Commentary: Rev. Billy Graham - the 'magnificent phony'

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverOctober 26, 2012 

It’s comforting to know that some people and things never change.

Like the Rev. Billy Graham.

Ah yes, the Rev. Graham. He was a phony 50 years ago – the columnist Chuck Stone back then called him not just a phony but a “magnificent phony” – and he’s a phony today.

For decades the Rev. Graham sat mutely on the sidelines as great events unfolded and tumult roiled the earth – or else he just mouthed pious platitudes that benefited no one. How could a man with Graham’s pulpit just sit out the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War with scarcely a peep?

He did, bless his heart, express revulsion when – get this – tapes revealed that President Richard Nixon had a potty mouth in private.

So that’s what it took to force Graham to take a stand? Oy!

Now, hallelujah, it seems that the Rev. Graham has found his voice again. Sitting up in his mountainous Montreat retreat clothed in mock-humility, Graham at 93 continues to play kingmaker. He has met with 12 U.S. presidents and God-only-knows how many would-be presidents, counseling them and providing them with coveted photo-ops.

Except for Tricky Dick, he never outright endorsed or opposed any candidate – gotta protect that tax-exempt status, eh, William? – but there was seldom any doubt about whom he was supporting. If he dismissed you with a gracious but noncommittal “It was a pleasure meeting with the president at my home,” you knew you weren’t a favored son.

If, on the other hand, he gave you the Full Billy, you knew everything was Kool & the Gang when you descended the mountain.

Days after meeting with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and effusively praising him for – among other things – being married to the same woman for 43 years and having five sons who are all married, Graham has deigned to bestow his blessing upon Romney.

He left enough room to deny partisanship – again, gotta protect the cash flow – but even the dimmest bulb can read between the lines of newspaper ads in which Graham wrote “We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. ... Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.”

So, when did America turn away from Him? In 2008?

What a load of supposedly nonpartisan hooey.

Nevermind that Graham once labeled Romney’s religion, Mormonism, a “cult.”

Said it right there on his website. Don’t go looking for it now, though: T’ain’t there anymore.

How come? I called the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s offices in Charlotte and asked that very question.

Brent Rinehart sent me this statement from Ken Barun, the BGEA’s chief of staff: “Our primary focus ... has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

In other words, “I’m fixin’ to hold my nose and endorse this dude over that Obama feller, and I can’t do that if I’ve called him a cult member, now can I?”

Like I said, comforting, no?

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service