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Long ago in a country far, far away a young boy smitten by the love of God would become “America’s Pastor” and the counselor of Presidents from Dwight David Eisenhower to Barack Obama. Then his son Franklin would do the same.
In the middle of that first pastor’s years my parents moved me to Minnesota and gave me three years without church or Sunday School. I didn’t miss it. When I started high school they introduced me to congregationalism and a local pastor with liberal minded views. I felt at home in a “main stream” church. Many of them had been sending their kids on freedom rides to the South. I was well along my journey to agnosticism and didn’t mind mainline Christianity’s MYOB attitude (mind your own beeswax) about faith. Unlike Billy Graham’s Crusade WASPY churches were no longer terribly evangelical.
But Billy Graham had his admirers. One of them was an inoffensive, if awkward, school mate of mine, Bixler Baker. One day Bixler made me an offer. He told me he had “free tickets” for a movie. The combination of Bixler and free tickets made me instantly skeptical. They were for a movie that the Billy Graham Crusade had just made to reach the millions of souls who had failed to troop into his football stadiums for a Graham revival. “Maybe,” I replied diplomatically not wishing to hurt my friend’s feelings. I wasn’t remotely interested.
He pressed a “free” ticket in my hand with a look of saintly pleasure that made me feel terribly guilty. I knew he would ask me what I thought of the movie so I glumly walked over to the State theater. I endured the movie’s proselytizing and surprise, surprise - a rebellious boy’s flawed but earnest parents took him to a Graham Crusade where he surrendered to God’s call. He was saved! I slunk out of the theater as speakers came to the stage welcoming viewers eager to repent.
Whatever I told Bixler about the movie afterward I know he was delighted. Thinking back on it, my ninety minutes of torment was an act of true charity - on my part.
Billy had been gracious about other Christian paths. America’s pastor had hobnobbed with Presidents who were Quakers, Baptists, and Catholics. One of the Quakers was Richard Nixon and the relationship Billy and Dick had would come back to haunt Billy.
In 1994 Nixon’s Chief of Staff HR Haldeman published a book that recounted how Nixon and Graham privately bad-mouthed Hollywood’s Jewish community. Billy denied it vehemently. ''Those are not my words," Graham said. ''I have never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms.''
Eight year’s later his cover was blown when the infamous Nixon tapes were made public. They were damning. ''They're [the Jews] the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,'' Graham told Nixon. ''The Jews stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain,'' he continued.
Graham added that Jews did not know his true feelings about them. ''I go and I keep friends with Mr. Rosenthal (A.M. Rosenthal) at The New York Times and people of that sort, you know. And all — I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I'm friendly with Israel. But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”
To his credit Graham admitted his shortcomings when they were exposed in 2002 and begged for forgiveness.
Billy’s fourth child, Franklin, who has taken over his Father’s ministry has departed from his father in one significant way. Coming to his father’s pulpit after the Moral Majority began making the GOP the party of God he joined them vociferously and abandoned his father’s bipartisan ways.
It is apparent to me that Franklin Graham like his father is all too human. Of the lie-ingest president in history Franklin said last January:
“I don’t think the president [Trump] is sitting there behind the desk trying to make up lies. I don’t believe that for a second. Has he misspoken on something? Sure. All of us do that. You do it and I do it. And sometimes we get the facts wrong and we say something that later on we realize, we could’ve said it better or it was misrepresented.”
Franklin Graham would be well advised to read again the words of the 8th chapter of John: “. . . If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Harry Welty is a local eccentric and perennial candidate for office in Duluth who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com.