From Ken Eudy, CEO of Capstrat, a Raleigh public relations and advertising agency. He is a former Observer reporter and executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.
If Billy Graham really wrote those newspaper advertisements appearing under his signature, then the God he has proclaimed all these years must be scratching his head.
If you read the full-page ads, which have appeared in newspapers across North Carolina as well as the New York Times, you might come away with the impression that God cares only about right-wing political candidates. “I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman,” the ad copy quotes Billy Graham as saying.
I spent many a warm, summer evening as a boy watching Billy Graham crusades on TV. As a teenager, I developed a credible Billy Graham impersonation: “They’re coming down the aisles. The buses will wait. Your friends will wait. You come now. We want to pray for you. We want to give you some free literature….”
As a native North Carolinian and a follower of Jesus, I’ve been proud of Billy Graham. Yes, he was a Nixon enabler, but everyone deserves one free pass. There is no doubt that through his preaching, many people who had what Blaise Pascal called “the god-shaped hole” in their hearts have been redeemed.
That’s why his newspaper ads are so disappointing. They make God seem small.
If you’re a person who didn’t know better, you’d think God only cares about abortion and same-sex marriage.
If you follow Billy Graham’s ads, you might come away with the impression that God is unconcerned and even unacquainted with hunger, poverty and income inequality in America. In Rev. Graham’s America, there’s nothing amiss in a tax code that allows one of the presidential candidates to pay only 14 percent in taxes on nearly $14 million of income.
There is no commentary in Rev. Graham’s ads about a society in which 40 percent of those incarcerated are African-Americans even though they make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population.
You might come away with a notion that God hates Obamacare, undocumented immigrants and the auto bailout.
I’ve never found it helpful to get into scripture-quoting contests. I do know that the Bible speaks far more often – and more severely – of God’s judgment on those who turn a blind eye to poverty and injustice than of abortion and same-sex marriage.
Through scandal after scandal involving televangelists bilking followers out of hard-earned money, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has bragged about its pristine finances. Though I don’t know how much money the organization is spending on these print ads, I wonder how many widow’s mites it took to pay for them.
Some have suggested that at 93, Billy Graham surely could neither have written the ad copy nor approved of the hundreds of thousands of dollars his ministry has spent on promoting a right-wing political agenda. Rev. Graham’s son and successor Franklin Graham has denied putting words in his father’s mouth, or on newsprint. This from a man who can’t seem to help himself when it comes to suggesting that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which Franklin Graham now leads, suddenly took Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion off its list of cult-religions after the ads appeared. Oh, brother.
As a youngster in the 1950s, I remember my mom and dad coming from a Billy Graham crusade in the old Charlotte Coliseum. They were excited about what they heard – a simple but powerful message of God’s grace, forgiveness and unconditional love. It changed their lives.
All these years later, it’s sad to see Rev. Graham’s message of a large, loving God reduced to a small-minded political agenda.