Billy Graham is one of the greatest evangelists who ever lived, having preached the Gospel to approximately 215 million people. He also became the pastor to the presidents, having provided spiritual counsel to every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Even future President Donald Trump attended his 95th birthday party with his wife Melania in 2013.
This relationship is now the subject of a new PBS “American Experience” documentary, “Billy Graham: Prayer. Politics. Power.”
Within the first minutes, it’s clear that the documentary is a subtle hit piece on Graham and his legacy, twisting his political connections and influence on American evangelicalism into something nefarious while ignoring the incredible and wide-spread impact of his ministry.
The New York Times, who interviewed the documentary’s director Sarah Colt, stated, “Riding the anti-Communist fervor of the 1940s and ’50s, endorsed by the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Graham found himself preaching his distinctly American and capitalistic brand of Christianity to thousands, in venues from rural America to Madison Square Garden.”
It seems like a bit of a stretch to call any of Graham’s preaching specifically an “American and capitalistic brand of Christianity.” That description more reflects pastors that embrace the prosperity gospel, a belief certain Protestant Christians hold that “financial blessings and physical well-being are always the will of God for them,” rather than Graham’s strict focus on spreading the message of Jesus Christ and salvation for all of those who believe.
He was also against communism, which espoused atheistic beliefs and prevented people from hearing the Gospel message. He said, “(Communism) is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God.”
But the makers of this film had a very specific agenda. They wanted to frame Graham as the catalyst for American evangelicals growing involvement in politics and as an influential and powerful voting bloc in the country. A trend that the filmmakers see as decisively negative.
They also frame him as a young man who felt drawn to political power, perhaps a bit too much.
John Huffman, a pastoral advisor to Graham, stated, “Billy was attracted to political power, like a moth is attracted to flame.”
“He was drawn to politicians. It was almost like a narcotic to him,” historian Randall Balmer shared.
Historian Uta A. Balbier said, “The closer he moved Christianity to politics, the more he opened up the opportunity for Christianity being used to polarize, to politicize. He opened pandora’s box the second he stepped into the Oval Office for the first time.”
Certain liberals interpret the separation of church and state as restricting government leaders from expressing their religious beliefs or engaging in something like public prayer. But this assertion is incorrect.
From the inception of this country, the Christian faith has played a profound and important role not only in the lives of our presidents and other elected officials, but in also in the formation of critical documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Billy Graham is just one in a long line of American pastors that have spoken into the spiritual lives of our nation’s leaders. He was also “America’s Pastor,” preaching and saving millions of people around the country and across the globe.
This effort to tarnish his legacy by basing his spiritual convictions solely as part of his effort to grasp some semblance of political power is simply a smear campaign. There’s no doubt Graham interacted with many U.S. presidents, but he also spent his years in pursuit of heavenly goals, not earthly gains.
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