October 22, 2012

Why is Billy Graham so involved in the 2012 elections?

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RNS photo courtesy the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

RNS photo courtesy the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

(RNS) After years of shunning the partisan political spotlight, is Billy Graham a born-again Republican?

In May, the elderly evangelist was featured in an ad supporting a North Carolina referendum that would ban gay marriage.

After a recent meeting with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association scrubbed language describing Mormonism as a “cult” from its website.

A poster promoting Billy Graham’s “vote biblical values” campaign.

Two days later, the ministry announced a “vote biblical values” campaign, with Graham’s photo and signature accompanying a statement that opposed abortion and supported traditional marriage. Funded by specially designated donations from ministry supporters, the campaign includes newspaper ads and a website with downloadable posters and bulletin inserts.

Why has the famed evangelist – who has said he has learned hard lessons about being too political – getting so involved in the 2012 elections?

Experts who’ve watched Graham’s decades-long career say 2012 marks a new trajectory for the 93-year-old evangelist, and they speculate that Franklin Graham, his son and the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, could be playing a primary role.

“If not a new turn, he’s further down the road, with expressing a preference for a candidate,” said William Martin, author of  “A Prophet With Honor,” a 1992 biography of Billy Graham. “I’m reasonably certain that he’s not done this before.’’

“If not a new turn, he’s further down the road, with expressing a preference for a candidate,” said William Martin, author of “A Prophet With Honor,” a 1992 biography of Billy Graham.

“If not a new turn, he’s further down the road, with expressing a preference for a candidate,” said William Martin, author of “A Prophet With Honor,” a 1992 biography of Billy Graham.

At Romney’s meeting with both Grahams in North Carolina, Billy Graham told Romney he would “do all I can to help you,” according to a Romney campaign aide. Though the “vote biblical values” campaign does not mention Romney by name, it dovetails with his policies. President Barack Obama’s has said he personally supports same-sex marriage, and his campaign faith platform describes him as “pro-choice.’’

Martin said Graham – who’s met with every president since Harry Truman – has often been coy about those relationships, while his son has not. The new BGEA campaign is “more in line” with the son’s historical behavior than the father’s, Martin said.

“I think that Franklin has an influence in there,” Martin said. “But I can’t say … that he is leading his father to do something that he’s not willing to do.”

Martin said Graham’s seal of approval could serve to ease some evangelicals’ lingering discomfort with Romney’s Mormon faith. “Having Billy Graham’s blessing on Gov. Romney would certainly free people of reservations on that score,” Martin said.

Michael Hamilton, who chairs the history department at evangelical Seattle Pacific University, also sees the son’s hand behind Billy Graham’s political involvement.

“The ‘vote biblical values’ campaign repeats the slogans of the religious right in ways that Billy Graham never did until he was very old and frail,” Hamilton said. “I think it would be more responsible for the media and for Americans to interpret these statements as the statements of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and its current president, Franklin Graham, as opposed to the statements of Billy Graham himself.”

Tullian Tchividjian is the author of 'Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free', that released last month. He is also the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham.  Tchividjian is pictured here with Billy Graham.

Tullian Tchividjian is the author of ‘Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free’, that released last month. He is also the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham. Tchividjian is pictured here with Billy Graham.

Asked if he was surprised about his grandfather’s involvement in the “biblical values” campaign, the Rev. Tullian Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, said both yes and no.

“It’s closer than he’s been in a long, long time in my opinion, to get involved in something like this,’’ said Tchividjian.

He has remembered his grandfather feeling the fallout of his close friendship and support for President Richard Nixon, which led him to a divine warning that he was a primarily a preacher and not a politician.

But Tchividjian expects that it was “an idea that was presented to him” – he said he did not know by whom – and it made sense as an elder “statesman” to speak out on issues he’s long believed represented the Bible’s teaching.

“It’s probably not something that he came up with on his own,” said Tchividjian, noting his grandfather’s almost 94 years. “Nobody in the organization, including my uncle, would have done it if my grandfather had not agreed to it or signed off on it.”

Tullian Tchividjian is the author of 'Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free', that released last month. He is also the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham. Tchividjian is pictured here with Billy Graham.

Tullian Tchividjian is the author of ‘Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free’, that released last month. He is also the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL and the grandson of Billy Graham. Tchividjian is pictured here with Billy Graham.

Time will tell if this foray into the political realm will affect Graham’s long-term legacy.

“In the eyes and minds of some people, it could enhance his legacy,” said Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the Rev. D. James Kennedy, an icon of the religious right, was the longtime pastor. “In the minds and eyes of other people, it could diminish it.”

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Franklin Graham, and a key liaison between Romney and evangelicals, was not available for an interview beyond the BGEA statement, which noted that the ad did not endorse any candidate or political party.

The elder Graham’s spokesman, A. Larry Ross, said the ad is “consistent” with the BGEA’s mission and Graham’s personal practice of staying “politically neutral” in his public ministry.

“He is challenging citizens – particularly the faith community – on how to vote, rather than for whom to vote,” Ross said.

Martin has been working on new chapters of his Graham biography, and now says he will have to rework them.

“Now I think I must go back and take something out and put in something about these latest developments,” Martin said. “I can’t leave that out.”

Tchividjian, who can no longer speak to his grandfather by phone because of the elder Graham’s severe hearing loss, said he’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to ask him in person about his election-related activities.

“The next time I see him will be after the election,” he said, “so I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about.”

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  • Amsdorf

    Even in his advanced years, Billy can see what is at stake in this election, and, although it would be easy and comfortale to be silent, he simply must speak up and speak out for the truth.

  • Jay

    He is an idiot and a bigot. He is just getting old so it is coming out more.

  • Penguin

    And You Sir, i.e. “Jay” ~ You are despicable to attack such a man as
    Rev Billy Graham.

  • Floyd

    Billy paid MLK’s bail out of thew Birmingham Jail. The “religious right” leaders have all called Billy Graham the Anti-Christ at one point or the other, for reasons ranging from his civil rights support, to associating with Catholics and other non-Baptists, to ministering to Democratic presidents. When Billy dies, Franklin wants to invite these same name-callers to his funeral. Franklin, like Mitt Romney, has forgotten the face of his father.

  • Phillip Allen

    Franklin Graham has prostituted his father’s name.

  • Melody

    How can someone call a man that refused to seat blacks in separate sections at his revivals in the south, a bigot??? Jay apparently doesn’t know anything about black history.
    I read in Billy Graham’s book that if he could change anything in his past it would have been to be less political. It is sad that he forgot that lesson. Neither candidates are the answer to this world’s problems. It is sad that so many Christian leaders think so. They are leading the people that God gave them to tend astray.

  • only1gumpy

    This is just another way that Christians are becoming lukewarm. Or maybe they aren’t even Christians, hard to tell.

  • dan garcia

    The problem with Franklin Graham is that he doesn’t know if he wants to be a pastor or a politician. I’ve heard the Rev Tullian Tchividjian speak only a few times, and I like what I hear. We as the Church need to be careful and not take our eye off the ball. We are not only being attacked from the outside but also the inside. There should be great concern with the rise of the socalled word-faith movement and the prosperity gospel. Why isn’t there anybody questioning where some of these pastors are taking the GOSPEL? Now Franklin Graham is pushing his dad to cozy up to Mormonism. I never thought I would see the day.

  • Bill Holmes

    Billy Graham was treated for normal pressure hydrocephalus according to news reports. NPH is associated with loss of cognitive function (dementia) which often persists and worsens. Who is really speaking when Billy speaks these days?

  • Ralph Lepley

    Billy Graham is correct. We should vote for the only Christian running for Preskident, Mr. Obama. The Mormon cult does not believe in The Trinity (Jesus is not God.)
    Mormon men may become gods and women are eternally pregnant.
    Mormons baptize for the dead to make everyuone Mormon.

  • Beverly Kurtin

    WHAT “biblical” values is Billy Graham wanting to uphold? People, let us face FACTS, nowhere in the bible does it say that marriage is one man and one woman, that is something that was totally made up in the last part of the 20th century.

    Mormons used to believe in polygamy. Romney’s grandfather fled to Mexico because the laws of the United States were being broken by him because he was a polygamist.

    Many people in the bible had many wives, heck, Solomon had about a thousand wives and a slew of concubines! One man, ONE WOMAN a biblical “value?” Lunch meat…err…baloney!

    Although many people still believe that the myth of Adam and Eve is true, it isn’t. All peoples have an explanation of how we all got our start. Some backward people still believe that evolution and global warming are not real and that our planet is only 6 thousand years old. What is FRIGHTENING is that some of them are in the House Committee on Science and Technology. No wonder that this country is behind most of Asia and many European countries, they would not permit religious bigots serve in their governments.

    SCIENCE proves that humanity began in Africa, not the middle-east. Polygamy is rife in the middle east! Biblical values? Ignorance, bigotry, and stupidity!

  • Janet

    I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade when I was eight – and I am now a pastor. Rev. Graham is being used, has allowed himself to be used, and I am very disappointed in him. He has a “right” to his personal opinion, but he will always have an outsized pulpit – which shouldn’t be co-opted for partisan politics.

  • Patricia

    Tullian certainly comes across as more intelligent than Uncle Franklin who has been anti 0bama for some considerable time and has allied himself with such characters as Sarah Palin , Pat Robertson, Donald Trump, Glenn Beck ,the birthers, Liberty University activists and the tea party racists. I imagine the BGEA ads are the work of Franklin and Mark DeMoss, not Billy himself. Surely tax-exempt organisations such as the BGEA and Samaritans Purse, Focus on the Family etc should be party political neutral at least in public?