Biography of Famous Preacher and Evangelical Billy Graham Part 2
About the famous American preacher and evangelist Billy Graham, biography and history of the evangelical.
BILLY GRAHAM (1918- )
Though Graham's message may not be modern, his methods certainly are. In the 1950s the ambitious young preacher developed a natural instinct for utilizing modern organization and publicity, the mass media, packaging, and charisma. He was both a product and an expression of an exceedingly image-conscious decade.
On his way up, Graham was careful to nurture the Protestant Church establishment. He never competes with the regular churches. In fact, he coordinates his crusades to boost local church membership. Critics within the ecclesiastical family have taken issue with Graham's fundamentalism and the escapism of his sentimental Christianity. But in the evangelism business, nothing succeeds--or mutes criticism--quite like success.
Old-time evangelists staged city-wide campaigns. Graham takes on countries, whole continents, and global "strategic areas." He has led crusades to Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, England, France, Holland, India, Japan, Korea, South America, New Zealand, Switzerland, and even Iceland.
During an early trip to England, he indelicately suggested that socialism had done more harm to Her Majesty's kingdom than all the bombs of the Nazi blitz. Englishmen were outraged. Fleet Street demanded his deportation as an undesirable alien. His Great Britain crusade was nearly scuttled by the remark. But Graham apologized in person before the House of Commons, then went on to explain the purpose of his ministry. He finished with more gained than lost.
He never would indulge in such gaucherie today. Twenty years have made him an institution, the established figurehead of mid-American spiritual life. He no longer wears Kelly-green suits and hand-painted ties. He no longer peppers his sermons with attacks on the UN and U.S. Supreme Court. Success has toned down Graham's theology, too. He doesn't draw vivid verbal pictures of a literal hell anymore, nor claim that heaven is precisely 1,600 mi. from earth in each direction. Nevertheless, he is still a fundamentalist (though an enlightened one, they say), stating his belief in "personal devils" and maintaining that 27 signs foreshadowing the end already have been observed.
Graham now is imminently respectable. Blessing the Holiday Inns and the status quo, he has become the balm of the Silent Majority and proof text of the political establishment.
Nothing has done so much for Billy Graham's stature as his much-publicized familiarity with every American President since Harry Truman. Though the intensity of the relationships has varied (he felt closest to Nixon, least so with Truman), each President has recognized a certain 2-way benefit in associating with the preacher.
Graham makes Presidents feel good about themselves. As unofficial symbol of civil religion in a nation that professes church-state separation, he imparts goodness and justification to presidential acts. Lyndon Johnson possessed a Southerner's taste for good preacher talk, but it didn't hurt that Graham also quietly and uncomplainingly stood by Johnson at a time when the Texan's Vietnam policies were drawing the moral condemnation of most of the rest of the world.
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