Baker Academic

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poll: Billy Graham a Positive Influence?

For a better portion of a century you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to say a bad word about Billy Graham. In many ways, Graham's legacy remains unchanged. I did see this book yesterday (initial reaction here). Kruse's book isn't specifically about Graham. Billy Graham's relationship with the Oval Office does play an integral role in the narrative, I'm told.

The above poll is overtly and admittedly simplistic. No legacy can be boiled down in this way. I am curious, however, to learn how Graham's influence is felt by the readers of this blog. Feel free to vote above and then comment here.

NB: I am speaking about Graham in the past tense. It may be bad form to do so. But I think that it is safe to say that his public career is in sunset.



  1. For me, Graham will always be the man revealed in the Nixon tapes. I recognize that Graham did much good, for Jews and for Christians, but on balance it's his conversations with Nixon that stick with me.

  2. As an Australian, I am only aware of Billy Graham as an evangelist. And my opinion of him in that role is mixed. :-)

  3. I can't remember any advanced theology coming from Graham. His sole message just seemed to be to glare intently into the camera, and demand that we come to Christ. As the end of the service, some would physically walk up to the altar, to accept.

    Graham seems to have taken advantage of the new visual medium, TV, presenting this physical act as important. Or at least as dramatically, ritually effective.

  4. I speak from the perspective of being raised by parents who were classmates of Billy Graham and held him up to us as a paragon. My father was an American Baptist minister, and every Sunday morning my siblings and I would awake to the strains of Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir. My parents took us to a couple of his crusades, including one in the old McCormick Place in Chicago.

    Although I decry his anti-Semitic words in the oval office, I have difficulty viewing him cynically, not just because of my upbringing but also from following him long-term. Although I have few points of agreement with him theologically, I respect the integrity he tried to bring to his work. Let's not forget that he insisted on integration of blacks and whites in his crusades at a time that was not popular, in addition to promoting broad-based ecumenicity. His limitations were the socially influenced limitations we all face when our lives are viewed in retrospect. I think he sincerely tried to be a evening influence and, by virtue of that, had a positive effect.

  5. I have fond memories of attending BG crusades in the UK in my younger days although from what I recall he always preached the same simplistic message. Of much more concern was his association with evangelical oddballs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, his unhealthy relationship with various US Presidents and right wing politicians like Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Jesse Helms etc. . Added to that was his apparent lack of criticism of some very dubious US foreign policy and human rights abuses in various parts of the World.........Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq spring to mind. Despite what Franklin and the BGEA now claim I don't remember him being very active speaking up about social injustice or against apartheid or in supporting the civil rights movement in the US. . While he may have preached to unsegregated audiences , most converts in the Southern States were sent on to segregated Black or White Churches and the leadership of the BGEA itself is still a very conservative white male dominated organisation. The only female Trustee is one of BG's daughters Anne Graham Lotz although many other of his extended family are on the BGEA payroll in various capacities including another daughter Ginny and 3 of Franklin's children. Remarks he has allegedly made on political issues in recent years seem to have been drafted and put out under his name by Franklin who has been using the BGEA to support his personal anti -Obama, anti- Muslim and anti -gay agenda. Any comments one sends to the BGEA website only appear if they are complimentary although Franklin's Facebook page does contain the odd response from somebody who disagrees with his dogmatism on everything from the State of Israel to police shootings of unarmed ethnic minorities. .

  6. I saw a documentary on "Billy Graham Down Under" and how his appearance changed evangelical scene in Australia dramatically. However, when it comes to American politics, I am a little clueless sorry.

  7. Despite not living up to our own personal standards, we must not forget that he was no Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, no Oral Roberts, no Jimmy Swaggart. It is impressive to have that much fame, power, and influence and not be involved in a sex scandal, money scandal, or build a ridiculous theme park considering a corrupted human nature.

  8. Thanks for linking to my review of "One Nation Under God." As I mentioned in the review, I had always thought of Graham in generally positive terms: sure, his theology wasn't especially deep, but he had a generally positive influence on people's lives and on the culture as a whole.

    But, after reading that Kruse's book, as well as other tidbits here and there about Graham's political involvement, my opinion of Graham's legacy has taken a 180-degree turn. I think that Graham probably simply thought he was doing God's work, and that cozying up to business and political interests was merely a means to an end: an opportunity to win an ever greater number of souls for Christ. But the flip side of that is that he was being used by those same people and groups to further their own goals and ambitions. All in all it made for some unsavory alliances that, to my mind, resulted in an insidious conflation of religion, politics and business.

  9. Odd that BG is doing much better in the poll than in the comments.

  10. I voted yes, with reservations. He had a lot of the traditional "fear" approach in his preaching, and that "slight" tendency (for his time) has become the focus of his son. So perhaps he was not so benign after all, perpetuating an approach to faith that is highly dualistic and fear based... and which ultimately creates rigidity and judgmentalism

    1. For those of us who were used to simply "accept"ing something like God by making a merely mental assent, there was a new kind of intimidation and confrontationalism in Graham. In his demand to actually, physically walk forward to the altar, to indicate your acceptance of Jesus. This would be a public commitment, and a visible act. Rather different from simple mental assent (or mental rejection).

      Some might see that as positive. But in some ways, it was radicalizing and intimidating. Since a Christianity or any credo, that demands a too-quick conversion of mental assent, to action, often leads to rash actions.

      Once you were standing in front of Billy, who knew how much more he was going to ask from you. Technically, the sky was the limit in Christianity. Even giving "all" you had.

      Some might like that. But?

  11. Public figures will always be divisive, with plenty of defenders and detractors, champions and cynics. Graham tried to avoid polarizing views that distracted from his simplistic message of personal conversion. He is both praised and criticized for this. He's praised for being the original unifying evangelical who downplayed denominational lines of the early 1900s and led protestant Christianity away from some of the negativity of fundamentalism. But he's also criticized for not doing more towards urgent social issues. He's praised for his impeccable morals and sexual standards such as the so-called "Billy Graham rule," but he's criticized for neglecting his wife and kids in the process (see WaPo article). He's praised for eschewing wealth, having a fixed limited salary by his board, and being transparent & accountable with all financial matters, but he's criticized for being worth $25M at the time of his death. He's praised by evangelicals for unifying Christians around the centrality of Jesus, but he's criticized for being too simplistic with his theology. He's praised for being the friend and pastor of Presidents and celebrities, but he's criticized for being a media construct. In short, he was a public figure. He was divisive, but probably less than any other public figure whose name was so well known. He navigated the tricky waters of celebrity and fame rather well and avoided shipwreck.