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.