I thought Billy Graham, "America’s Preacher", had pretty much passed the torch to his Islamophobic son Franklin. But recently, a billboard went up down the street from me with a picture of the weathered old man against a stark black background, and the caption: "Come Hear BILLY GRAHAM / Flushing Meadows Corona Park / June 24-26, 2005 / FREE ADMISSION".
Today’s NY Times features an interview with the 86-year-old Graham, now crippled by Parkinson’s. Whatever one thinks of him, he’s a pivotal figure in American culture: confidante of 11 presidents, and pioneer of televangelism, who has probably filled more arenas around the world than the Stones.
He’s obviously a forefather of today’s religious right. Yet he dates from a time when conservative Protestants saw their faith as far less worldly. Unlike James Dobson and company, he has stayed away from political endorsements — and rabble-rousing pronouncements on abortion and gays:
Some fundamentalists think he’s too ecumenical. But his ecumenism didn’t stop him from making anti-Semitic remarks to Richard Nixon, caught on tape and publicized a few years ago. The Times piece details them, along with Graham’s apologies.
Maybe that experience shaped his approach to Islam, post 9/11:
Asked whether he agreed with those who anticipate a "clash of civilizations" between Christianity and Islam, he quickly said, "I think the big conflict is with hunger and starvation and poverty."
To that, a hearty "Amen." My recent re-read of the Gospel of Matthew reminded me just how much time Jesus actually spent talking about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and helping the poor.*
Rather than focusing on the so-called "unsaved", perhaps the Reverend Graham should invite some of today’s American Taliban to come to his extravaganza at Shea Stadium. They seem to be in dire need of a refresher course.
*Probably his second-favorite topic, by verse count. But his very favorite? Religious hypocrisy. Plus ca change…
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