Billy Graham’s Addiction to Political Power

“The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”

That is from the infamous Billy Graham. The argument is that the founders weren’t serious when they talked about the separation of church and state. It’s amusing in its silliness. It would be like saying that the framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of oppressive monarchy and aristocracy, not freedom from oppressive monarchy and aristocracy. He is playing a word game to push an agenda. But many of the founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, were quite clear in what they meant about separation of church and state. Religious freedom most definitely does not entail the constitutional right to enforce theocratic laws onto others.

Graham has a long history of political involvement and influence. This has been true across every presidential administration since the 1950s. He was particularly close with Richard Nixon. After Nixon’s scandalous resignation, Graham expressed more wariness toward politics. He went so far as to later on criticize Jerry Fallwell’s politicized “moral majority” (Parade Magazine, 1981), stating that:

It would be unfortunate if people got the impression all evangelists belong to that group. 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 person.

Referring specifically to Falwell, he made himself even more clear:

I told him to preach the Gospel. That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.

That didn’t stop Graham from continuing to play the political game. He stayed close to the Washington establishment in the decades since. In 2011, he once again expressed regret for his complicity in the politicization of religion. Yet the very next year he jumped into another political fight over gay marriage in North Carolina. The culture wars are simply too thick in his blood. The attraction to political power is an addiction. He can’t help himself. John Becker wrote that,

The fact that the 93-year-old Graham, who was born during the final days of World War I, supports marriage discrimination is not, in and of itself, surprising, when one considers both his age and his evangelicalism. What is rather surprising, however, is the fact that he’s made such a public anti-gay pronouncement at all. After all, the man has been essentially in retirement since 2007. Since that time, he’s left most of the right-wing craziness to his son, Franklin “President Obama may or may not be a ‘son of Islam’“ Graham, and his daughter, Anne “9/11 was God’s way of getting back into the government and our schools“ Graham Lotz. Waggoner notes that William Martin, an authorized biographer of Graham, cannot recall any effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association similar in size and scope to its current pro-discrimination push in the organization’s entire 62-year history. And according to Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University, this can only mean one thing: that the source of this bigotry is not Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, but Billy Graham himself. Says Martin, “I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand. In the past, I have heard him say with respect to homosexuality, there are greater sins. Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.”

It appears the Graham family ministry has become ever more politicized as the patriarch ages. Billy Graham is no longer heeding his own advice, hard earned from his earlier life experience. This can’t be blamed on his family taking over the ministry. It’s obvious the elder Graham is still fighting the culture wars in very much politicized form.

It’s with this in mind that we should take note the political support of Donald Trump by family members and key figures close to Billy Graham. Even though Franklin Graham promised not to endorse a candidate, he posted a photograph of his father with Donald Trump right before the election. He described those photographed with his father as “a few special friends,” implying the relationship between Billy and Donald isn’t a casual association. Acknowledging the support he had been given, Trump stated that he was “a big fan of Billy Graham” and then thanked some of the family members.

It’s not clear what Billy Graham thinks of Trump. But one thing is clear. This new administration has been extremely divisive among evangelicals, even among those surrounding the Graham family. Consider the warning of “21st century idolatry” given by Ed Stetzer. He is the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center.

Trump’s narcissistic buffoonery and anti-Christian sociopathy will make many evangelicals rethink their position on the politicization of religion, specifically in its present partisan divide. It will weaken the ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party. It might also weaken the ties with the religious right as well, since younger evangelicals are increasingly liberal and progressive. It is the decades of politicized religion by religious right figures like Billy Graham that have turned so many away from the old culture wars. That might not have happened if Graham had taken his own earlier advice to heart.

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Culture Wars Continuing?

See full video here and comments:

http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/01/28/5940666-coming-to-a-state-near-you-the-culture-wars

As I’m from Iowa, I noticed that several other commenters to Maddow’s blog had already added a bunch of links to issues here in Iowa:

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011101230306

http://washingtonindependent.com/97563/federal-grant-agency-for-faith-based-organizations-lacks-oversight-transparency

http://iowaindependent.com/50094/vander-plaats-plans-99-county-tour-targeting-remaining-judges

http://www.bleedingheartland.com/diary/4537/new-abortion-restrictions-could-stall-in-the-iowa-house

http://iowaindependent.com/51490/iowa-gop-says-focus-is-economy-despite-push-for-gay-marriage-ban

http://iowaindependent.com/46519/anti-retention-leaders-iowa-just-the-start-of-gay-marriage-battle

Iowa is a good place to look at in trying to grasp where the culture wars are heading. Iowa is an ideological middleground and plays an important role as a testing ground for candidates.

Right now, the gay issue is big here in Iowa. There was an interesting speech given by Zach Wahls about his gay parents and it has received some attention from the national media:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/lawrence-odonnell-fighting-for-gay-marriage/

There is also the issue about the judges being ousted over the gay marriage issue. It was an important event considering the influence that big money had from out of state, but I don’t know how much longterm impact it will have:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/03/iowa-judges-gay-marriage_n_778100.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/us/politics/04judges.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2010/11/03/131032419/iowa-judges-ousted

http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/2010-11-03-gay-marriage-iowa-election_N.htm

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20101103/NEWS09/11030390/Iowans-dismiss-three-justices

http://iowaindependent.com/46917/iowans-vote-to-oust-all-three-supreme-court-justices

I think there is some danger with liberals/progressives focusing on the culture wars. It’s a waste of energy and a dissolution of focus because it can’t be won. The culture wars will die out on their own. Public opinion shows most Americans are closer to supporting liberal/progressive views:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

The culture wars gained momentum with the Boomer generation. And the only thing keeping it going is the Boomer generation. The Boomers were the largest generation until the Millennials were born. Yes, Boomers have been reluctant to give up power, but they are getting old. It’s inevitable that Boomers will increasingly be retiring and dying off. The younger generations replacing them are the most socially liberal generation this country has ever seen.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

The culture wars have left the national stage and turned to fight on the states for a simple reason. Public opinion is turning away from the culture wars. The moral minority of the religious right realizes they can only win fights by spending tons of money and energy on key issues in key states. They are effective in using this strategy. They may win many battles, but they are losing the war. Most Americans, especially the youth, are becoming less religious and becoming tired of the politicization of religious moral issues:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/124793/This-Christmas-78-Americans-Identify-Christian.aspx

What Is Your Religious Preference? 1948-2009 Trend

How Important Would You Say Religion Is in Your Own Life? 1952-2009 Trend

Do You Happen to Be a Member of a Church or Synagogue? 1937-2009 Trend

Do You Believe That Religion Can Answer All or Most of Today's Problems, or That Religion Is Largely Old-Fashioned and Out of Date? 1957-2009 Trend

http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/examiner-opinion-zone/2010/10/americans-seem-interested-trading-politically-active-church-figu

In a recent study, the majority of Americans wanted to see an increase in religious views among government officials and less of the church speaking out against the government. The polls are not necessarily conflicting though, said Jay Richards, senior fellow of Discovery Institute and author of “Money, Greed, and God.”

“Most Americans think religion is losing influence in public life and most view this as a bad thing. Most think that members of Congress should have a strong religious faith, but a slim majority also think the churches should steer clear of politics,” said Richards.

Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans believe religion is losing influence on the American way of life. Approximately 62 percent specifically noted its decline on government leaders, according to the research released by Pew Research Center on Thursday.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130264527

One of the biggest changes over the past 20 years has been that more and more Americans, when polled, cite no religious affiliation at all. That group, which Putnam and Campbell call the “the nones,” “has been skyrocketing actually in the last 15, 20 years,” Putnam says.

“So it’s now, roughly speaking, 35 percent [to] 40 percent of younger Americans … who say that they have no religious affiliation.”

That’s a big change. For many years, the researchers say, only about 5 to 7 percent of Americans felt they belonged to no religion. The shift, Putnam says, is “a quite novel and interesting, significant development.”

As for the Americans who do belong to religious groups, tolerance is flourishing among them, too.

http://blog.thehumanist.com/?p=1335

[…] increasing lack of affiliation with any religion amongst younger generations in the United States, saying that the percentage of Americans in their 20s that declare no affiliation is now between 30 and 40 percent.

This comes on the heels of the recent news from the Pew Forum’s US Religious Landscape Survey that over 15 percent of Americans now report themselves to be unaffiliated with any religion. But looking at Putnam’s recent work, it is clear that there is a generational divide: young people are more secular than ever.

Why? Writing about Putnam’s speech, former George W. Bush speechwriter and Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson characterizes the trend this way:

The politicization of religion by the religious right, argues Putnam, caused many young people in the 1990s to turn against religion itself, adopting the attitude: “If this is religion, I’m not interested.”

And as ABC news reported on Putnam’s speech:

This movement away from organized religion, says Putnam, may have enormous consequences for American culture and politics for years to come.

“That is the future of America,” he says. “Their views and their habits religiously are going to persist and have a huge effect on the future.”

For just one example of this, look at the generational divide on support for marriage equality (found via Daily Kos)

Fifty-four percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday say marriages between gay or lesbian couples should not be recognized as valid, with 44 percent suggesting they should be considered legal.

But among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent said same-sex marriages should be legal. That number drops to 42 percent among respondents aged 35 to 49, and to 41 percent for those aged 50 to 64. Only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older support recognizing same-sex marriages, according to the poll. (emphasis added)

With full marriage equality in five states now and New Hampshire poised tosoon be the sixth, it is clear that the political landscape for marriage equality is shifting. The current generation of young voters are less likely to support future efforts to limit or repeal marriage equality. Hopefully Proposition 8 in California will be one of the last of its kind – while two-thirds of voters over the age of 65 supported it, the measure failed to gain a majority in any other age group.

While some of the political implications of this increase in lack of religious affiliation among young Americans are clear, another major question is, will it stick? Are young Americans going to be secular for good? As reported by Gerson::

Putnam regards the growth of the “nones” as a spike, not a permanent trend. The young, in general, are not committed secularists. “They are not in church, but they might be if a church weren’t like the religious right. . . . There are almost certain to be religious entrepreneurs to fill that niche with a moderate evangelical religion, without political overtones.”

Putnam’s book on this research is yet to be published, but I’ll be interested to read it when it comes out, because his discussion with the Pew Forum seemed to mainly focus on politics and the negative impact of the Religious Right on religious affiliation amongst younger Americans. But political and social views are only part of the picture. What else influences younger people’s lack of religious affiliation? In their report Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S., the Pew Forum provided additional research on this very subject, examining the reasons why Americans in general change affiliations or leave their former religious affiliations without adopting a new one.

Ayn Rand & William F. Buckley, Jr.

I’ve been slowly figuring out the relationship of William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ayn Rand in their influence on the conservative movement.  

The truly odd part is that Ayn Rand’s objectivism has been conflated with libertarianism and the ‘social liberal’/anarchist libertarians have been forgotten about (surviving only by the force of Chomsky’s intellect).  Then the confused mixing of ideologies was somehow used as rhetoric for the rising religious right which, in response to Cold War Imperialism, ended up as evangelical neoconservatism.  Sadly, Rand’s idealism of rational self-interest and individualism became the justification of the neocons and their imperialistic military-industrial complex. 

Bush jr’s administration saw the full flowering of this trend.  And, more recently, the paranoid religious fringe, by way of Glenn Beck, has attempted to coopt Ayn Rand into their patriotic moral conservatism… somehow attempting to fit rational self-interest into the frame of submission to ideological fundamentalism with it’s concept of the fallen self.  Buckley supposedly was responsible for kicking out of the libertarian movment the racists and conspiracy theorists, but I’m getting the sense they might be sneaking back in now that he isn’t on watch.

I don’t know what Ayn Rand would think of it all, but she would not be happy.  Despite her criticisms of liberals, it was the conservatives that she thought would destroy America and she might turn out to be correct.  She had such opposition to the idea of a ‘moral majority’ that she considered starting a party called the ‘immoral minority’.

I’m even more confused about Buckley.  He apparently was the major intellectual and political force in making the religious right respectable within the GOP, but he later on had reservations about this alliance.  He criticized the harsh rhetoric of the religious right, especially in relation to overt gay-bashing.  Supposedly, Buckley believed in separation of Church and State, but at the same time he thought Christian values should be incorporated into the government’s policies and forced on to the American public.  He didn’t like the harsh rhetoric because it undermined his plan to sneak religious beliefs into politics in a more covert manner. 

Compared to today’s ideologues, Buckley was fairly tame.  The only person comparable to Buckley is Robert George who is the new leader of intellectually respectable moral conservatism.

We need a new Ayn Rand if only to knock some commonsense back into the conservative mindset.  Until then, we’ll have to make do with the words of Rand which are rather prescient considering what has become of the conservative movement.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Witch-Doctor is Dead
By Harry Binswanger

William F. Buckley, Jr. is finally dead. Buckley was the man who initiated and sustained the movement to bring religion into the conservative movement. His first book was “God and Man at Yale,” which I haven’t read or looked at, but which is said to have criticized Yale education for being both leftist and anti-religious. He then founded the magazine National Review, which Ayn Rand in her Playboy interview of 1964 called “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America,” because of its crusade to tie capitalism to religion. Here is what she said of National Review in a letter to Barry Goldwater in 1960:

This leads me to the subject of the National Review. I am profoundly opposed to it–not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the National Review poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious “party line,” can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to “bore from within,” to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives. This attempt comes from a pressure group wider than the National Review, but the National Review is one of its manifestations. . . .

The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since. You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks. I do not believe that that pressure group could succeed in making you its tool. But a philosophical pressure group is very hard to detect, particularly at first. That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.

I am not certain that you understood my relationship to the National Review, when I spoke to you here. I thought that you knew the facts, but perhaps you do not. In brief, they printed a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, which I have not read, on principle; those who have read it, told me that this former Communist spy claimed that my book advocates dictatorship. Thereafter, the National Review printed two articles about me (which I did read), one of them allegedly friendly, both of them misrepresenting my position in a manner I have not seen outside The Daily Worker or The Nation. What was significant was their second article: it denounced me for advocating capitalism. [Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 571-2]

Buckley’s Big Mistake
By Gregory Paul

William F. Buckley Jr. was, like most American conservatives, a traditionalist Christian who was appalled at the secularization of western culture. And like most who share his right wing world-view, he made a mistake that is astonishing in its naivety — a mistake that is helping wreck western religion while it promotes the very secularization of the population Buckley et al. decry. It is the Grand Alliance between the religious right and corporate capital.

The Bible was written by Bronze and Iron Age peoples who had little concept about modern free enterprise. Nor did Jesus talk about stock options or hedge funds. Many early Christians lived in communistic communities where property was considered sinful. The fundamentalist Protestant William Jennings Bryan used to rail against the secular forces of capital. The Roman Church Buckley belonged to has always looked askance at capitalism. Yet, especially since World War II, the bulk of the conservative Christian cause — mainly evangelical with a number of Catholics going along for the ride — have embraced free wheeling, deregulated, laissez-faire, corporate capitalism as though it is God’s way for his human creations to manage their large scale economics. [. . .]

One reason only a quarter of the public attends church on a given Sunday is because lots of busy shoppers prefer to hit the stores on Sunday — which became possible only after the retailers helped repeal the Puritanical Blue Laws. Bill O’Reilly targets secularists for waging war on Xmas in order to divert attention away from how the mercantile powers have remade the event into a shop-til-you drop secular holiday. The right once owned the culture via the oppressive Comstock Laws, and the Hayes Code that ruled Hollywood. Nowadays not a single conservative Christian themed program graces the corporate owned entertainment networks, whose programming is steeped in the salacious and irreligious. Such as FOX’s hypergraphic medical drama House which stars a proudly atheist MD. Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire is notorious for offering an array of irreligious TV and film product that feeds cultural secularization, while his FOX News presents conservative pundits such as O-Reilly are careful to charge the faithless liberals, not the capitalists, with coarsening the culture. Despite winning the occasional battle, the right has lost the culture war as the corporate world takes its putative religious allies for a ride. [. . .]

William Buckley was instrumental in shifting the American Christian right from William Bryan’s old fashioned anti-capitalism to its modern enthusiasm for mass consumerism. To be blunt about it, for all his erudite intellectualism Buckley was not socially astute; the populist Bryan had much better horse sense concerning the dangers that the capitalist world-view posed for popular piety. One has to wonder exactly how right-wingers think that they will get a traditionalist culture out of the rat-race that is the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Instead, Buckley’s Grand Alliance has predictably backfired. The corporate-consumer culture has been a disaster for mass faith in every western democracy — that’s one reason the Vatican remains so skeptical about it. But to be fair, it is not like the religious right has much in the way of viable options. They are in a classic socio-political bind. If they break off their Republican collaboration with capital they will lose what political power they have, which is already sliding as the growing secularism favors the Democrats. Nor can the churches compete for cultural influence with commercial forces that enjoy a cash flow amounting to many trillions each year. It looks like there is little that the followers of Buckley can do to stem much less reverse the rise of popular secularism.