JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Dark Side of Rev. Billy Graham
A Prince of War Exposed
By WILLIAM HUGHES
"The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same." - Stendhal
The propaganda machine of the Evangelical Christian Right will soon be in counter attack mode. One of its darling preachers is about to take it on the proverbial chin. The Rev. Billy Graham, who has created a multimillion dollar media empire, that a Rupert Murdock would envy, is the subject of a shocking expose' due out on Nov. 15, 2007. It's entitled, "The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire." The author is Cecil Bothwell. He hails from Asheville, North Carolina and is an award winning investigative reporter. Bothwell's unflattering portrait of Rev. Graham shows him as a wily warmonger and a lackey for the Establishment. He describes Rev. Graham as a public figure who: "Undermined the Founders' skeptical Deism and sought to rebrand the U.S. as a Christian nation, [and] its armies [as] the rightful instruments of [a] Christian crusade and empire."
Bothwell documents that there wasn't a war the U.S. was involved in that Rev. Graham couldn't bless. In fact, he reveals that during the horrific Vietnam conflict, (1959-75), he had urged the then-President, Richard M. Nixon, to bomb North Vietnam! In a 13-page letter, that Rev. Graham had forwarded to the White House in April, 1969, it was stated: "There are tens of thousands of North Vietnamese defectors to bomb and invade the North. Why should all the fighting be in the South?...Especially let them bomb the dikes which could over night destroy the economy of North Vietnam." Mr. Bothwell underscored that such a military action against the dikes, a huge complex of earthworks, would probably "kill a million people and wipe out an already poor nation's agricultural system" He added that the advice in Graham's transmittal "fell on receptive ears. Not longer after, Nixon moved the air war north and west."
There is more. After the deadly Kent State U. affair, (May 4, 1970), where four students, who were protesting the Nixon-Henry Kissinger-inspired bombing of Cambodia, were killed by Ohio's National Guard troops, Rev. Graham invited the mostly unbalanced Nixon to address his crusade. It was held in Knoxville, TN. While parents of the students were still grieving and burying their dead, Rev. Graham shamelessly shilled: "All Americans may not agree with the decision a president makes--but he is our president..."
Also, every chance Rev. Graham got he ripped into antiwar protesters in this country, while the Vietnam inferno was raging. After a large pro peace demonstration in late 1969, he railed in a letter to then President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the protesters were "radicals and those seeking to overthrow the American way of life." When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out, in 1967 against the war in a sermon at the Riverside Church in NYC, Rev. Graham, jumped right in and tagged his criticism as "an affront to the thousands of loyal Negro troops who are in Vietnam." When Dr. King marched for Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama, Rev. Graham was no where to be found. And, after Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, TN, he couldn't be bothered to attend his funeral either.
Rev. Graham made a career out of sucking up to U.S. presidents. Mr. Bothwell wrote how he loved those "endless photo-ops" at the White House, and how he was always, "so eager to shake the hands of...despots, movie stars and industrial kingpins, and to offer grandiose approval of their greatness. Obsequy, more than money, seemed to drive the man--though his pockets were never empty." Fortunately, not all the presidents bought into Rev. Graham's bogus act. One of my favorites, President Harry S. Truman, who was born in Lamar, MO, knew a wide variety of people from political bosses to political hacks. He had a built in b... s... detector. This is what President Truman had to say about the war-loving, camera-mugging preacher: "Graham has gone off the beam. He's...well, I hadn't ought to say this, but he's one of those 'counterfeits' I was telling you about. He claims he's a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president. I just don't go for people like that. All he's interested in is getting his name in the paper."
Just before Bush 1 (George H.W. Bush) launched the Persian Gulf War, he invited Rev. Graham to the White House. On Jan. 16, 1991, they both watched the "air war against Iraq on CNN." Later that same evening, he prayed "three times" with the president before he delivered a "televised address to the nation." In a phone call to Bush 1, prior to that White House invite, Rev. Graham had supposedly referred to Saddam Hussein as the "Antichrist." This conversation reportedly helped Bush 1 to resolve "all the moral issues in my mind. It's black and white, good versus evil." Can anyone imagine Jesus watching a war on TV, without weeping aloud for its innocent victims, and demanding that it be stopped immediately?
As for the ongoing Iraq War, started by Bush 2 (George W. Bush Jr.), and based on a pack of rotten lies, not one word of criticism has been heard from Rev. Graham. Even after the notorious torture scandal at Abu Ghraib was revealed, the preacher maintained his vow of silence on this country's worst president, a man who deserves impeachment and jail time for violating his oath of office. (1) The country has lost 3,801 of its finest sons and daughters in Iraq and wasted $455 billion there. Another 27,000 U.S. troops have been seriously injured. An estimated one million Iraqis are now dead and about 3.7 million have become refugees. Yet, Rev. Graham, a supposed follower of the "Prince of Peace," has remained mute in his criticism of the outrageous conduct of this president and his insane policies. Why have we rarely heard Rev. Graham preach about Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount?" Why have we rarely, if ever, heard him repeat these words that came directly from the mouth of Christ: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God?"
Mr. Bothwell suggests a possible reason why Rev. Graham has failed to speak out about the unjust Iraq War and Bush 2's responsibility for it. At p. 164, he relates how the preacher, in 1985, had supposedly "saved" Bush 2 from perdition. It was at the family compound at Kennebunkport. Bush 2 was drunk and had allegedly "insulted a friend of his mother." It was around the time of Bush 2's 39th birthday. Mr. Bothwell writes: "George senior and Barbara blew up. Words were exchanged along the lines of something having to be done. George senior, then the vice-president, dialed up his friend, Billy Graham, who came to the compound and spent several days with George W. in probing exchanges and walks on the beach. George W. was soon 'born again.' He stopped drinking, attended Bible study and wrestle with issues of fervent faith. A man who was lost was saved."
We now know that Bush 2, although he may have stopped hitting the bottle, never did anything in the realm of therapy about his alcoholism problem. He's known by the experts in the field as a "dry drunk," a potential danger to himself and to others. (2) As for Bush 2 being "born again," the question must be asked: "Born again for what?" To kill Iraqis? Invade Iran? Bankrupt our Republic? "Brother" Elliott Nesch, an Evangelical and Peace advocate, believes that pro-War Christians "should repent." (3) I agree with him. The bottom line is clerics, like Rev. Graham, dominate today much of the Religious Right in America. Bothwell's tome deals, however, with a lot more relevant issues than just the preacher's disgusting war addiction. It's an insightful book that I am highly recommending. It's well documented, too, with 274 footnotes.
Finally, I wrote last year that "Rev. Graham wasn't a Phil Berrigan." The latter, an ex-priest, was a true apostle of peace, who spent 11 of his 79 years behind bars in the cause of justice. Unlike Rev. Graham, who skipped out of WWII, Berrigan was involved in the Normandy invasion and the "Battle of the Bulge" as a member of the U.S. Army. (4) I'm convinced that unless the Christian community in this country, Protestant and Catholic alike, opens its eyes to what Rev. Graham and his Establishment-serving ilk have been doing "in Christ's name," this nation is headed for a fall that will make the collapse of Rome look like a Sunday picnic.
The Case of Billy Graham
By Richard A.S. Hall
Free Inquiry Magazine, August/September 2011
Billy Graham has had public and private facilities named after him and been called the "preacher to presidents" and "God's ambassador." He is an icon of America's enormous evangelical-fundamentalist community. Even those who are not partisans of his creed unthinkingly credit him with goodness. Yet Christopher Hitchens, to whom we are much indebted for his devastating expose of the "saintly" Mother Theresa (who was anything but), has pronounced Graham as "disgustingly evil" because of his well-documented anti-Semitism. If you doubt the justice of Hitchens's animadversion to Graham, you need read no further than Cecil Bothwell's unauthorized biography, The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire, which was originally published in 2007 and fortunately has now come out in a second edition. Bothwell amply supports Hitchens's judgment of Graham, allowing Graham to condemn himself with his own thoroughly documented words and deeds. Hitchens condemns Graham only for his anti-Semitism; Bothwell, though, furnishes many other reasons for condemnation.
Bothwell's book is a brief chronological biography that summarizes the main events in Graham's life and something of his beliefs and outlook on the world. If you want a thoroughly detailed and perhaps "authorized" account of Graham's life and views, you should consult other sources, to which Bothwell helpfully refers the reader. What principally and most valuably emerges from Bothwell's study is a clear, vivid, and disturbing portrait of Graham's character; the more you read, the more the picture—like Dorian Gray's— becomes hideous. Bothwell, in his own words, "reveals a Billy Graham who has been an unabashed nationalist and capitalist and advocate for American empire. The picture that emerges is decidedly not that of a disinterested man of the cloth. Rather, Graham often appears as a well-connected covert political operative."
Bothwell chronicles Graham's activity as an unofficial advisor on American foreign policy through at least five presidential administrations. In this capacity, Graham fomented the Cold War mentality that emerged after the Second World War. Like Joe McCarthy, whom he supported to the end, Graham harbored an almost pathological hatred of communism, principally because of its atheism. He saw the West as being engaged in a holy war again godless communism with Satan directing the communist side and God guiding the Western. In league with Harry S. Truman, Dean Acheson, and Foster Dulles, Graham was only too happy to rattle the saber against North Korea and the Soviet Union. On June 25, 1950, after North Korea invaded South Korea, Graham telegrammed Truman to urge him to declare war in retaliation. (This is the first of several times Graham urged a president to wage war.) He later criticized Truman for not expanding the war into China. Later, Graham told Richard Nixon to get John F. Kennedy's ear concerning Cuba's drift toward communism and advise him to take drastic action. The Bay of Pigs invasion quickly followed. At a prayer breakfast in 1966 attended by Lyndon B. Johnson and other government officials, Graham said, "There are those who have tried to reduce Christ to the level of a genial and innocuous appeaser; but Jesus said 'You are wrong—I have come as a fire-setter and a sword-wielder.'" (This, by the way, is an example of proof-texting, a hermeneutic technique whereby passages from religious texts are wrenched out of context in order to substantiate a particular belief. Proof-texting, though discredited by reputable biblical scholars, is a favorite device of evangelical fundamentalists like Graham—"the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.")
Graham predictably became a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, even though the World Council of Churches and the Vatican, among other Christian organizations, condemned it as an unjust war. His virulent militarism is an expression of his black-and-white, Manichean worldview grounded in his woefully distorted interpretation of Scripture. Graham is an American-style Rasputin without the brilliance, dash, and panache of the Russian, his disingenuous claims of being apolitical notwithstanding.
Graham has had unusual access to those in the highest levels of power. Bothwell reports that in 1985, at the behest of the elder Bush, Graham visited the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, to talk to the younger Bush, who apparently had disgraced himself by drunkenly insulting his mother's friend. George W. and Graham had long walks on the beach together, and the upshot of this pastoral visit is that the future president suddenly got religion and foreswore his drinking.
However, not all the presidents were taken in by him. Kennedy was cool toward him; Jimmy Carter ignored him; and after their first and only meeting, the no-non sense Truman said of Graham, "He's one of those counterfeits I was telling you about. He claims he's a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president. ... All he's interested in is getting his name in the paper." Graham entered a Faustian bargain with presidents: they cynically used him to help get out the vote in their campaigns, and in exchange he received certain privileges from their hands—for example, he routinely flew on military aircraft. Ronald Reagan opened the way for him to preach behind the Iron Curtain.
Graham's politics, driven by his hyper anti-communism and his religious authoritarianism, are to the far Right. His early career was boosted by right-wing ideologues like Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce, whose anti-communist message found an enthusiastic advocate in Graham. Luce raised Graham's standing considerably through many articles in his Time and Life magazines. There was also Russell Maguire, an oil man and submachine gun manufacturer, whom Graham met in 1952. Russell had lost his Wall Street broker's license because of what the Securities and Exchange Commission described as "flagrant violations." Maguire purchased The American Mercury (H.L. Mencken's magazine) and turned it into an anti-Semitic, anti-communist, racist rag. Maguire financed Graham's various film projects to the tune of $75,000. And then there was Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina governor and senator whose segregationist views and opposition to the Civil Rights Act did not prevent him from having an illegitimate child by his African-American maid—a child, incidentally, that he never publicly acknowledged. Graham was Thurmond's guest at the governor's mansion during a 1950 crusade.
Graham was a bigot. I say "was" because when bigotry was no longer in fashion and became a source of embarrassment to those who espoused it, Graham, ever the opportunist, publicly renounced his bigoted views. However to his credit, like the Ku Klux Klansmen whose ranks included one of his grandfathers, Graham was an equal-opportunity bigot, directing his bigotry against Jews, Blacks, and Catholics—here, indeed, he did not discriminate.
Perhaps the most damning of all, because it was so explicit and made public, was the virulent anti-Semitism for which Hitchens so roundly scores him. This came to light in a taped conversation with Nixon in 1972. This conversation lasted an hour and a half and was mostly denunciatory of Jews. Graham suggests, in an eerie echo of the "Final Solution," that something might be done about this "problem" after Nixon's reelection. Bothwell quotes Graham as accusing the Jews of "putting out the pornographic stuff" and "undermining the country." Later, Graham said that his anti-Semitic statements did not reflect his real beliefs, to which Bothwell rejoins, "What are we to make of a preacher who insists that his words don't reflect his beliefs?"
In mitigation of Graham's anti-Semitism, one might point to his much-vaunted pro-Israel stance. But this is inspired by his millennial expectation that Christ, upon his return, will use Israel as his headquarters from which to set up his kingdom on earth, whereupon he will exterminate all Jews and countless others who do not believe in him.
Then there is the matter of Graham's racism, explicable perhaps in light of his Southern upbringing. Bothwell relates this anecdote from Graham's youth. To a friend's recommendation of a "colored barbershop," Graham riposted, "Long as there's a white barbershop in Charlotte, I'll never have my hair cut at a nigger barbershop." It is not fair to attribute to the man the attitudes he held in his callow youth, but Graham's opinions and actions later in life are perfectly consistent with his youthful views.
Graham opposed the quick dismantling of the Jim Crow laws. As late as 1991, he maintained membership in the segregated Biltmore Forest Country Club, which distinguished itself by ejecting a black child from its swimming pool in 1988. And, of course, conspicuously absent was Graham's complete lack of support for Martin Luther King Jr.'s crusade for civil rights. When Graham was petitioned by officials concerned for public safety to go to Little Rock, Arkansas, and lend his prestige to help calm the disturbances that erupted after the forced integration of the city high school in 1957, he declined, thereby avoiding retaliation from his white, Southern base of supporters. Indeed, he was a harsh critic of King's crusade for social justice. His backhanded response to King's "I Have a Dream" speech was, "Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children." Graham's magazine, Christianity Today, failed to mention King at all, only breaking its silence in 1964 with the terse announcement that Time had named King "Man of the Year."
Sometimes Graham condemned racism from the pulpit; at other times he said there was no scriptural objection to segregation. According to Graham, racism was a "local" issue that did not warrant comment. His waffling on the issue of race may be explained by his need to appear good not only to his white Christian supporters but also to their opposite faction—the decent people who were clamoring for social justice. According to Graham biographer William Martin, whom Bothwell cites, Graham "sometimes seemed less concerned with the intrinsic injustice of racial discrimination than with the effect on his ministry's image."
Lest it be thought that he was merely the hapless victim of his racist Southern culture, it should be remembered that there were other clergy who risked life and limb to promote civil rights for blacks. As early as 1947, the Reverend Charles Jones confronted white supremacists intent on violence when he held integrated labor meetings at his church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Graham's home state).
Yet Graham's warmongering and bigotry are not the worst of his sins. Bothwell suggests that Graham was complicit in genocide, if only indirectly. Through the combined efforts of Graham, missionaries, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Rockefellers, over one hundred thousand indigenous people in South America were murdered because they stood in the way of and resisted miners and oil rigs— Manifest Destiny marching south. This is a severe charge, but Bothwell lets the facts speak for themselves.
Bothwell reports that John D. Rockefeller Jr. funneled $50,000 to Graham’s sixteen week Madison Square Garden crusade of 1957. The author speculates that a motive behind Rockefeller’s largesse may have been access to South American oil fields. Standard oil and Shell Oil had penetrated the Huaorani territory in Ecuador's Amazon area but were driven out in 1948 by native tribes who had previously suffered enslavement and massacres at the hands of rubber barons. In the meantime, the Missionary Aviation Fellowship and other organizations such as the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) were working their way into the South American wilderness. JAARS together with other missions were associated with the Christian fundamentalist Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a front for Wycliffe Bible Translators, which translated the Bible into native languages. Graham sat on the Wycliffe board.
SIL/Wycliffe made its translators available to the CIA. Missionaries worked as CIA operatives, and missionary maps were used for locating and targeting tribes. According to Bothwell, the missionaries would soften the native population for future military and industrial exploitation by flying over villages slated for "salvation" and dropping candy, trinkets, and pictures of the whites who would soon appear. This strategy was quickly taken up by mercenaries who on their first fly-over dropped supplies of sugar on the villages to gather the population and then on their second dropped dynamite on the unsuspecting natives. Subsequently, when the natives took to defending their land, thereby being reclassified by the political authorities as communist insurgents, the U.S. government provided napalm that conveniently eradicated any evidence of genocide.
Not coincidentally, money from the appreciative industrial recipients of the missionaries' assistance swelled the coffers of SIL, Wycliffe, and the Graham crusades. Time reported that Graham's missionary activities in South America had been underwritten in part by an organization funded by the CIA.
One might excuse Graham's complicity in what amounted to genocide by saying that he did not engage in it intentionally. However, his later actions during the Vietnam War indicate that had he known he might have approved of them. In April of 1969, Nixon received from Graham a letter headed, "The Confidential Missionary Plan for Ending the Vietnam War," in which he advocated the bombing of the North Vietnamese dikes. This action, by destroying their agricultural system, would indirectly kill masses of people. After Graham's letter was made public, he, true to form, shifted the blame to others, saying that it expressed the opinions of missionaries (how extraordinary!) and he was simply their messenger. However, Graham took the precaution of later sending a copy of the letter to Henry Kissinger, then assistant to the president for national security affairs, and commended it to his attention.
What more, on Bothwell's account, might be said about Graham's professed "moral code" beyond its permitting bigotry and both complicity in and advocacy of mass murder—enough to damn anyone? One thing is that it permits mendacity and making ad hoc excuses when one is caught out in a falsehood or lie. As one example, in that aforementioned telegram urging Truman to go to war against North Korea, Graham asserted that there were more Christians per capita in South Korea than anywhere else in the world. According to Bothwell, this claim was palpably false. What does this say about a man who has made a business of proclaiming the "truth" of Scripture? We are entitled to ask whether he actually believes any of it.
Graham's morality also condones ambivalence about the law. For instance, when Graham learned that four thousand "full-time Christian workers" who collaborated with him in his organization were eligible for the draft in 1969, he made an urgent call to the White House requesting that that they be granted the same exemption as the ordained clergy. Earlier on, when he himself was eligible for the draft during the Second World War, he applied to become a military chaplain. This required his entering a chaplain's training program at Harvard Divinity School (an education that would have done him a world of good). Instead, he informed the authorities that he was not well enough to travel. He was discharged, and he returned to Florida to recuperate at the expense of a sympathetic listener to his radio programs.
It seems that even torture (in serving a righteous cause, of course) may be forgiven and condoned on Graham's moral principles. Bothwell reports that Graham employed Nelson Bardesio, formerly a torturer in Uruguay's Death Squad, for his Mexican crusade of 1977. Nevertheless, Graham's delicate moral sense is offended by certain things—not by war, racial injustice, or genocide, of course, but by Playboy centerfolds. (I once heard a snippet from one of his crusade sermons in which he fulminated against the rising tide of pornography. To stem it he recommended legally sanctioned censorship, to which his audience applauded approvingly.) Graham was able to fault Nixon only for his profanity, notes Bothwell, "while giving his friend a pass on all of his very real crimes: conspiracy to burglarize, bribe, extort, subvert justice and the rest." He excused his intimate friend's malfeasance by attributing it to "sleeping pills and demons."
Graham's moral beliefs are derived from the Bible—more accurately, from a narrow and now discredited (at least by reputable biblical scholars) fundamentalist interpretation of it. The Apostle Paul unambiguously states in Romans that government is established by God, and so empowered as "the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:4). Graham takes these words literally and out of context; he believes them to be inerrant and inspired by God, and so not to be trumped by a principled right of civil disobedience as defended by the likes of Henry David Thoreau and exercised by Martin Luther King Jr. Bothwell quotes these telling words of Graham echoing his interpretation of Paul: "I do believe we have the responsibility to obey the law. No matter what that law may be—it may be an unjust law—I believe we have a Christian responsibility to obey it. Otherwise you have anarchy."
Graham is billed as an evangelist, which by definition is a bearer of good news. But Graham's message is at bottom bad news. It is a message of fear—fear of the devil, hell, communists, left-wingers, pornographers. Graham, more accurately, is a "dysevangel," to borrow a term from Nietzsche. Graham himself is a very fearful man who reportedly sleeps with a loaded gun at the side of his bed.
However, to give the devil his due, Graham must be given credit for his astuteness as a wheeling-and-dealing power-broker and businessman. For one who has claimed to follow the teachings and example of a homeless itinerant teacher who had no place to lay his head, Graham has made a killing from peddling salvation. Bothwell calculates Graham's personal compensation package from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for 2005 as exceeding half a million dollars, based on tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Graham's life is further evidence, as if any were needed, that religion and morality are quite distinct. A colleague once remarked to me that the pious often think that being religious excuses them from the necessity of being moral. Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "Young Goodman Brown" comes to mind. The protagonist in that story finds himself in the forest at night, either awake or dreaming. There he witnesses a witches' Sabbath being celebrated by the very folk he took to be paragons of piety in his village—among them his catechism teacher and even the pastor himself. Like the "good" people in Hawthorne's story, Graham appears before us proudly wearing the mantle of respectability, but Bothwell reveals him to be an emperor without clothes. Brown's nocturnal experience in the forest forever jaundiced his view of his neighbors. Similarly, after reading Bothwell's book, no one should be able to look upon Graham or others who set themselves up as religious or spiritual leaders without suspicion.
Graham is now at death's door, and I shudder at the fulsome eulogies and encomiums that will be heaped on him upon his demise. Fortunately, Bothwell's book can provide a salutary antidote to them. It is the only fitting memorial for Graham and stands as a stark warning to posterity to be on guard against similar charlatans, mountebanks, and demagogues, especially in the fertile field of religion. Bothwell's book should be required reading for all Americans.
Richard A.S, Hall is associate professor in the Department of Government and History at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.
Billy Graham died on Feb 21, 2018 at age 99, net worth estimated to be $25 million. He used the Bible to promote American imperialism and anti-Semitism and facilitated the rise of the countless ghoulish Christian evangelical snake oil hucksters who merged religion, politics and fattening their bank accounts .
A recent post mortem: