Billy Graham and the Unintended Consequences of Exerting Influence

Billy Graham’s 95th birthday

The Cell Leader Coordinators were discussing a recent spate of articles last week. They were all quoting the Pew Foundation’s research on the impact of evangelicals on evangelism in the United States. Then up popped Billy Graham, the evangelical par excellence, in the Sunday paper (most likely fronting for his son, Franklin). I want to talk about the Pew study in a minute, but first I want to dispute with Rev. Graham’s exhortation, which is a good example of what the study is talking about.

For one thing, no 93-year-old should have such a beautiful head of hair. Very disturbing. I will dare attribute it to the blessing due a tireless evangelist.

But as for some other things…

1) When did the American people have their hearts turned toward God? Was it when they considered slaves 3/5 of a person? Was it when they were cleansing the continent of Indians? Was it when they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki? A lot of Americans have been Christians, but the government was not designed too well to reflect their faith, or at least it rarely has — maybe when the Marshall Plan bailed out Europe, or maybe when George Bush decided AIDS was actually a problem. There are exceptions to the godless rule, but what era are you remembering?

2) How people have sex, how families are made, and whether the government can dictate our convictions are important “issues.” But I can’t see why they make this election “critical.” For an evangelist the question should start with Jesus, not issues. Why in the world did you not mention the fact that the person whose stand on the issues your prefer happens to be a leader in a non-Christian religion? There’s an issue for you.

Unless something has changed in Barack Obama’s life since 2008, his Christian testimony is well known. You can watch him say it on YouTube. If the evangelist is going to get involved, one would think he’d vote for the evangelized. Just saying. I’m not matching your thinly-veiled endorsement of Romney with my thinly-veiled endorsement of the drone president. Just saying.

3) For a Christian to try to exert political power in the name of his “definitions” seems so worldly to me! Saying that the Bible “speaks” still seems like a strange anthropomorphism to me. The definitions are not Lord, Jesus is Lord. The Bible doesn’t save me, the resurrected Jesus saves me. Any power we, as the church, exert in the election should come through the example of our self-giving love that we can define for people who are moved by the presence of God’s grace in it.

There is so much that is disturbing here. But I will pray with you that America and the whole world turns their hearts toward God. Some of the Christians will indeed, be turning back.

But I want Pew to talk to you, too.

The October 10 issue of Newsweek is an example of what many publications are printing. The Pew Foundation found that “Nones” are on the rise. That is, for the first time, there are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are white evangelicals. Both groups make up about a fifth of the population. The number of Americans without religion is on track to surpass the “born-again” population. About a third of adults under 30 don’t associate themselves with any faith, compared with only 9 percent of those over 65. This is not, the report suggests, simply a result of a general youthful tendency toward irreligion. “[Y]oung adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,” the report says.

Some theorists believe young people are rejecting religious labels precisely because they have become intertwined with so-called conservative social policies. The report quotes Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which argues that as the religious right gained power, young Americans “came to view religion … as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political.”  You think?

People of the dominant strain of Evangelicals have become the anti-evangelists of the age. Perhaps the cost of full-page political ads all over the country could have been used for better ends. At the end of September the candidates had also expended a lot of money on influence: 1.3 billion dollars on the publically accountable campaign, another 65 million dollars by unaccountable PACs on Mitt Romney’s side. Do evangelists think anything about that?

14 thoughts on “Billy Graham and the Unintended Consequences of Exerting Influence

  1. What seems like a very long time ago, Billy Graham apologized to the nation for defending President Nixon’s innocence. He had stated that the president had looked him in the eye and swore to him that he had nothing to do with Watergate! Graham then promised the nation that he would from that day forward avoid politics and focus on preaching the gospel. I think he forgot his call. He fogot his promise. He may have even forgotten the gospel.

  2. My best friend from childhood is a Mormon, always has been and probably always will be, and she loves Jesus and follows him well. I wouldn’t say she’s a “Christian”; I would say she’s a Christian. I’m not sure how this personal bit of information relates to Romney, or politics in general, but I like the idea of people coming from different traditions, however misguided or cultish some of their affiliations may be, (and as we’re stating here, we certainly know how embarrassing affiliations go) their earnestness to understand and express the love and teachings of Jesus might not be totally discounted.

    1. I appreciate your generosity and I agree that Jesus can overcome all sorts of weirdness. That being said, even my best friends need to know the real Jesus, not a made-up one that suits someone’s latter-day fancy.

  3. You’re saying that being politically involved for high profile “evangelicals” is counter-evangelistic. That is a pretty big consequence for someone who is supposed to be all about moving people towards prayer and relationship with Jesus. Reading this makes me not just evaluate Billy Graham’s failure at being holy among the politicians in his mission-field, but makes me want to be the counter-counter evangelist: offering hope and a different way of thinking, speaking, and acting altogether. For the sake of Jesus, and for the the politically wrapped-up, and for the “nones”. Saying and doing something that is DRASTICALLY CHRISTIAN is worth the effort in this muddled environment, so people can really see the difference.

  4. Thanks Rod – there’s a lot to ponder and pray over. The biggest concern for me is not only maintaining power as Eric says but its the high stakes of self interest – looking out for only for me (or my corporation). When we’re spending hundreds of millions to billions of dollars on political campaigns, and the number of 6 figure donors are on the rise, i feel we have lost our way. The most understated sentence in the article is “Perhaps the cost of full-page political ads all over the country could have been used for better ends.”

  5. Well said Rod. I find Graham’s comments deeply disturbing and you have expressed exactly what I have been thinking. Thanks.

  6. i have to agree as well. I also read recently on cnn or msnbc that his website recently scrubbed all mention of mormonism being a cult, which is a grave mistake. In trying to please men and win elections we could have the unintended consequence of a mormon revival. They really push their own, help their own, spend a lot of money promoting their own and we could see a real growth in their religion at our expense.
    I think it’s a very dangerous game these guys are playing…

  7. Lot’s of good thoughts here Rod. I am not surprised at all by the Pew Study and I think those statistics are just going to get more pronounced.

    On the Billy Graham endorsement — you got it right when you said it’s really Franklin Graham. But I think it’s an absolute travesty what Franklin did in the name of Billy because it politicized the Gospel. The Gospel may certainly have political implications, but joining the Gospel to a particular party robs it of it’s prophetic voice.

    1. Mitt Romney secretly visited Franklin and Billy Graham at thgeir home. He was very successful in getting the comments he wanted. Be sure to read THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION, by Gregory A Boyd, (Zondervan press)

  8. I’m with you all the way here Rod. This country was founded on turning our hearts away from God when put in the perceptive of the examples you’ve listed. We gotta go back farther than the founding of this country to get our hearts back in the right direction.
    Why isn’t anyone talking about the fact that Romney is a Mormon. Not too long ago these same “Christians” didn’t want Catholics in the White House. Maintaining power has become far more important than following Jesus.
    I can relate to not wanting to be associated with evangelical Christians, I’d rather check “none” than be considered in alignment with them.

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