Billy Graham: Prayer, Politics, Power
Directed by Sara Colt and written by Keven Mcalester
American Experience Series, PBS, 2021, 1:51:41
Billy Graham (1918-2018) is widely revered and beloved as the “greatest” Christian evangelist of the 20th Century. Any criticism of Graham is considered blasphemy by most evangelicals, but I’m definitely NOT a fan for several reasons that will be detailed below.
“Billy Graham: Prayer, Politics, Power” first aired on PBS on May 17th. This biographical documentary spans Graham’s entire life. In 1944, Graham began his career as an evangelist affiliated with Youth for Christ. He eventually branched out on his own and his 1949 Los Angeles tent crusade received a tremendous boost from Roman Catholic media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, who ordered his newspaper editors to “Puff Graham.” Graham alienated his fundamentalist supporters when he ignominiously accepted the backing of liberal clergymen in organizing his 1957 New York City crusade, part of a calculated strategy by Graham and allies, Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga, to create a more ecumenical “New Evangelicalism” movement. Graham eventually enlisted the support of local Roman Catholic bishops in organizing his crusades. Catholics who came forward at Graham’s crusades were referred back to Catholic workers who counseled the seekers that their acceptance of Christ was only a reaffirmation of their infant baptism and confirmation.
To further increase his popularity and influence, Graham forged a close relationship with President Dwight Eisenhower. At the height of the Cold War standoff with atheist Russia, Graham influenced Eisenhower to meld patriotism and religion by directing that “In God We Trust” be stamped on currency and that “…under God” be inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. American Civil Religion was/is antithetical to Jesus Christ and genuine Christianity because it presents God as a nebulous “Supreme Being” that’s palatable to all American religionists – Catholics, nominal “Protestants,” Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc. It was the glue that bound patriotic Americans together in the face of advancing Soviet communism. Even today with the steady rise of atheism, Americans of all religious persuasions still join together at ball games and other public events and sing, “God Bless America.” Graham would go on to have an even closer relationship with another president, Richard Nixon, but would afterwards distance himself from politics following the ignominy of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation. However, Graham’s hobnobbing with presidents set the table for the Christian nationalists who followed, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Graham began drifting into Universalism in the mid-1970s. At a September 1977 interview session with McCall’s magazine journalist, James Michael Beam, Graham candidly revealed that he no longer believed people in foreign lands who had not heard the Gospel were going to hell. Incredulous? Hear Graham for yourself below in this 1:30 video snippet from 1997 tell “positivity gospel” propagator, Robert Schuller, that he believed all religions and even atheism were legitimate pathways to God.
I appreciated this PBS documentary for its critical examination of Billy Graham. Yes, many souls trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior through Graham’s ministry, however, Graham had several major flaws, including his strong desire for popularity, prestige, and political influence, his trailblazing propagation of ecumenism with Roman Catholicism, and his drift into Universalism. After trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and leaving Roman Catholicism and its false salvation system of sacramental grace and merit in the early-1980s, I was shocked to discover that Billy Graham, evangelicalism’s favorite son, fully endorsed the Roman Catholic church with its false gospel as a Christian entity. Graham betrayed ex-Catholic evangelicals and Roman Catholics who needed to hear the genuine Gospel. The legacy of Billy Graham is that of a beloved evangelist who actually undermined and betrayed the Gospel on multiple levels. It’s not surprising that Satan would use Graham’s lust for numbers and popularity to subvert the Gospel.
See the PBS Graham documentary for a limited time here.
Postscript: Influential evangelical pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, declined to support Billy Graham and his crusades in the U.K. because of Graham’s ecumenism with liberal, nominal “Protestant” Bible-deniers and Roman Catholic prelates. Lloyd-Jones also objected to Graham’s use of “decisionism” (i.e., the use of the “sinner’s prayer” to affect conversions). Millions of people who attended Graham’s crusades undoubtedly had false conversion experiences based on coming forward at Graham’s invitations without true repentance.