tell it," and "Yes, Lord." When they got outside, reporters and photographers were waiting with questions. Graham was more than obliging. He and his two aides knelt down and "re-created" the praying scene on the White House lawn for the photographers.

The pictures in the newspapers the next day infuriated Truman, and his staff was told that Graham was never to be invited into the White House as long as he was living there. From then on, Graham was almost as much a figure of Republican politics as the elephant. He was especially close to Dwight D. Eisen- hower and Richard Nixon, and frequently found ways to mention them on his radio and television broadcasts during their campaigns. During the Nixon administration, a Baptist minister told Marshall Frady: "What we have right now is the most powerful man religiously in this nation, Billy Graham, giving the government and its policies and the power community in this country his conspicuous blessing- not just in his preachments, but through all his friendships, all those pleasant little prayer breakfasts, but more than anything else, all his silences in the face of the most arrant outrages by that government. He has especially become a spiritual sanction to this particular adminis- tration. What we've got is almost a Graham-Nixon axis. I don't mean to sound intemperate. But the truth is, Jesus went to the cross because he alienated the powers of his day. Not for nothing do the scriptures say, 'Beware when all men speak well of you.' What I want to know is, how can a man spend thirty years preaching the Gospel, and with maybe only two or three exceptions, not have one mayor, one gover- nor, one banker, one chairman of the board, one president of a cham- ber of commerce, one Defense Department official, one political party chairman-not one/-speak a single ill word against him. You ask me if there's anything finally tragic about Graham in all this? Lord knows, it's tragic."

Graham is now trying to present himself as the elder statesman of the religious right, the voice of reason in a milieu of malcontent fanat- ics. He said in an interview published in the February 1, 1981, Parade magazine that it would be "unfortunate if people got the impression all evangelists belong to that group [the Moral Majority]. The majority do not. I don't wish to be identified with them. "I'm for morality. But morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak out with such authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists can't be closely identified with any particular party or per- son. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left .... "

In spite of Graham's denials about politics, his sermons for three decades more often than not concerned the news of the day. He had opinions on Douglas MacArthur's removal, and about the Korean War, and later about the war in Vietnam, and he didn't hesitate to ex- press them. What people outside the South may not have realized was that his comments about preachers in politics were directed at Martin Luther King, Jr. and a very small number of ministers who were ac- tive in the civil rights movement. When Graham's dear friend Richard Nixon was finally forced to re- sign from the presidency in disgrace, the evangelist could only com- ment about how shocked he was that such a nice man could use such dirty words as those revealed in the White House tapes, as if that were Nixon's only crime.

Although in somewhat duplicitous fashion, Graham himself had said it best: "I have really stayed out of politics purposely. It's pretty hard to do, since so many of my friends are in politics .... You must remember that the worst part of history was in the Dark Ages, when the church ran everything. Too many ministers think they're social en- gineers." Graham may not have heeded his own sound advice, but there is some comfort in our history, which shows that we can and will heal ourselves when this current mood of divisiveness is over. For every bigot we've produced, there's been another voice that spoke out for reason and human decency. The Salem witch trials of 1692 offer an example. While nineteen good men and women were hanged, several times that number were in jail waiting to be hanged when the people came to their senses and put a stop to the hysterical proceedings. And all of this happened through no outside influence; the people simply saw that what they were doing was wrong. Within twenty years, the religious hierarchy had rescinded the excommunication of those hanged as witches, and the legislature had paid remuneration to their survivors. In a book entitled The Devil in Massachusetts, published at the height of the investigations of alleged Communist infiltration of Holly- wood, Marian L. Starkey, a descendant of a Mayflower passenger, concluded her history of the witch trials on a note of hope. "Moral seasons come and go. Late in the nineteenth century, when it was much the fashion to memorialize the witchcraft delusion, honest men discussed it with wondering pity as something wholly gone from the world and no longer quite comprehensible. But such condescension is not for the twentieth century .... "One would like to believe that leaders of the modern world can in the end deal with delusion as sanely and courageously as the men of old Massachusetts dealt with theirs .... What one feels now for delud- ed Salem Village is less pity than admiration and hope-admiration for men whose sanity in the end proved stronger than madness, hope that 'enlightment' too is a phenomenon that may recur."

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