Tuesday, June 28, 2005

MH - Thoughts on Billy Graham

If I'm going to talk about Billy Graham I might as well lead off with his remarks about the Clintons. Dawn Eden and Diogenes have the lowdown here.

(For those of you who haven't read it: "They're a great couple," [Graham] said. "I told an audience that I felt when he left the presidency he should be an evangelist because he has all the gifts and he'd leave his wife to run the country.")

Two things of interest: First was the CNN "People in the News" profile of Graham on Sunday night. I thought it was surprisingly even-handed, even complimentary. It did make a point of how Graham had shied away from politics ever since his time with Richard Nixon. The suggestion (well, more than a suggestion) was that Nixon was trying to use Graham and his followers for political advantage. Methinks that might be a bit too cynical - I don't doubt that Nixon was trying to do that, but I don't think that's the only interest he had in Graham (Graham did, after all, preside at the funerals of both Richard and Pat Nixon). At any rate, the point here is that what we're left with, according to CNN (and others), is the apolitical Graham - reluctant to delve into any moral issue (such as homosexual marriage and radical Islam) that has overly divisive political rammifications.

Were one to accept this viewpoint, therefore, it would come as something of a shock and surprise to hear Graham's comments on Sunday regarding the Clintons. Was he sincere? Kidding? Trying to be polite? As always, you can't read what's in someone's heart; you can only judge them by their public statements, and in this case it would probably be disrespecting Graham to take his words at anything less than face value. Certainly, the clips will show up when CNN updates their documentary. But perhaps of more interest is what wasn't included in the show.

I found it surprising (or maybe not) that CNN skipped over the controversy Graham generated in 1982 with his claim that "[t]here are many differences in religion here and in the way it is practiced in the United States. But that does not mean there is no religious freedom in the Soviet Union." (Yes, I know this link comes from a Bob Jones University site, but I wanted to post the quote here, lest anyone think it so outrageous that I was making it up.)

Now, this was a tremendously controversial statement at the time. Many who were fighting for freedom in the Soviet Union saw it as a disasterous propaganda coup for the Communists. But I don't recall hearing much about that this week. Instead, we heard about Graham agreeing with Nixon's comments that Jewish domination of the media had to stop.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as such a surprise that the Rev. Graham, in his final moments on the public stage, should come up with another disconcerting statement. But for all the talk, from CNN and others, about how Graham had left politics behind to concentrate on the saving message of the Gospel, why would he choose this time, when the eyes of the world were on him in a way unique in the past few years, to do such a thing? You can't tell me it wasn't a political statement.

Let me add that when it comes to Billy Graham, I don't have any axe to grind. Living in Minneapolis, for so many years the world headquarters of the Graham organization, I've long been familiar with him. His Sunday night radio show was long a staple on the clear-channel giant WCCO. I even saw him at his last crusade in Minneapolis, when over 90,000 packed the Metrodome. It was a memorable moment. He was respectful to Catholics and had many good things to say about John Paul II (even though he disagreed with him on theological matters, he had nothing but praise for the man). So I'm not inclined to let this Clinton remark rest as the final memory I have of him.

Neither, however, would I be inclined to let it drift away into the mists of memory. It was an unfortunate statement - not simply for its political reverberations, but because of all the ways the Clintons seem to have lived their lives in such contradiction to the message that Billy Graham spent his life preaching.

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