Funk on Faith

A Billy Graham statue in Washington? Read my blog from 2011

Billy Graham at the 2007 dedeication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Billy Graham at the 2007 dedeication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. AP

Some state lawmakers, including GOP Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville, have introduced bills that could pave the way for putting a statue of Billy Graham in the U.S. Capitol.

I proposed the same thing – in 2011.

Like the other 49 states, North Carolina is represented in the Capitol with two statues – currently two former governors, Zebulon Vance and Charles Aycock.

If the legislation passes, a statue bearing the likeness of Graham, a Charlotte-born evangelist, would eventually replace the Aycock statue. States can’t submit statues of living people, and Graham is now 96 and living in Montreat.

On Tuesday, I emailed the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which had no comment on the legislation.

Aycock, governor from 1901 to 1905, was a white supremacist, so replacing his statue with one of Graham, who pastored U.S. presidents and preached to millions around the globe, would likely be a popular choice.

I think so now and I thought so almost four years, when I floated the idea in my blog for the Observer.

Here is that blog, complete with links to cool photos of statues representing North Carolina and various other states in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall:

SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2011

What about a statue of Billy Graham in Washington?

It's been noted that the new statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the first on the National Mall honoring a non-U.S. president and the first honoring an African American.

I would add that it's also the first time a religious figure – a man of the cloth – has been so honored.

And that got me thinking: Should Billy Graham get a statue in Washington, too?

Not now. Graham, who will turn 93 in November, is still very much with us.

But someday, I think a statue of this Charlotte-born evangelist – pastor to presidents – would be a popular addition to Our Nation's Capital.

I'm not suggesting it go on the National Mall. That's reserved for titans who profoundly changed America: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and MLK.

Graham's influence was big, but more sectarian: He's a beloved evangelist.

So here's where they might want to put his statue: In the U.S. Capitol.

If you've toured this domed home to the legislative branch, you know that each state gets to donate likenesses of two of its favorite sons or daughters to be among the Capitol's statuary.

Right now, two long-ago N.C. governors -- Zebulon Vance and Charles Aycock – represent the Tar Heel State.

I say they've had their time.

At some future date, maybe the state could replace one of the governors with a statue of Billy Graham preaching the Gospel. (And maybe the other could be replaced, also someday, by a statue of Andy Griffith of Mayberry, er, Mount Airy. But that's another, later blog post).

Now, for those of you who think separation of church and state should extend to statues in public buildings, you might want to tell that to Hawaii . . . or California . . . or Utah . . . or Illinois.

Those are among the 12 states (by my count) that are represented by at least one religious figure.

Hawaii donated a statue of Father Damien, the 19th century Catholic priest who pastored lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Two years ago, he was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

California, too, is represented by a Catholic priest: Father Junipero Serra was a Spanish missionary who founded a series of missions named for saints – including San Diego, Santa Clara and San Francisco.

One of Utah's two statues is of Brigham Young. Yes, he was the first governor of the Utah territory. But he was also a historic president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – also known as the Mormons.

The first woman added to the National Statuary: Frances Willard of Illinois, a 19th century Christian crusader against drink. She started the Prohibition Party and was affiliated with evangelist Dwight Moody – the Billy Graham of his day.

Certainly Billy Graham is a major figure not just in North Carolina. He is known all over the country – and around the world.

Just like humorist Will Rogers was. His statue is in the Capitol representing his native Oklahoma.

And swapping one statue for another would not be unprecedented.

In 2009, the state of California did it. It replaced the statue of Thomas Starr King – a Civil War-era Unitarian minister – with one honoring a Hollywood actor whose star shone even brighter in the field of politics.

Maybe you've heard of him: Ronald Reagan.

For a complete list -- with cool photos and bios – of the states' statues in the Capitol, check out the Web site for the National Statuary Hall collection.

Tim Funk: 704-358-5703; tfunk@charlotteobserver.com

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