Roger Williams goes Baptist on legendary evangelist Billy Graham

AFP/GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks with the Rev. Billy Graham during a visit to the Graham cabin … Continued

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks with the Rev. Billy Graham during a visit to the Graham cabin in Montreat, N.C., on Oct. 11, 2012.

Since Billy Graham stepped into the political arena, the man dubbed as America’s pastor kept good on his promise to “do all he can” to help Republical presidential nominee Mitt Romney. For starters, his son, Franklin Graham, who questioned if Romney and Obama were Christians in February 2012 announced that evangelicals can now vote for a Mormon. (For those who feel these decisions reflect Franklin Graham’s more strident approach to faith and politics, Billy Graham’s spokesperson A. Larry Ross assures us repeatedly that the elder Graham is truly involved with these statements.

Now that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA)
deleted Mormons from their list of “cults” that included Unitarians, Scientologists, Spiritists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and adherents of the Unification Church, evangelical organizations such as Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition can now launch major voter initiatives targeted toward evangelicals who now have Graham’s blessing to vote for a man who they were told during the Republican primaries lacked the Christians credentials of say Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum. But if Billy Graham said it, they believe it. That settles it.

In a move reminiscent of Graham’s ad campaign in support of North Carolina’s Amendment One, the BGEA took out ads in a number of prominent newspapers including the Wall Street Journal. Here the legendary evangelist encourages voters to cast their ballots for those candidates who will protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

One person whom I suspect would not be praying with the BGEA that America will remain one nation under God is my ancestor Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist church in America where Billy Graham serves as an ordained minister.

No way would the founder of Rhode Island who created the first charter granting religious liberty all align himself with any Christian entity that sought to sit at the right hand of the president of the United States. Rather, he would be appalled at the sight of Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and other Baptists draping the cross of Christ with the American flag as they advance the notion of American exceptionalism. Instead, Williams would storm the halls of the annual National Prayer Breakfast and turn over the tables – temple style. (See Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22).

Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State notes:

Furthermore, the whole evangelical notion of a personal relationship with Jesus that defines contemporary U.S. evangelicalism did not even come into play until the 19th century during the Second Great Awakening. Therefore, Williams and the Founding Fathers would have no clue what it meant to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Historians such as David Barton of WallBuilders who pontificate how the United States always possessed this “Christian heritage” seem to have transposed onto the colonial American religious landscape their version of a fundamentalist faith that did not come into fruition until the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.

In defining his role in the public sphere, rather than create Puritan enclaves designed to separate the saved from the damned or encouraging quasi-progressive dialogue to “discuss” the rights of the “outsider,” Williams chose to act.

The radical welcome that he extended even to Native Americans who were seen as subhuman savages by the vast majority of colonists signify that he would undoubtedly fight to ensure that everyone had the right to worship as they pleased. Regardless of how he might feel personally about a particular controversial issue like marriage equality, he would be at the forefront in fighting against those who refuse to grant equal civil rights to anyone marginalized by the established church.

UPDATE: Nov. 5: Graham endorses amendment in Minnesota that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.


Becky Garrison is a religion writer and author whose books include “Jesus Died for This?” and “Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church.

Portions of these reflections are excepted from my forthcoming ebook Roger Williams’ Little Book of Virtues.

  • JimofRichmond

    Every morning my family reads the column that is supposedly written by Billy Graham for a good laugh and then when we remember that he and the letter-writers are sincere, we cry. When a man this ignorant is still revered in this country, it is impossible for America to lead the world in a meaningful way.

  • bicyclestreet

    What? You wrote a column without saying anything, waste pf time. Great topic but you knoe nothing of what you write about.

  • bpai_99

    The rise of the Christian Right is directly and primarily responsible for the current dysfunction of Congress and the lack of civil debate in today’s politics. This trend is inevitable given that the members of the Christian Right know with absolute certainty that:

    1. They are on God’s side and all others are not
    2. They know God’s will and all others do not
    3. They are required to use the power of government to advance their vision of God’s kingdom here on earth above all others
    4. Anyone who disagrees or opposes their ends is by definition against God, and you never compromise with agents of Satan

    All Hail the Christian States of America.

  • batcavenc

    The rise of the Christian Right , what a laugh. Actually on the decline. What about the Christian LEFT. Blacks and Hispanics that Dems pander to for there vote. IT is to laugh at these cliche left wing post. Given that even Dem presidents needed and sought out that photo op with Graham, to cover all bases. It was Graham that bailed Dr King out of jail. Kennedy went so far as to play golf with Graham at the insistance of daddy JOE, belly up to the hypocrite bar lefties

  • batcavenc

    “I don’t think I could do my job as President,” Clinton said, “much less continue to try to grow as a person in the absence of my faith in God and my attempt to learn more about what it should be and grow. It provides a solace and support in the face of all these problems that I am not smart enough to solve.”
    (ABC Interview by Peggy Wehmeyer, “American Agenda”, March 22, 1994.)

    swing and a miss bpai 99, black and hispanic voters=christian left

  • mammyyel

    Billy Graham turned himself into the object of a joke (good thing that he isn’t able to represent Another but speaks only by his own inspiration)late before he experiences his demise. He also saw to it that his wife must agree to be buried in a cow palace in Charlotte celebrating his person – rather than in her beloved mountains – before she died (both presumed to be at the urging of his Christ denying son). Just deserts?

  • GeniusPhx

    if Christianity was so great, wouldn’t everyone want to be one?? what the author left out is that they introduced fear and guilt about the same time. anything to spread their word.

  • jmedflf

    In the 2nd paragraph you said that the BGEA deleted Mormons from their list of “cults” . I have been searching that web link that you provided and I can’t find any such information. Not even a hint of it. I’ve actually spent a long time on this search now, so as not to bother you. But, I am ready to give up. Can you please help me? Or point me in the right direction? Thank you……..

  • jimmykraktov

    They are all cults. They all ask for money. They should all be, at least politically, ignored. They have no business, or right, to interfere in politics.

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