Billy Graham

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Barack Obama with Graham in 2010
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They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.
—Billy Graham on the Nixon White House tapes[1]
What is the greatest surprise you have found about life?” a university student asked me several years ago. “The brevity of it,” I replied without hesitation. … Time moves so quickly, and no matter who we are or what we have done, the time will come when our lives will be over. As Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).
—Billy Graham[2]

William Franklin "Billy" Graham, Jr. (1918–2018) was an evangelist of the Southern Baptist Convention persuasion. He first became famous in 1949 with an 8-week tent revival which caught the attention of the William Randolph Hearst newspaper chain. He later attempted to stake out a niche as a moderate, apolitical, respectable evangelist, spiritual counselor to many U.S. presidents, and a media go-to person to contrast with the usually scandalous and heavily politicized world of televangelism. He scored a major coup by hiring ex-pinup girl Bettie Page on his staff full-time.

Despite having been raised in North Carolina, a Southern state with a history of ugly racism, Graham opposed segregation and was an ally of Martin Luther King Jr.[3] In the 50s, Graham ordered ropes separating black and white audience members at events to be removed.

However, his apolitical reputation may be overrated as he was personally very close friends with Richard Nixon, and the Nixon tapes declassified in 2002 include a meeting between the two during which Graham and Nixon discussed a Jewish "stranglehold" on the media, and Graham gloated that the Jews had no idea how he "really felt" about them. Back in April, 1989, a Graham memo to Nixon was made public. It took the form of a secret letter from Graham, dated April 15, 1969, drafted after Graham met in Bangkok with missionaries from Vietnam. This so called "man of God" said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the Vietnamese. Such an act, Graham wrote excitedly, “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam”.[4] He also showed raging anti-Catholic sentiments during the 1960 Presidential Campaign. His crusades have been well-attended and often turned into local media circus events wherever he appeared. Billy Graham received the Templeton Prize in 1982.[5]

Despite Religious Right leaders' love of him, Billy Graham committed the ultimate evil: he was a registered Democrat.[6] His son Franklin Graham, however, does not believe Obama is a Christian.[7]

In recent years, Graham came into controversy due to supporting North Carolina's Amendment 1 banning same sex marriage and civil unions,[8] supporting the Chick-fil-A appreciation day, and scrubbing any references his website had to Mormonism being a cult before campaigning for Mitt Romney, some concluded that Franklin Graham was making all his decisions.[9][10] And when asked whether Billy Graham would speak publicly to confirm statements in his name, Franklin Graham replied, "That ain’t gonna happen. I can promise you that."[11] However, Graham was repeatedly outspoken about his opposition to gay rights and marriage equality as early as 1974 when a woman wrote to Graham in an advice column about her feelings for another woman, in which Graham responded, “We traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” In a 1995 sermon, Graham said, “Is AIDS a judgement of God? I could not say for sure, but I think so.” Though he later expressed regret for the statement, it still inspired countless others to have similar views. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website also contains articles such as “The War on ‘Male’ and ‘Female,’” which call transgender activism a “Trojan horse” in destroying “traditional families.” The website also responds to the question, “Are homosexuals born that way?” with the suggested reading of a “practical guide to overcoming homosexuality.” So it should come to no surprise that he would also support North Carolina's Amendment 1 banning same sex marriage and civil unions.[12][13]

Billy Graham spoke in favor of Christian Universalism, which caused widespread outrage.[14]

In 1964 Graham spoke in favor of theistic evolution. He believed that God may have used the evolutionary process leading up to the creation of man. He also believed there’s no conflict at all between science and the Scriptures, and that the Bible should not be seen as science book but as a book about redemption.[15]

Some Christians didn't like him because of his more liberal approach toward Christianity. This has led to some humorous efforts to ruin his reputation.[16]

Although Graham never joined the Moral Majority or any right wing religious group, he was still directly responsible for the formation of such groups. Graham was perhaps the most vital figure foundation-builder for the evangelical coalition that came together in the late 1970s as the Christian Right. According to Heather White, a visiting assistant professor of religion at the University of Puget Sound, "He helped unite factionalized fundamentalists, hippie Jesus people and conservative-leaning white Mainline Protestants into an evangelical coalition." White also stated Graham also helped connect this coalition to "the political process in general and to the Republican party in particularly, especially through his support for Nixon in the 1960s." Although Graham expressed regret for getting involved in politics, admitting that he "sometimes crossed the line" in that capacity, many believe the damage has already been done.[17]

According to his son Franklin, Graham apparently voted for Trump in the 2016 election.[18]

Billy Graham rule[edit]

It's rather like a thief sanctimoniously announcing that he brings a parole officer every time he goes to the bank to make sure he doesn't rob it. Good for you, dude, for knowing your own limitations — but it doesn't make you better than the rest of us, who manage to regularly not steal things even when we're completely alone.
—Monica Hesse[19]

He is also known for this eponymous principle of conduct, according to which a man — especially a Protestant leader — should not spend time alone in the company of a woman who is not his wife. Graham and some of his associates formulated the rule in 1948 as part of the "Modesto Manifesto", a set of principles that also included a commitment to financial integrity and rules about making false claims in publicity and keeping good relations with other churches.[20][21] The rule about not spending time alone with a woman aimed at avoiding the frequent allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against evangelical preachers even back in the 1940s; such men were often away from their homes on tours preaching and performing missionary work, and wanted to avoid temptation[21] or even the suspicion of potential scandal.

More recently the rule has been associated with US vice president Mike Pence (in office, 2017-2021), who apparently still follows it in the 2010s.[21] This has divided opinion, with some people seeing it as misogynistic and as perpetuating inequality against women, who may be professionally disadvantaged and unable to work for Pence; it also perpetuates the idea that every relationship between men and women is about sex.[19] Cue potential fancy diplomatic footwork if Pence in his capacity as a prominent U.S. person should need to negotiate with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Burmese éminence grise Aung San Suu Kyi, or New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

On the other hand, other people see the "Billy Graham rule" as an important way of defending Pence's marriage.[22] So that's all right then.

The rule came up in July 2019 (leading to the comments from Monica Hesse quoted above) when Republican[note 1] gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster of Mississippi invoked it to deny reporter Larrison Campbell a chance to ride along with him during a campaign tour unless she brought a male colleague along.[23] Campbell pointed out that he seemingly wasn't concerned being photographed alone with a man, even though homosexuality is a real thing. Campbell has also pointed out that in addition to other factors about why it's insulting to assume people would think they must have had sex if they were alone, she's a lesbian.

In addition to being associated with American evangelical Protestants, the rule is similar to the practices of many Orthodox Jews (who have a similar rule known as yichud) and of some Muslims.[24]

Further reading[edit]

  • The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire 1st edition (Brave Ulysses Books, 2007) Cecil Bothwell ISBN ‎978-0615162720

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Surprised? Anyone?


  1. Billy Graham Apologizes to Jews For His Remarks on Nixon Tapes. New York Times, 3 March 2002.
  2. Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham by Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows
  3. Reeves, Jay (February 25, 2018). Billy Graham had pride and regret on civil rights issues. Associated Press. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  4. Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, When Billy Graham Urged Nixon to Kill a Million People., November 1, 2013.
  5. Previous Prize Winners
  6. Elving, Ron (February 24, 2018). Billy Graham Walked A Line, And Regretted Crossing Over It, When It Came To Politics. National Public Radio. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  7. Watch Franklin Graham Question President Obama's Faith, Explain Why Mormons Aren’t Christian On Morning Joe
  8. Ed Kilgore, Billy Graham and Amendment One., May 9, 2012.
  9. Franklin Graham's fire sale at Montreat, Slacktivist
  10. Billy Graham is not an anti-gay bigot, Steve Knight, Huffington Post
  11. Billy Graham didn't go to Chick-Fil-A and he didn't tell you to go there either, Slacktivist
  12. Ed Kilgore, Billy Graham and Amendment One., May 9, 2012.
  14. Billy Graham Universalist on YouTube
  16. Like calling him a Freemason?
  18. Jackson, David (December 20, 2019). Trump calls Christianity Today 'far left magazine' after editorial called for his removal from office. USA Today. Retrieved March 13, 2021.
  19. 19.0 19.1 The 'Billy Graham rule' doesn't honor your wife. It demeans her — and all women. by Monica Hesse (July 11, 2019) The Washington Post.
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Billy Graham rule.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 What is the Billy Graham rule?, The Independent (UK), 21 Feb 2018
  22. How Mike Pence's Marriage Became Fodder for the Culture Wars, Emma Green, The Atlantic, March 2017. "For a lot of conservative religious people, though, this set-up probably sounds normal, or even wise."
  24. How Mike Pence's Marriage Became Fodder for the Culture Wars, Emma Green, The Atlantic, March 2017. "Many Orthodox Jews follow the laws of yichud, which prohibit unmarried men and women from being alone in a closed room together. Some Muslim men and women also refuse to be together alone if they're not married."