Crazy Faith Ministries
The late Rev. Billy Graham was beloved by many, for too many, he reneged on the opportunity to be the voice of biblical Christianity, the Christianity that appeals to the marginalized of this society and this world.
He was clearly the spiritual voice of White Southerners; he became the embodiment of White Protestant evangelicalism. He knew God – but not a sovereign God but, rather, a deity which supported and approved of white supremacy. Graham was a product of his White Southern upbringing in a culture that maligned and treated Black people harshly. He grew up seeing White Christians – themselves products of “the Southern way of life” – and many, the children and antecedents of slaveholders; proclaim the “rightness” of white supremacy and the inherent inferiority of Blacks, Browns and Jews.
He remained silent too often when his voice could have shaken the very foundations of a religion supported by White supremacy. When President Richard Nixon said something disparaging about Jewish people, Graham was publicly silent and in a conversation with Nixon, said that few of his Jewish “friends” knew what he truly thought about Jewish people.
He knew and preached about the love of God, but it seems that he, like other White Christians, was only able to marginally extend that love to people of color.
He felt a need to push his brand of Christianity on the world – in Africa and elsewhere, hoping to convert people from what he called the “evil” religion of Islam.
He never participated in a march or demonstration held to advocate for the civil and human rights of Black people.
I once interviewed him when I was a reporter in Baltimore. The city was abuzz with excitement because he was to hold one of his crusades that evening. I was not excited, but angry, because I recognized his power as a preacher; I had watched crusades, when – after he preached about the love of God for all people – individuals flocked by the hundreds to him, wanting to give their lives to Jesus.
I was angry because I was sure that had he said to the millions of people who whom he preached that racism was wrong and out of the will of God, racism would be largely diluted. He didn’t have to answer to a church congregation, which too often dictates what its pastor can and cannot say. He was free and he could have done it but he never did. And so, after asking him a stream of expected questions, I asked him why he had never preached against racism.
His eyes clouded over and he looked away … and then said, still not looking at me that racism was never going to end until we started inviting each other into each others’ homes.
That was all he said. Needless to say, my anger was not abated.
Later that evening, in spite of myself, I tuned in to his crusade, which was being televised and in the midst of that sermon, I heard him say to those people what he had said to me, “we will never be right until we start inviting each other into each others homes.”
It occurred to me, when I heard that that he was probably grappling with how to deal with his own demons of racism and white supremacy in light of the Gospel of love, which he preached so well. It occurred to me that cultural Christianity had replaced the Christianity of the Bible, which at its core had strength because of its message of the worth of all of God’s children, no matter their color, race or religion. The God of the Bible was a lot different from the God of cultural Christianity, and it seemed that Graham was aware of that.
But he stuck to preaching a message, which was balm to the souls of White people who, while they hated others, yearned for the love of God. Graham was not successful – because he did not try – in making his followers understand that their hatred of people because of their skin color was out of the will of God.
I resent his cowardice on that issue, even though I admit that he was a powerful preacher and evangelist.
White supremacy is an evil that is so formidable that historically, White preachers have stayed away from trying to preach a message of radical inclusivity. They have manipulated the Bible to fit their cultural beliefs and practices, and to make sure their privilege and way of life was protected.
That is not biblical Christianity; it is cultural Christianity in its most base form.
That Graham’s body was placed in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in DC says a lot about how people – primarily White but not all – respected this man. I have no issue with that. But the fact that he catered to and honored a political system that oppresses so many was not something for which he should be held in high esteem.
Graham let a lot of people down, he delivered words of empowerment to people and also words of justification and advocacy for the way these Christians treated people of color. They were taught about racism in a way that many White preachers before Graham did: that racism was bad but not immoral or wrong. In doing that, he turned his back on people to whom God extended love as well.
And that was a sad and tragic failure of the ministry of a man whom God anointed to reach millions.
Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.