Billy Graham was a terrible person with a horrific legacy
For my liberal/progressive friends who are waxing eulogistic about Billy Graham.
Billy Graham was a red-baiting, fear-mongering, anti-semitic, homophobic nationalist, corporatist, crony capitalist and war-monger. He was a friend to overt racists and an ally to wealthy corporatists. He used his massive religious platform to play kingmaker, was one of the architects of the Nixon presidency, and is a patriarch of Evangelicalism and the Religious Right.
His children are a cancer upon our society. Franklin and Anne are Monday morning disaster prophets. Franklin blames 9/11 on gay people; Anne blames it on trans people. Franklin has applauded Russia’s anti-gay measures.
But they didn’t invent this shit. They come by it honestly — they got it from their dad. Billy Graham was a grade-A homophobe, fear-mongerer, and disaster prophet.
In 1993, he claimed that AIDS was “judgment from God.” He taught that homosexuality was “a sinister form of perversion” contributing to the decay of civilization. In 2012, he supported an attempted Constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman.”
The Billy Graham Foundation’s website still advocates the horrific and thoroughly disproven gay conversion therapy (gay “cure” therapy). One of the largest conversion therapy organizations, Exodus International, renounced conversion therapy, apologized for all the harm it had done, and closed its doors in 2013. The Billy Graham Foundation still advocates this practice and organizations like Exodus International, and recommends conversion therapy books.
He cultivated relationships with the wealthy and with political power. One of his major early supporters was arch-segregationist and South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond; Billy Graham not only accepted his support, he stayed in arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond’s house.
He was an architect of the Nixon presidency, and tied his fate closely to Nixon’s political career. He believed that Nixon’s reelection in 1972 was vital to both the fate of the country and the success of his Evangelical movement, and even at the height of Watergate, his support for Nixon never waivered. In 1973, he encouraged Nixon to continue resisting the Watergate investigations, saying of journalists at NBC, “I felt like slashing their throats, but anyway, God be with you.”
He was an anti-semite who fed Nixon’s obsession with the idea that Jews controlled key American institutions, including Hollywood and the banks. Graham agreed that the Jews had a “stranglehold” on the media—and also insisted that “they’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff”—telling Nixon, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.”
Ever the dog-whistler, Nixon agreed. “I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.” Graham was more optimistic: “No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.”
To be clear: Graham was advocating the removal of Jews from positions of influence within the media by the federal government. He understood full well what he was saying, recognizing that such an action could only be taken once Nixon no longer had re-election to worry about.
Billy Graham is known as a powerful and successful evangelist, but he didn’t achieve national fame because of his “powerful witness.” He came to prominence because William Randolph Hearst — a militant nationalist, red-baiter and crony capitalist, and the owner of the largest newspaper chain in the country — liked his anti-communist fear-mongering and ordered his editors to “puff Graham.” And because arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond introduced him to Henry Luce, publisher of Time and Life magazines, who then decided to regularly feature Graham in both magazines.
His message praised American capitalism, denounced the evils of Communism, and advocated by-the-bootstraps rugged individualism. His studio’s second film, Oiltown U.S.A., was promoted as “the story of the free-enterprise system of America … of the development and use of God-given natural resources by men who have built a great new empire.” He was anti-union, and referred to the Garden of Eden as a paradise in which there were “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”
Anti-Communist fear-mongering was a regular feature of Billy Graham’s preaching. He was a McCarthyist and one of the loudest voices driving the Second Red Scare. In 1969, he urged President Nixon to bomb the dikes in North Korea—an action he claimed “could overnight destroy the economy of North Korea,” and which Nixon estimated would kill more than a million people. This is a war crime; Nazi high commissioner of Holland Arthur Seyss-Inquart was sentenced to death at Nuremberg for taking the same action during World War II.
Showing his kids how it’s done before they were even born, he prophesied disaster on Los Angeles because he claimed Communists were “more rampant in Los Angeles than any other city in America… In this moment I can see the judgment hand of God over Los Angeles. I can see judgment about to fall.” Like every other disaster prophet, he was a false one.
He fear-mongered about Communists and sympathizers who had infiltrated key American institutions and were preparing to deliver America to our Communist enemies. He warned of “over 1,100 social sounding organizations that are communist or communist-operated in this country. They control the minds of a great segment of our people,” and claimed that “the infiltration of the left wing [by] both pink and red into the intellectual strata of America [is so extensive that] our educational and religious culture is almost beyond repair.”
When Joseph McCarthy called for changing the 5th Amendment because those he accused of being Communists or sympathizers often plead the Fifth, Graham said if that’s what it took, “Then let’s do it.”
In 1953, he said this about Joseph McCarthy: “While nobody likes a watch dog, and for that reason many investigation committees are unpopular, I thank God for men who, in the face of public denouncement and ridicule, go loyally on in their work of exposing the pinks, the lavenders, the and the reds who have sought refuge beneath the wings of the American eagle and from that vantage point, try in every subtle, undercover way to bring comfort, aid, and help to the greatest enemy we have ever known — Communism.”
In other words, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon were to Billy Graham as Donald Trump is to Franklin Graham. Swap out Communism and Jews for Islam, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ rights, and nothing much has changed.
He traded in power and political influence, and he used his enormous religious influence as a propaganda platform to those ends—again, much like Franklin does today. Billy was just much better at it. He was a staunch conservative, an ally to big business, a vehement anti-semite and friend to avowed racists, a rampant fear-mongerer, a homophobic disaster prophet, and a would-be war criminal. His prominence had less to do with the power of his witness, and more to do with the fact that wealthy, influential people liked what he was saying. A lot.
He is one of the architects of Evangelicalism, and a patriarch of the Religious Right. He was suspicious of academia and despised “the left wing.”
And his rallies were called Crusades.
So the question you need to ask yourself, before you get on Facebook to eulogize Billy Graham the great evangelist, is whether you intend to remember Franklin Graham as charitably when his day comes. Because Franklin doesn’t represent a departure from his father’s life work—quite the opposite, he is its continuation.
He is, in fact, merely following in his father’s footsteps.