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I have studied preaching, done a little bit of it, and listened to a lot of it, and I have never figured out why Billy Graham was so popular.  His preaching was always mediocre at best.  For my money, the best in recent memory have been Fred Craddock, Barbara Brown Taylor, and James Forbes.

Reverend Graham has reached his 95th birthday, and his son Franklin hosted a big birthday bash for him.

Jump the orange nimbus for some reflections.

Graham's milestone provides occasion for some thinking about where American religion has been, is , and seems to be going.  Nobody does that better than church historian and Wake Forest Divinity school professor, Bill Leonard.  Leonard's column on Thursday offered some insight through the lens of Graham's career.

His later sense of the “wideness in God’s mercy” appears in an interview with none other than Robert Schuller when Graham stated: “Everybody who loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, are members of the Body of Christ. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their heart that they need something ... and they turn to the only light that they have and I think that they are saved and ... they are going to be with us in heaven.”

He once told British interviewer David Frost that, “We [Christians] are closer to Islam than we think we are,” and praised Muslims for their religious discipline and appreciation for the person of Jesus Christ.

In 1957, as one of the architects of the Neo-Evangelical movement, he called conservative Christians to move away from the “Big Stink” of fundamentalism to the “Big Love” of Christ. Graham’s early decision to integrate his crusades, even in the South, was not lost on Martin Luther King, who urged him to continue such integrated events rather than join King “in the streets.”

The movements of America and Graham toward a more generous sense of pluralism diverge in his legacy as the character of the 95th birthday celebration illustrates.  There is a picture you must see that goes along with this blog post by Fred Clark.  The photo has Graham at the center of a group including Rupert Murdoch, Sarah and Todd Palin, and Donald Trump.  This is what Graham's legacy has become in the hands of his son, as Clark writes
At 95, Graham is frail and in ill health. His image and his legacy have been usurped as political tools used by his son Franklin Graham, who seems desperate to be a political player and kingmaker. Not content with living off the interest of his father’s legacy, Franklin has been burning through the capital.
Just look at how Franklin has exploited his father here. The famous preacher is silent now, a voiceless prop called upon to lend a sheen of respectability to the likes of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News lackeys.
To his credit, Billy Graham looks uncomfortable being dragged out to offer his apparent blessing to a gaggle of dishonest strangers and charlatans that includes two racist billionaires.

That crowd represents a dwindling and dying segment of American life, and Graham's legacy will die with it.  Like I said at the beginning, I have never been a Graham fan, but I would hardly have wished this on him.

Originally posted to illinifan17 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:02 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Franklin has destroyed his father's (6+ / 0-)

    legacy.  If he only knew.

    The religious fanatics didn't buy the republican party because it was virtuous, they bought it because it was for sale

    by nupstateny on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:08:24 PM PST

    •  Franklin knows. Billy may know. Billy has two (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rebel ga, Chi

      sides. One side is the personable preacher we saw in the crusades. The other is a neo-fascist. Or a wealthy authoritarian, if you define "fascist" narrowly.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:13:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I used to watch these guys a little, back in the (0+ / 0-)

        early eighties.

        Only one I ever really liked was Jimmy Swaggart.

        Swaggart was honest at least.

        Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

        by rebel ga on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 02:32:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I appreciate this for the information it contains (5+ / 0-)

    I'm about as clueless about evangelical culture as one can get.

    "I understand, Mr. Spock. The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity."

    by brainwave on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:33:06 PM PST

    •  Everything we are dealing with as progressives (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jan4insight, NancyWH

      right now involves the religious right, front and center.
      That's the core of the gop, and they're the ones obstructing everything. Nothing can move forward in this country until we defeat the gop, and the reason is the religious right.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:10:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The few minutes of video I saw (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    illinifan17, viral, Linda1961, NancyWH

    was hypocrite central.  Trump?  The guy who's had numerous affairs, been married and divorced a fuckton of times, screwed over his wives (not to mention screwing over his employees in his many businesses where he filed for bankruptcy)  and I don't know who he's shacking up with now and don't care, but I did read an article that either his current or one of his latest wives, the model, wanted a baby, and he agreed, but he said she would have to take of the baby by herself, change all the baby's diapers, he wouldn't do it.

    And THAT'S who is honoring this person.  

    And Kathie Lee Gifford reaching out to touch the great Sarah Palin?  Throw-up moment.

    And did you see who was sitting next to Trump?  30-million-a-dollar season Sofia Vergara.

    And maybe this is some sort of protocol I'm not familiar with but why/who was the person who wheeled him onto the stage dressed in a military uniform with all his medals?

    •  The young man in the uniform is Graham's grandson, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      David54, JamesGG, Linda1961

      Steven, an Army ranger.  I have no problem with that.

      So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

      by illinifan17 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:36:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have a problem with it... unless you can tell (0+ / 0-)

        me that it's okay to wear a military uniform in all venues.

        This wasn't a military venue.  Or was it?

        •  It's okay to wear a military uniform in all (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          David54, JamesGG

          Venues.  There ar some kinds of events or activities at which it is against regulations.  Grandpa's birthday party is not one of them.

          So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

          by illinifan17 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:54:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  So wearing a uniform to participate in Occupy (0+ / 0-)

            is okay?   Good to know.

            •  No it would not. The regulation prohibits (0+ / 0-)

              Wearing a uniform to

              Marches, rallies, or public demonstrations
              Are you being deliberately obtuse?

              So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

              by illinifan17 on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:11:35 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well, that was a public demonstration. (0+ / 0-)

                No, not being deliberately obtuse.  That was a public, actually religious demonstration.

                •  Please do point to a historical example... (0+ / 0-)

         which a member of the military was disciplined for wearing his or her uniform to a religious service under the portion of the code prohibiting the uniform at "public demonstrations."

                  "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

                  by JamesGG on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:21:38 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  So you're saying he got permission? (0+ / 0-)
                    Wearing Army uniforms is prohibited in the following situations:

                        In connection with the furtherance of any political or commercial interest, or when engaged in off duty civilian employment.
                        When participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies, or public demonstrations, except as authorized by competent authority.
                        When attending any meeting or event that is a function of, or is sponsored by, an extremist organization.
                        When wearing the uniform would bring discredit upon the Army.
                        When specifically prohibited by Army regulations.

                    •  No, I'm saying that I have never heard... (0+ / 0-)

                      ...of any authoritative source on military law, or any history of enforcement, which has ever interpreted this clause in such a way as to deem all religious services to be "public demonstrations" at which members of the military are prohibited from wearing their uniforms.

                      Please do present evidence from either an authority on military law or an actual case of military discipline in which that clause was interpreted in that way.

                      "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

                      by JamesGG on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:44:38 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

              •  Not obtuse (0+ / 0-)

                Actually, I can speak for anyone else, but I was confused when you wrote:

                It's okay to wear a military uniform in all (2+ / 0-)

                Venues.  There are some kinds of events or activities at which it is against regulations.

                If it's against regulations at times, then it isn't okay to wear a military uniform in all venues. Or am I missing something?
        •  All venues? No. (0+ / 0-)

          But please do lay out exactly what about this particular event you think made it a violation of military regulations for Graham's grandson to wear his military uniform.

          "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

          by JamesGG on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:34:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Graham has his flaws (5+ / 0-)

    most notably his noted anti-Semitism back in the day (though he repudiated it later) but he doesn't deserve this disgustingly hateful partisanship to be his swan song.

    Franklin has much to answer for.

    "Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base is the marks." -- Chris Hayes

    by raptavio on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 05:48:58 PM PST

  •  One of the reasons that Billy was so good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    viral, Chi

    as a preacher was he had impeccable timing in his crusades - the right music played with the correct beat; the soloists who were perfect in their timing; the beat of his sermons similar to many Southern Baptist ministers; the perfect music playing as he urged "sinners" to come down and be saved.

    The timing, the words and the music all created an environment of trust, of an urgent need to "become right with Jesus".

    From someone who was forced to attend too many of his crusade meetings.

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 06:34:01 PM PST

  •  So where's that end of times he's talking about? (0+ / 0-)

    I thought it was going to happen on his birthday. Let me know. I need to prepare.

  •  that picture pains me (0+ / 0-)

    It's like he's being held hostage! How awful!

    "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." James Madison, Federalist #51

    by history first on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 07:41:52 PM PST

  •  Billy Graham. Painful (0+ / 0-)

    I remember when he first came on TV. My Catholic friends were not allowed to watch him. I was interested but neutral about religion but Billy Graham struck me as something akin to 1930s Fascists. A very wrong kind of energy. He loved power too much, being close to power, praying with presidents to help them decide to go to war.

    He was extremely condescending to Bill Clinton after Clinton gave a moving speech after the Oklahoma City bombing.

    Yes, he made some meaningful gestures about race.
    But I don't see a legacy of spreading the teachings of Jesus. Rev. King was more in line with Jesus, especially about Vietnam; Billy Graham denounced King for that.

    Billy Graham's religion looks like a kind of tribalism and cheap, feel good rather than hard work of true Christianity.

    I'm sorry but I also never thought Graham was smart enough for the task and the rest of his family, ditto. Where do they get the idea to position themselves as   God's gift to the masses via the media?

    Let me know if they ever recite the same passages that Obama's Christian leader did, warning about the mad rush for revenge..........

    Imagine if pop preachers like Billy Graham spread the Biblical teachings about social justice!

  •  Graham would not have joined Dr. King (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    unfangus, Chi

    "on the streets."  Disobeying civil authority would have been anathema to him unless that authority was shutting down churches & outlawing religious observance. Still, he was burned by his close association with Nixon & I think he recognized it in himself as hubris. The death of his wife - an educated woman, a Presbyterian (she never switched to Baptist) & a fair poet when she put some effort into it - must have broken his heart, although she had been ill for a long time. Billy Graham  knows Trump & Murdoch are  unrepentant fake Christians.  Trump owns the Miss Universe Pageant, which to the elder Graham must be  akin to pimping. Apparently Franklin doesn't feel as strongly about it.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 11:34:51 PM PST

  •  Shoeboxes of Samaritan's Purse (0+ / 0-)

    When I think of Franklin Graham, I think of the shoebox program.

    Where I live in Canada, Safeway stores used to promote the shoebox program in their stores, so we heard a lot about this. The idea was that families would fill up a shoebox with toys and other items that children would like. The families contributed $5 per box, I believe, for shipping costs. Many people did this, not just members of Graham's church group, whatever that is.

    Samaritan's Purse claimed that these were distributed freely to all children, that they did not add any religious material to the boxes, nor use them to proselytize.

    However, I've heard audiotapes of someone identified as Franklin Graham, speaking to own church community, where he is assuring them that of course the shoebox gifts are used to bring families to their religion.

    A Canadian minister who had lived in Central America for a while wrote about the bad effects of the shoebox program there. She was living and working in a very poor area. The SP people selected another nearby village for distribution of the boxes. The kids in her village were well aware that the other kids were getting gifts, and they weren't. It was kind of like a time share event at a Mexican resort town: come listen to the speeches and, at the end, your child will get a shoebox full of gifts. It was very divisive: some towns got them, some didn't; some children were invited, some weren't; and, of course, what was in the boxes varied. The amount of money that went into buying stuff to put in the boxes and paying the $5 for shipping could have been pooled to do something genuinely useful for the area.

    For that matter, if Samaritan's Purse collected $5 from each family, skipping the shipping, and just bought locally made toys to distribute, that would have generated some economic activity locally--and ensured some appropriate toys.

    Some Canadian schools participate in a much better program, in which kids in the Canadian classroom work together to create a big box of school supplies for an African classroom (kids the same age)--things like pencils, notebooks, erasers, inflatable globes, etc. Canadian parents contribute as much (or as little) as works for their family to the effort, so nobody is embarrassed by being unable to spend the money to fill up a shoebox.

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