Billy Graham Is Not an Anti-Gay Bigot (but his son Franklin is)
Let me tell you about Billy Graham, just as he is, because based on what I experienced working for the man for six years, two statements issued under his name last week (and one earlier this year) significantly collide with the well-established values of this great humble faith leader . . .
Mr. [Billy] Graham had never made political statements like this in the 62-year history of the ministry, and BGEA’s evangelistic crusades have never partnered with corporations like Chick-fil-A, although they easily could have. (Evangelist Luis Palau, a disciple of Billy’s, uses corporate sponsors for all of his city-wide events these days.) Now, to have three of these statements come out in the past three months — and a very obvious commercial for a fast-food chain — causes me to wonder if this trickle will turn into a flood, right at the end of Billy’s life.
When you see an ad such as the pro-Amendment One ad (designed and placed by BGEA representatives), or read a BGEA fundraising letter, or a personal statement issued on official BGEA letterhead, you might question how much Billy Graham has to do with any of these things anymore. I worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for six years (2000-2006), and I know something of the inner machinations of this multimillion-dollar ministry.
My concern is that here’s how things like this continue to work: Franklin Graham (or Franklin and his sister Anne Graham Lotz) have an agenda (in all three of these cases, “traditional marriage”), they get a BGEA copywriter to draft the text, then a BGEA graphic designer does the layout (in the case of the ad), Franklin approves the copy and/or design, then Franklin drives out to Little Piney Cove (Billy’s cabin home outside of Asheville, N.C.) and holds the piece of paper in front of Billy and asks, “Daddy, can we publish this?” And Billy nods (or whatever he’s capable of doing at this point in his life), and Franklin goes back and publishes this stuff with his good father’s name all over it.
Billy Graham is 93 years old, in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease (among a host of other age-related ailments). He’s been having fluid drained from his brain on a regular basis for over a decade. When I worked for BGEA and Mr. Graham was still leading evangelistic crusades around the country, it was well-known that all of his sermons, articles, letters and books were ghostwritten — and had been for quite some time.
There’s also a track record in recent years of Franklin Graham redirecting his father (and mother) against their own wishes, the most gross example being Franklin’s decision to move his parents burial site from their family home in the North Carolina mountains — where Ruth Graham had clearly wished to be buried, alongside her husband — to the Charlotte headquarters of the BGEA. It’s been suggested that Franklin came to an agreement with the city of Charlotte in order to get a sweet deal on prime real estate (on Billy Graham Parkway, no less) by promising to not only bring jobs to the area but also tourists. And what better way to do that than to build a museum (the Billy Graham Library) and a burial shrine where the faithful can come and pay their respects for years to come. (Ruth Graham died in 2007, and was buried at the Charlotte site, in what is known as the “Prayer Garden.”)
The tragedy of what’s happening right now is that Billy Graham long ago made a personal commitment to avoid picking political sides, especially since being tricked by Richard Nixon in the 1970s in a case that led to a public apology in 2002 after tapes of their private Oval Office conversations were released. Up until this point, the Nixon debacle was arguably Billy’s only political misstep, but with each new anti-gay statement put out by BGEA his legacy is being tarnished . . .
I sincerely fear that Billy has become a puppet for the political persuasions of Franklin Graham (and to a lesser extent, Anne Graham Lotz). I hope people on all sides of this debate will at least stop and question why Billy Graham, elder statesman and “America’s Pastor,” has been turned into a shill for chicken sandwiches.