S6:E3 Billy Graham and Nixon

S6:E3 Billy Graham and Nixon

The Grim Reality of the Watergate Scandal: Billy Graham’s Loyalty Tested – guest David Bruce

Have you heard these myths about Billy Graham’s continued support of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal? Myth 1: Graham blindly supported Nixon without question. Myth 2: Graham’s support of Nixon was solely based on their personal friendship. Myth 3: Graham’s support of Nixon undermined his credibility as a religious leader. In this episode, our guest speakers, David Bruce and Frances Fitzgerald, will shed light on the truth behind Graham’s actions and provide valuable insights on navigating the delicate relationship between religion and politics.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Gain insights into the complex relationship between American evangelicals and politics, revealing the challenges and opportunities for engagement.
  • Examine the concerns surrounding the influence of religious groups in politics, cultivating a greater understanding of the potential implications and the need for discernment.
  • Discover the powerful role played by Billy Graham in shaping national policies and how his approach to faith and politics still resonates today.
  • Uncover the parallels between the Watergate scandal and current political corruption, shedding light on the importance of ethical leadership and its impact on religious communities.

My special guests are David Bruce and Frances Fitzgerald

David Bruce is the Executive Vice President of the Billy Graham Library and the new Billy Graham Archive and Research Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. With over 40 years of experience working closely with Dr. Billy Graham, David brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to the podcast. His expertise and firsthand experience make him a trusted source when exploring the complex relationship between religion and politics, specifically in relation to Billy Graham’s continued support of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. David’s unique perspective offers a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by American evangelical leaders and their engagement with political figures. Get ready for an engaging and thought-provoking conversation with David Bruce on this episode of Truce.

The key moments in this episode are:
00:00:00 – Introduction

00:00:27 – Reverend Harold Ockengay’s Controversy

00:01:19 – Pope Pius XI and Mussolini

00:02:59 – Catholicism and the 1960 US Presidential Election

00:08:11 – Billy Graham and Politics

00:15:41 – Billy Graham’s Support for Nixon

00:16:42 – Nixon’s Civil Religion

00:17:57 – White House Church Services

00:19:35 – Graham’s Influence and Criticisms

00:21:42 – The Watergate Scandal

00:30:40 – The Importance of Prophetic Distance

00:31:41 – Franklin Graham’s Support for Trump

00:32:27 – Strange Bedfellows and the Separation of Church and State

00:33:22 – Humility and Proximity to Power

00:33:44 – Acknowledgments and Resources


  • “The Surprising Work of God” by Garth M. Rosell
  • An article from The Atlantic about the Pope and Mussolini
  • “The Popes Against the Protestants” by Kevin Madigan
  • NPR interview with Kevin Madigan
  • “A Prophet With Honor” book by William Martin
  • “The Invisible Bridge” by Rick Perlstein
  • “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald
  • “The Failure and the Hope: Essays of Southern Churchmen” book of essays accessed on Google Books
  • New York Times article about how the Watergate break-in was financed
  • Pat Buchanan hearings during the Watergate investigation
  • Frost/Nixon transcript

Discussion Questions:

  • Was Billy Graham being a good friend by supporting Nixon after Watergate?
  • Should religious leaders maintain a certain distance between themselves and people of power?
  • Why do we like to see our governmental leaders as religious people?
  • Was Nixon’s church service in the Whitehouse wrong to be a gathering place of the rich and famous?
  • How bad was the Watergate break-in? How does it change your mind about Nixon to know about the other criminal activity?

Transcript (generated by AI)

This episode is part of a long series exploring how some American evangelicals tied themselves to the Truce Podcast. This episode can stand on its own, but when you’re done, go back and start at the beginning of season six. In 147, the Reverend Harold Ockengay went on a tour of Italy. He was part of a delegation of religious leaders viewing the destruction after World War II. Upon returning home, he argued that the devastation was the result of Europe turning its back on God.

And for a second there, it seemed like Akangei might bring some of that destruction home. First, there were the accusations. Supposedly, while in Europe, he attended the opera, purchased cigarettes, and then resold them. That was the whole controversy. This may seem quaint, but Akangei’s background was in the holiness movement, where Christians were to be holy, pure, undefiled by the things of this world.

All the rumors hinted that the famous minister from Boston was living a double life in the process. Akangei had to admit that while his character was upright in Italy, he did indeed sometimes go to the movies with his wife. The cigarettes he was seen with had been given to him for free, and so he passed them on to someone else. That there was the entire American hullabaloo. Yet in Italy, Protestants were upset with Akingay for another reason.

Akange, along with other members of the clergy, had met with Pope Pius XI. Pius XI was an interesting guy. His predecessor, Number eleven, openly criticized Hitler and the secularization of Germany. Not a good thing for Hitler, who was trying to expand his influence. So when eleven died and Number twelve was brought in, Hitler and Mussolini wanted to cozy up to him.

And they had plenty in common. Hatred of communism, a distrust of democracy. Mussolini had been fiercely anti cleric, but once he got to the Italian parliament, he gave a speech calling for intertwining Italy with the Catholic Church to make it a Christian nation. No separation of church and state. And why?

The better to gain power if an influential group is behind you. In the early 19 hundreds, Protestantism spread to Italy, in part because Protestants were focusing their efforts on reaching the poor. Italians who immigrated to the US might return to the old country equipped with a new faith. After World War I, Italians grew uneasy with the power held by Americans and the British, and also that Protestantism was spreading to Europe even as Catholicism waned in the fall of the Austrian Empire. Their solution?

Use the power of the Italian government to persecute Protestants and stifle the wave of evangelism. That is why Italian Protestants were upset about Akingay and other religious leaders visiting with the Pope. Because that very pope was persecuting Protestants. This whole mess trickled down to something you may never expect. The US presidential election of 1960, when a Roman Catholic, John F.

Kennedy, was a serious contender for the highest office in the land. Books and articles like this one cropped up. When we raise the question, should a Catholic be the President of the United States? We should not be accused of bigotry. It is a legitimate question, and to deny us the right to raise it smacks of the intolerance of which the questioner is accused.

This is from an article published on August 15, 1960, in the Church of God’s Evangel magazine. It’s a question that haunted some Christians in that time, Americans in general. Can the United States have a Catholic president? To our modern ears, as the author suggests, that seems like a bigoted question. In 1960, though, there were other considerations.

When we consider these limitations, religion is not the basic issue. Rather, it is the political action of the Roman Church. Religion is the means used to demand the loyalty to put the political action into operation. What if, say, John Kennedy is president of the United States and then gets the call from Rome that he has to use his power to benefit the Church or silence Protestantism, as Pius XI and Mussolini had in Italy? Now, today, that sounds crazy, but it was very much in the air in 1960.

This was not the first or the only publication to question Kennedy’s suitability as candidate for public office. In June of 1960, Akankay himself gave a speech at his Boston church asking just that. Could a Catholic president separate his official duties from his beliefs? Or would that constitute a failure of separation of church and state? In the separation of church and state argument?

Who is being protected in the deal, the church or the state? Or both? It depends on who you ask. A decade later, when the United States found itself embroiled in scandals involving bribes, wiretapping, illegal searches, and a break in at the Watergate Hotel, the most famous evangelist in the country found himself backing a corrupt president. Billy Graham had done plenty to encourage the head of state to identify as Christian.

Now, would his efforts to mix church and state backfire on the US with the church? You’re listening to the show that uses journalistic tools to look inside the Christian Church. We press pause in the culture wars in order to explore how we got here and how we can do better. I’m Chris Staron, and this is truth.

Okay, so we need to spend a little more time with Billy Graham. I did a whole episode in season three, but we need one more. Look, Lord, do with me as you will. That was Graham’s prayer early in his career, before he became pastor to presidents and before the big crusades. And, of course, out of that then would come the final parts of his education, his call to preach in a local church as a pastor, and then eventually to feel the pull of the Holy Spirit, to become an itinerant preacher of the Gospel.

By the way, this is David Bruce. I’m the executive vice president of the Billy Graham Library and the new Billy. Graham Archive and Research center in Charlote, North Carolina. He’s been with the organization for something like 40 years. Mr.

Bruce toured and worked closely with Dr. Graham and was a lot of fun to talk to. So this young preacher, Billy GraHam, goes on to do these huge rallies during the 1940s. That notoriety, that ability to preach in so many places, put Mr. Graham in to the national psyche.

And soon he met Mr. Truman. He’s consulting for presidents of the United States. It would often begin with his knowledge of them as friends before they ever either ran for public office or certainly ascended to the presidency. It was that way with Dwight Eisenhower, who was a general when they met.

He met Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the 1950s, he met Mr. Reagan’s actor. This notoriety, as we’ll see, was a blessing and a curse, pushing Billy to walk a tightrope between politics and faith. So these things happened not by design, but often by the. We would call it the backstroke of.

His life by simply doing ministry, attracting large audiences. Over the course of time, people are going to want to get involved. That’s what David Bruce says. And, you know, this is coming from someone who works at an organization bearing Graham’s name. To balance that out, let’s read what one biographer said of Billy Graham.

Billy Graham enjoyed proximity to power. He liked being able to have a hand, or at least a finger, in shaping national and international policy, in helping a friend gain and remain in the White House, in abetting the defeat of those whose religious and political views he believed to be mistaken. This is the story of a guy walking a tightrope. One of the founding members of the National association of Evangelicals, which, if you’ll remember from last episode, was designed to lobby for neo evangelicals to gain access to radio waves, military chaplaincies, and similar things. Graham was not a political, and he didn’t quite chase power, either.

Instead, he used his notoriety to do things like lobby for evangelicals. He would end up, over the course and arc of his own life and his own life history, meeting 14 different presidents, 14 successive administrations, from Mr. Truman. To Mr. Trump, quite a career, though not all of those guys were upstanding.

He met Mr. Nixon very interestingly in the Senate dining room very early on in Mr. Nixon’s Senate history, Richard Nixon. Served as Senator from California. Funny enough, Graham actually met Nixon’s parents.

First, but they really began as friends. They spent a lot of time together. The Grahams and the Nixons sometimes played golf. From 1953 to 1961, Nixon served as vice president under Eisenhower. Ike wasn’t a fan of Nixon, nor the prospect of Nixon being president.

In their eight years in the executive branch, Eisenhower never invited his VP to visit the residents. Biographer William Martin wrote about the Nixon Graham friendship in his excellent book A Prophet with Honor. Here is an actor reading from it. Billy always found fewer faults in his friends than others, managed to see if they liked him. He liked them and was inclined to think the best of them and to regard patent shortcomings as little more than a failure to let the sterling character he was sure they possessed manifest itself with sufficient force.

He wanted to believe the best of his friends, and Nixon was his buddy. That optimism would blind him to the man’s true character. Graham showed his support for Nixon’s 1956 bid for president, and Nixon attended Graham’s 1957 rally in Yankee Stadium. Billy nudged Nixon to demonstrate faith so that the voters could see and hear him, though he was often hesitant to do so. Graham said, there are many, many reasons.

Why I would strongly urge you to attend church regularly and faithfully from now on. I am convinced that you are going to have the backing of the overwhelming majority of the religiously minded people in America. It would be most unfortunate if some of your political enemies could point to any inconsistency. Nixon generally declined to demonstrate his faith in public. Meanwhile, Graham did more than just give religious advice, going so far as to suggest a VP nomination or to urge him to meet with Dr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Nixon declined to meet MLK, possibly because of his Southern strategy, which we’ll cover next time, but also out of a bit of bravado. He didn’t think that black people would leave the party of Lincoln. After all, in 1956, 60% of the black vote went for the Republican Eisenhower. Why wouldn’t they choose him, too?

Nixon’s first run for the big chair was against the Catholic JFK. Protestants of many stripes worried about Rome’s potential control over Kennedy. In fact, the pamphlet read to you at the beginning of the episode was written by the director of the National association of Evangelicals, an organization that Graham helped to found. They also released a letter to evangelical pastors drumming up concern about the dangers of Roman Catholicism and, of course, communist infiltration. Public opinion is changing in favor of.

The Church of Rome. It is time for us to stand. Up and be counted as Protestants. Similar concerns were expressed in Christianity Today, which Graham also helped to establish and in full disclosure, serves ads to this podcast. The Billy Graham Evangelistic association put out a flyer in the first edition of Decision magazine reminding evangelicals, we Christians must work and pray as never before in this election, or the future course of America could be dangerously altered and the free preaching of the Gospel could be endangered.

Even theologically, liberal leaders, like those of the Federal Council of Churches showed fear. According to William Martin, Graham himself waffled down his opinions. He urged Eisenhower in a letter to support Nixon, because if Kennedy in public, Graham all but endorsed Nixon, often saying things along the lines that he was the man for the job but never quite making an official declaration. Of course, Nixon lost his bid for the presidency in one of the closest elections in US history. And opposition to Catholics dissipated with Vatican II, the Vatican Council, from 1962 to 1965 that determined that the Roman Catholic Church would now be more tolerant of other faiths, including Protestantism.

Billy Graham had the ear of presidents, sometimes to give advice and sometimes to offer spiritual guidance to those on both sides of the aisle, even JFK. This elevated position meant not only holding rallies with tens of thousands in attendance, but also bending the ear of those in charge. But walking that line is just not easy. Soon, his public stances, his career in political circles, would have him backing a criminal, a man partially responsible for steering the party of Lincoln away from African Americans whose team was involved in spying, corruption, bribery, money laundering, and breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Convention. I’ll continue the story after these messages.

Welcome back. This episode, we’re talking about Billy Graham, who spent much of his life close to power. Yeah, he kind of had to walk a fine line, which, as you said earlier, kind of nipped him in the backside a few times. Well, it did, because we’re all human. And so every one of these presidents is a sinner, like I am and you are.

Some were, of course, saved by grace, and others were still trying to find a spiritual meaning to their lives. But the common denominator in those 14 administrations was Billy Graham. That’s an important thing to keep in mind as we get into some hard stuff. Those in power are people, too. It doesn’t excuse their crimes, if there are any, but they need spiritual guidance as much as anybody else.

Like, for example, President Johnson. Johnson wrote him a letter after he left office and that letter is here in our archives. He says rather poignantly, Billy, you will never know how you lifted my burden by your visits. Well, that’s poignant. We don’t really know what all that means down inside, those men had conversations we’ll never know about.

But to hear the president say, you’ve lifted my burden, you’re helping me, that’s a remarkable thing. President Johnson attended a crusade, this one in Houston in 1965. Though Johnson apparently was a little distracted, Graham blasted Vietnam protesters, much to the president’s delight. He supported Johnson’s Great SocieTy measures, which provided aid for Americans, programs that would be disassembled by Nixon and Reagan. Graham was nothing if not all over the place when it came to party platforms.

As close as he was to the JOhnsons, he still believed that Nixon was the man of the hour. Around Christmas 1967, Nixon invited the evangelist to vacation with him in Florida as he considered whether or not to run again. Despite having pneumonia, Graham flew down. They studied the Bible, watched football, and walked on the beach, hashing out Nixon’s next move. At the end of the visit, Nixon said, you still haven’t told me what I ought to do.

And Graham responded, well, if you don’t. You’Ll worry for the rest of your life whether you should have, won’t you? According to Martin, more than anyone else, it was Graham who convinced Nixon to campaign a second time. Again, Billy dodged and weaved when the press asked him who he was going to support. Still, it’s hard to deny what side he was on.

At a Portland cRusade, he said, there. Is no AmerICan I admire more than RIChard Nixon. He offered the prayer at the Republican National Convention after Nixon was nominated, then attended the meeting to choose the vice president. Graham’s choice was not picked. Instead, Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew got the job.

Though he’d served only one year as governor, he’d caught Nixon’s eye after ruthlessly putting down urban riots. Neither man had patience for protests. Graham also stated in an interview that he cast his absentee ballot for Nixon. Again, not an official endorsement, but, you know, an endorsement. RiChard Nixon’s presidency ushered in a new era of civil religion.

With the usual prayer breakfasts and such, the president expressed his desire to see the Ten Commandments read in schools, things to signal to the public that the government is seeking the face of God. The flip side of civil religion, of course, is that events like these open opportunity for leaders to play church while currying political favor. For example, Richard Nixon was the first President of the United States to institute a weekly church service in the White House. It began his first Sunday in office with Billy Graham preaching. It became much less about piety and more about creating another it place to see and be seen.

Charles Coulson, special counsel to the president, was instructed via memo of the president’s request, that you develop a list of rich people with strong religious interest to be invited to the White House church services. Future attendees included presidents and board chairs of companies like At T GE, General Motors, PepsiCo, Republic Steel, and more. Of course, those people need to know about Jesus as well. But it’s in defiance of James, too, which commands us not to offer the seat of honor only to the wealthy. NonVIPs, like wives of POWs were limited to 25% of attendees.

Preachers were instructed to keep things light, not act like a prophet. They were sometimes invited for political quid pro quo, like with Fred Rhodes, who sought the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. A visit to the White House would make him seem like an important man, while also giving Nixon a bump with the 12 million members of the SBC. All of this to support a man with shaky credentials. When it came to faith, Nixon, according to an advisor, didn’t even believe in Christ’s resurrection.

Still, it gave Graham access. Remember, he liked being close to political power, and this access did not go unnoticed. Members of the liberal clergy criticized him for not urging Nixon to end the Vietnam War fast enough. Graham went a long stretch without speaking about Vietnam until Reverend Ernest Campbell of New York’s Riverside Church publicized an open letter to Graham calling on him to use his influence. We believe that the only way you or any of us can minister to the troops and inhabitants of Vietnam is to prophesy to the Pentagon and the White House.

In the tradition of Micaiah, son of ImLA, and you, our brother, have been and will be the prophet summoned to those halls. Graham often responded that he was not a prophet like Nathan of the Old Testament, but he did use his influence. Some modern writers critiqued the evangelist, saying he didn’t do enough for African Americans, though he did push for integration at some of his crusades and arranged a meeting between Nixon and a group of black ministers. Apparently, they let Nixon have it for three and a half hours. So went their relationship, helping each other.

Apparently, though, Graham was not aware of Nixon’s true character, the side of the president that, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know well. Remember, like most Americans, nearly all Americans, so much of that was hidden. And while things began to unravel for them and there was a reflection in this country of the duplicity in that office. Mr. Graham, of course, was heartsick.

On June 17, 1972, a security officer named Frank Wills was working the graveyard shift at the Watergate complex. He noticed something fishy. He found tape over the door locks. Wills called the police, who turned up a group of five men. They had lock picks, door Jimmies, $2,300 in cash, 40 rolls of unexposed film, tear gas, guns, and a short wave radio.

The break in was significant already, but what drew national attention is that these men had links to the re Election Committee of President Richard Nixon. In the following months, a litany of charges that’s almost too long to believe came to light. We generally think of the break in as the main event, but it was far from the only immoral act. There were lesser infractions, like just icky shenanigans, stuff like buying up thousands of copies of the Washington Post to fake votes in a poll for the paper. Then there were more serious charges.

Destruction of evidence that tried to frame JFK for the assassination of a South Vietnamese president. Or when a defense intellectual named Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, they broke into a psychiatrist’s office to dig up dirt on him. This was the work of the notorious plumbers, Nixon’s hatchet men. Vice President agNew, himself a hatchet man, became the White House’s attack dog against liberals, lambasting the Watergate Committee for McCarthy tricks and for acting on, quote, unquote, the misguided zeal of a few individuals. Well, it turns out that as governor and Baltimore county executive, he’d accepted literal bags of cash in exchange for government contracts, a habit he continued while vice president.

These men ran on law and order. Yet Agnew was given only one reduced charge of income tax evasion. He spent no time in jail and got a $10,000 fine, even though that was less than the IRS said he owed in taxes. On the graft he’d taken from a single Maryland building contractor, the vice president was knee deep in bribes and walked away with a slap on the wrist. That angst you feel about that?

Imagine how it felt at the time. Trust in government crumbled. You could get more serious charges by breaking a window during a protest. When called to testify, Pat Buchanan, then a speechwriter for Nixon, revealed tactics used by the campaign. One mission was to ensure that Nixon ran against the weakest Democrat, who they judged to be George McGovern.

He admitted to arranging fake demonstrations against Democratic candidates, planting letters to the editor in newspapers, having fake protesters duck into photographs with opponents to make it look like there was a demonstration going on when it was just one guy with a sign. Nothing illegal about that, perhaps, but it certainly erodes one’s confidence in the electoral process. Then there was the way they financed the burglary. Some of it was laundered through a Mexican bank, and $199,000 was paid to G. Gordon Liddy for supplies.

Money was hidden in wads of $100 bills stuffed into lockers and airports, hotel rooms and telephone booths. John Dean, White House Counsel, testified about his attempts to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Watergate and arrange payoffs for defendants to perjure themselves. Nixon was found to have hidden profits from a land sale. He claimed California as his voting residence, but paid no state taxes there. Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, went on the warpath after all the negative coverage and blamed the Eastern press establishment, not unlike recent attacks on the mainstream media.

Chuck Colson went so far as to threaten to revoke the broadcast licenses of the major networks if they didn’t comply with what he considered balanced coverage, I. E. Coverage that didn’t make the criminals look so bad. And the list continues. The president’s personal attorney, Herbert Kumbach, pled guilty to setting up fake political committees in 1970 to launder Senate campaign contributions.

Then there was Nixon’s obstruction of justice, one of the articles of impeachment leveled against him. As you know, he had an audio recording system in the Oval Office. And the president stalled and stalled when handing over the tapes, offering edited transcripts instead of the originals, eventually leaving out entire sections or covering them with a buz. Archibald Cox, a Harvard law professor, was in charge of the investigation, and Nixon ordered his attorney general and deputy attorney general to fire Cox. But both men resigned instead.

The next attorney general followed the order, and then less than a half hour later, the White House sent the FBI to close off the offices of the special prosecutor, an incident known now as the Saturday Night Massacre, when the president ordered the end of an investigation of himself. The list goes on and on. My point here is to impress upon you how bad this was and how drawn out was. The process from the break in to Nixon’s resignation was almost two years and two months. Imagine the kind of mental burden that was on the country.

I also want to dwell on the depth of the corruption because there are people out there who want to downplay this event. Nixon himself believed that the chief executive could do stuff like this simply because he was the chief executive. There’s a fascinating moment from an interview with David Bruce after this whole affair was over. Where Nixon says something remarkable. He plays up the difficulty of the era.

Airline hijackings, intelligence agencies not working together, bombings, student protests, all of these stresses against national security. And what follows here is a recreation. The interviewer tries to clarify what, in. A sense, you’re saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston plan, or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide what’s in the best interest of the nation or something, and do something illegal. Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal by definition.

Exactly. If the president. If, for example, the president approves something, approves an action because of the national security, or in this case, because of the threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating a law. I know that’s kind of a jumble of words, but in Nixon’s opinion, if the chief executive deemed it a matter of national security, a president should have orders carried out without fear of breaking the law. The president, in other words, in Nixon’s opinion, is above the law.

The Nixon administration entered us into a constitutional crisis where the executive branch tried to deny the other branches the right to check its power. It was more than just a break in. It was an attempt to assert control. Some notable figures stood with Nixon. One was Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, and we’ll get to him later this season.

The other was the REverend Billy Graham. He didn’t participate in WAtergate, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he was aware of any of it before the public was. But he was still supportive of Nixon until it was all but impossible. As things began to break, Mr. Graham tried to reach out to his friend.

He was basically cut off from Mr. Nixon in the final months of his presidency. He couldn’t get a call through. They didn’t call him. He would later believe that they were trying to shield him in some way.

So the president did not return calls. Graham’s remembrance of this changed over time. White House logs actually show that the two men talked four times in the last months of Nixon’s presidency. He never condoned what Watergate was. He always dealt with it as it was.

It was a sin. It was a transgression in this country’s history. It was a rip and a tear in our fabric. But Mr. Graham never lost his friendship.

One of the peculiar bits of this story is how Graham reacted in public to the transcripts of the Oval Office tapes which were published in newspapers. Many accusations of wrongdoing were made clear by then, and according to Martin, what he found there devastated him. He wept, he threw up, and he almost lost his innocence about Richard Nixon. Graham’s response was visceral at first and then OD in the process. Rather than talk about Nixon’s crimes, he focused on his use of salty language and taking God’s name in vain.

It seems OD to us that Graham was shocked by Nixon’s use of foul language. But many other commentators picked up on the same thing. Graham wasn’t the only one, and the fallout from Graham’s continued support is somewhat up for debate. I asked Frances Fitzgerald about this. She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of several books, including The Evangelicals.

That relationship with Nixon was one that was fraught with some difficulties and certainly seems to have maybe hurt his public image. Yes, it did. Certainly in the end, because he kept with Nixon right through Watergate. He really thought he had to save Nixon, and he believed that Nixon never done any of these things again. He was trying to keep a middle ground, and Nixon was sort of promising him that.

But then along comes Watergate, and it destroys Nixon, but it also really destroys Graham as a moral force for a while, and he goes off on crusades abroad. He spends a lot of time abroad after Nixon. In 1980, while other evangelical leaders were vocal supporters of Ronald Reagan, Graham held back, probably because he’d been burned before, and we’ll get there soon. He continued to participate in major crusades as well as officiate at national events like the memorial Service for 911. Graham was on the list of Gallup’s most admired men 41 times from 1955 to 1998.

If he lost any credibility from his friendship with Nixon, it’s hard to quantify. It seems that Graham did have some thoughts about his entanglements with power later in life. He told Christianity Today in 2011, I. Would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places.

People in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back, I know I sometimes cross the line, and I wouldn’t do that now. He regretted when he crossed the line, and I think we can cut him some slack from time to time. I mean, if you were asked to give spiritual guidance to a person in high standing, wouldn’t you? I mean, presidents, queens, kings, dukes, and members of Congress, all need Jesus as much as the next person.

Of course, if that crosses into doing politics or endorsing morally questionable candidates, that tends to get one in trouble. As a guest on this show said in season one, godly people should maintain prophetic distance when ministering to those in power, like Daniel refusing to eat the King’s food. We have to keep separate when we’re talking to those in high status or risk being unable to see the truth and call them out on it. It seems, for the most part, Billy Graham figured that out. At the same time, Graham’s son Franklin has not.

As ongoing investigations reveal more about President Donald Trump and his administration, Franklin looks a lot like his father during Watergate. When Fox News tweeted about the verdict against Donald Trump in his sexual assault case last spring, Graham responded by writing, it is a disappointment that our illegal system has become so politicized. Pray for our nation, he called out. The old chestnut from the Nixon years. When the court system prosecutes your crimes, speak out against the judicial branch.

Now here’s a different one. From April 9, 2021, Donald Trump became president not to make money, but to do his best to preserve the great things about this nation for future generations. He put America first. I’ve never seen anyone work harder. Thank you, President Trump, for your service to this nation, or this one from March 20, 2023 we need to pray for our country and where it is headed.

The left in Washington and across the country just can’t get their fill of attacking Donald Trump. They are so paranoid of him. The onslaught against him is continual. There is no question the media and the left manipulated the last election, and they are scared to death of Donald Trump’s possible return. This brings me back to the beginning of this episode where I discussed the role the Catholic Church played in persecuting Protestants in Italy in the 1940s.

What did American evangelicals say was the problem there? The failure to separate the church and the state. The Roman Catholic Church tied itself to a dictator in order to accomplish its goals. While nobody claims that Graham wants to wipe out another Christian movement, as the pope did in the 1940s, politicians and preachers make strange bedfellows, a theme we’ll see a lot this season. Yet we also kind of want preachers to speak out on injustice, as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Did. We ask them to walk a tightrope, to be involved in politics without also getting soiled by their proximity. What do we really think about the separation of church and state, and when does it apply? When we’re confronted with hard truths about those in power, like Harold Ockengay was when he visited the Pope? Are we going to fixate on details like whether or not he did or didn’t attend the opera, or are we going to be honest about the bigger issue?

If a politician we back is caught red handed, will we humble ourselves or get distracted by their dirty language? Are we seeking righteousness or are we really looking for proximity to power?

Special thanks to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and David Bruce. You can hear more of our interview by going to patreon.com Slash Trucepodcast and giving a little each month to help me make this project. For a list of my sources, check your show notes or the website at www.trucepodcast.com There you can sign up for the email list, listen to old episodes, and find out how to help via Venmo PayPal check or whatever. I relied heavily on the Evangelicals by Francis Fitzgerald, who was also kind enough to join me for an interview. I also recommend a prophet with honor, the Billy Graham Story by William Martin.

It’s well-written and a great resource. Thanks also to all the people who gave me their voices for this episode. My friends Chris Staron, Jackie Hart, and Marcus Watson of the Spiritual Life and Truce Podcast is a production of Truce Media, LLC. I’m Chris Staron and this is Truce.

S3:E32 Billy Graham v. Communism

S3:E32 Billy Graham v. Communism

Billy Graham may have been the most important evangelist of the 20th century. His words were heard by millions of people around the world. He preached in person, on television, magazines, radio, and film. His impact is still felt today. He is also one of the people most responsible for tying Christianity, Capitalism, and the United States. But his legacy didn’t stop there. While he denounced communism, he went to great lengths to ensure that communists had access to the gospel too.

Our guest this episode is David Aikman, author of “Billy Graham: His Life and Influence“.

Discussion Questions:

  • Is Jesus’ message individualistic, collectivist, or something in between?
  • If the majority of a nation’s citizens say they are Christians, does that make it a Christian nation?
  • Does hobnobbing with the wealthy and politically connected occasionally backfire? Like, say, when you’ve come out backing Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal as Graham did?
  • Is it possible to cross political and theological lines today in order to spread the gospel?
  • When do we prioritize the gospel over social issues and when do we have to put our foot down?
  • When do you walk out into the stadium and take down the ropes that divide us and when do you leave the ropes where they are?

Helpful Links:

Topics Discussed:

  • Billy Graham’s evangelistic efforts in Romania, Hungary, and China
  • Was Billy Graham anti-communist?
  • Billy Graham’s sermons
  • Liberal Christians
  • Was Billy Graham a fundamentalist?
  • What is the difference between fundamentalist and mainline churches?

NOTE: We do try to get these right, but because of editing changes and our lack of staffing, they may not be perfectly accurate.

CS: Chris Staron (host)

DA: David Aikman (guest)

CS: This episode is part of a long series examining how Communism in Russia impacted the American Christian Church. This episode can stand on its own, but when you’re done go back and start at the beginning of season 3.

Also – we’re talking about Billy Graham. In the spirit of full disclosure, I produce podcast ads for Christianity Today, and CT serves ads to this show. Billy Graham started Christianity Today so we have a loose affiliation, though I tried not to let that influence this episode. Okay… here is the show.

Should Christians get involved in politics? Oof, big question right out of the gate. It’s going to come up a lot in the coming months. It seems like a simple question, though, right? It’s far from simple.

Lets say you’re an an American evangelist in the mid-1950s. Nice suit. A hat. Everyone wore hats back then. Maybe you travel around with a tent with someone playing gospel music behind you. What is your main goal? To reach people for Jesus, I’m guessing. Because, like many Christians, you probably believe that Jesus is the way to heaven. That it’s your duty to go out on that stage and snatch souls from the mouth of hell.

That’s your job. And there can be no more important task.

If you believe that it’s your job to bring salvation… all other responsibilities fall away. Right?

Well, you’ve got a problem. The 1950s were a time of racial segregation in the United States. If you preached in the south, the auditorium or tent or stadium would be divided in two: one section for the whites, one section for black people. You could say something on stage about the problem of racism… but you know that would scare away some of the audience, an audience who needs to hear about Jesus or risk eternal torment. If you don’t say something, though… history will judge you.

Do you get involved in politics or do you stay out of it?

There is a man who had to walk this line between politics and eternity. A man responsible in no small part for creating an era of public faith in the mid-1900s. For bonding capitalism with Christianity and Christianity with the United States. His name was Billy Graham.

DA: The first crusade I attended was many decades ago in 1975 in Hong Kong.

CS: This is David Aikman. A long time journalist for Time Magazine who interviewed everyone from Boris Yeltsin to Manuel Noriega. He’s also the author of Billy Graham: His Life and Influence. Mr. Aikman was in a nursing home when I interviewed him so you may hear some noise in the background.

DA: When he made his invitation for people to get up from their seats there was a moment of silence before the people started coming and there was a palpable sense of the Holy Spirit absolutely coming over that place. I will never forget that.

CS: It may be hard to imagine the impact of Billy Graham in part because the numbers are so large. In 1951 he spoke to 100,000 people at the Rose Bowl in LA. 336,000 people in Forth Worth Texas.

Though he died in February of 2018, his name is still with us. When Christianity Today’s former editor Mark Galli, who appeared on this show two years ago, wrote that CT could not support President Donald Trump, Graham’s son Franklin claimed that his father would not have approved. Billy Graham was pulled into politics, even after his death.

Much of his career took place during the Cold War. Historic, era defining, and controversial, Graham not only spoke out against atheistic communism… he also took bold steps to preach where nobody else could go.

You’re listening to the show that uses journalistic tools to look inside the Christian Church. We press pause on the culture wars in order to explore how we got here and how we can do better. I’m Chris Staron. This is Truce.

September 3, 1949. Scientists for the United States recorded some strange seismic activity. Coming from the Soviet Union. It could mean only one thing… the Soviets had tested their first nuclear bomb, this one detonated underground.

President Truman told the scientists to double-check their work. It had been only 4 years since the US dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States no longer held a monopoly on nuclear weaponry. Truman released a statement that read, in part:

TRUMAN: (read by an actor) We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R. Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual development of this new force by other nations was to be expected. This probability has always been taken into account by us.

CS: World War II was only recently over. The threat of nuclear war was upon us. War between an atheistic, communist nation and a capitalist nation with freedom of religion. It’s easy to discount that reality. See it as old fashioned. Scare tactics to control the population. Resist that temptation.

One bomb, with no warning, could wipe out an entire city. Soon, those missiles would be aimed at us.

Billy Graham was born in 1918, the son of a farmer. When he was 16 an itinerant evangelist named Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte, North Carolina to preach a hellfire and brimstone sermon. Young Billy walked forward that night but also bowed a knee a few years later while on the eighteenth hole of a golf course. While he was in training to be an evangelist, by the way. FYI, it’s possible to be in the ministry and not really know God at all.

After college he toured with Youth For Christ, preaching campaigns with musicians, moving from city to city. At this point, he was like a lot of other revivalists. Some ups, some downs. Not the draw that would later become.

Town after town. Month after month.

It wasn’t all roses. Billy Graham himself had a crisis of faith. A friend questioned him about whether or not the Bible could be true. Graham didn’t see a lot of return for his preaching. A crusade in Pennsylvania didn’t go as hoped. Graham went out for a walk one night, set his Bible on a tree stump, and prayed that God would solidify his faith in the Scriptures.

A month later, his team arrived in Los Angeles in 1949.

An advance team of fundamentalists did their work advertising the revival, which took place under a big canvas tent. Two days before the revival began, President Harry Truman told the world that the Soviet Union had the atomic bomb. Graham’s first Sunday sermon did not steer away from this looming threat.

GRAHAM: (read by an actor) “This nation now knows that Russia has the atomic bomb! Do you know the area that is marked out for the enemy’s first atomic bomb? New York! Secondly, Chicago! And thirdly, the city of Los Angeles! Do you know the Fifth Columnists, called Communists, are more rampant in Los Angeles than any other city in America?”

CS: Fifth Columnists is a term used to refer to people within a country who are working to overthrow that country. His concern wasn’t just Soviets, but also communists at home.

Later in his sermon, he called Communism: “a religion that is inspired, directed and motivated by the Devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God.”

This era was a defining moment for Graham. Messages like this one found success for the first three weeks of the Los Angeles crusade. Then a famous radio star said on the air that he’d been saved Graham. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, told his editors to “Puff Graham”. And his audiences, here comes the pun, exploded. 10

Here again is David Aikman.

DA: He was a very strong anti-communist in the 1950s, as most prominent American speakers were at that time. Many of his crusade speeches spoke in a very sort of doomsday fashion about the dangers of sleek Russian bombers poised to strike atomic fear over American cities. So, throughout the 1950’s he was pronouncedly anti-communist.

CS: By 1954 the crusades had swept through cities in the United States. Eight million people heard him speak in person. He had a newspaper column and a radio broadcast. He’d also made some powerful friends including Sid Richardson, an oil tycoon who may have been the richest man in America. Another friend was Henry Luce, the owner of magazines like Time. He called captains of industry to prayer, even christening an airline and praying at an event for Holiday Inn. Winning him an interesting nickname: “the big business evangelist”.

Graham was known for his political ties as well, meeting with every president from Harry Truman to Barak Obama. Often becoming quite close.

DA: For example, Lindon Johnson probably spent more time in conversation with Billy Graham about spiritual matters then any other American president. And Johnson was apparently very frightened that he might go to hell. And so his conversations with Graham were an important landmark in LBJ’s life.

Graham even preached a sermon from the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC, drawing an estimated 45,000 people. In that sermon, he called for a national day of prayer. Not a new concept. Abraham Lincoln had called for one decades earlier. It was up to President Truman to agree.

In our episode about the National Prayer Breakfast, we discussed the misgivings some people have about public displays of piety in prayer. By the way, the National Prayer Breakfast is different from the National Day of Prayer in that the breakfast is for political leaders in DC and the day of prayer is for everyone. When President Truman was given the option to create the Day of Prayer… he resisted. After all, Matthew 6 instructs us to pray in our rooms with the door closed, not in public for all to see. But public demand won out. Congress made it part of our law that the President must choose a National Day of Prayer. The first one took place on July 4th, 1952.

Yes, Graham had powerful friends and did events in politically charged locations. Before you get too judgy, remember, even powerful people need God. Business owners and politicians have the same access to Jesus as you or me. But that kind of familiarity makes some people nervous. Here was an anti-union preacher with a vast audience mingling with leaders of industry who stood to benefit if the unions disappeared. An evangelist encouraging people to turn inward for change, rather than seek change in society.

An early biographer said of Graham,

BIOGRAPHER: (read by actor)“When Graham speaks of the American way of life, he has in mind the same combination of economic and political freedom that the National Association of Manufacturers, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the Wall Street Journal do when they use the phrase.”

CS: In a 1951 sermon in Greensboro, North Carolina he talked of the “dangers that face capitalistic America.” He went on to say that in order to make it through this troubling period, we had to embrace, “the rugged individualism that Christ brought”.

Individualism is a big concept there. Don’t sneak past it. When I talked about the changes made in American Christianity in the 1800s a few episodes ago, I noted that we turned to an individualistic view of the gospel. You as an individual need to make a personal commitment to Christ. Need to walk forward like Graham himself and accept the Lord into your heart as an individual. Some see that individualism in the sermons of evangelists and apply it to their nation. That since God is focused on the individual, we should be too. That’s why capitalism appeals to some. Instead of collectivism, which is centered on society as a whole.

He was also not a fan of the New Deal. It was a collectivist solution to an individual problem.

He knocked the Marshall Plan, which was an American program to rebuild western Europe after WWII and the welfare state here at home saying,

GRAHAM: “Their greatest need is not for more money, food or even medicine; it is Christ… Give them the Gospel of love and grace first and they will clean themselves up, educate themselves, and better their economic conditions.20

If you believe that the only thing the world needs is conversion to Christianity, it can seem like you’re being cold to the needs of normal people. Choosing bootstrap theology over societal change. Ignoring social pressures that keep people down.

It’s a fine line to walk. On September 16, 1951 he delivered this sermon. I want you to listen and notice where he thought change came from. Not from social movements, but from the actions of individual Christians. He starts out talking about the influence John Wesley had on the US. He’s going to talk really fast here, so hold onto your hats.

BG: Child labor laws, orphanages, the abolition of slavery, and social justice for the unfortunate poor followed Wesley. However, Wesley’s social efforts were not socialistic in the modern political sense of the term. And by no means could Wesley be called Marx’s predecessor as much divergence lies between Wesley and Marx as between light and darkness. Wesley’s social consciousness was not the result of a materialistic godless doctrine as Marx produced 50 years after Wesley’s death. Quite the contrary! Wesley answered Kane’s question: in the light of correct scriptural teaching, I am my brother’s keeper! But this keepership was not the outgrowth… was the outgrowth of a right relationship to God through Jesus Christ and not that of a cold, cruel, mechanistic philosophy of class hatred. Mob violence Wesley despised. The revolt of the proletariat had no place in Wesley’s thinking. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the great Wesley revival of the 18th century saved Great Britain in her darkest and gravest hour. The desperate need in America and Britain at this hour of crisis is a spiritual awakening that will bring about social reform, honesty, and integrity in government put a new moral fiber in our society and pack our churches with men and women seeking the God of our fathers. The tragedy of the whole situation is that most of you agree with what I’m saying but you refuse to do anything about it. You do not seem to realize that you are America. And that when you make your decision for Christ it’s America through you making it’s decision. You must realize your own personal responsibilities. This spiritual awakening must begin in your hear.

CS: Did you hear the individualism there? That it wasn’t up to a big social movement like communism to do the right thing, but that of the Christian individual? Also he tied the United States to Christianity there at the end, contrasting it with socialism. That if Americans were Christians, we could fight against the evils of communism.

In another sermon titled “Satans Religion,” he spelled it out even more clearly with his five things that could fight communism: One: “old-fashioned Americanism”. Two: “by conservative and Evangelical Christianity”. Three: “prayer”. Four: “Spiritual revival”. Fifth: “by personal Christian experience.” He went on to say, “the greatest and most effective weapon against Communism today is to be a born-again Christian.”

An individualistic idea, right? That the only thing stemming the tide was you. It’s not unheard of for evangelists, to take the news of today and personalize it, use the concerns of modern life to bring people to a moment of decision. It is focused on the individual, not on the role of society. Contrast that to the Social Gospel which was very much about bringing societal change.

To his credit, Graham, an individual, did bring about societal change. In some ways that surprised even his own supporters.

You’ve probably heard me caution against creating a “they”, a people group we can scapegoat. Those people are the worst. If only they had their act together. I warn against this because if we create a “they” then we’re free to ignore that group of people. It allows us just to write them off. But our job as Christians is take the good news of Jesus to the world. We can’t do that if we’re ignoring a people.

Graham’s early supporters were fundamentalists. Those were the people who came to his early revivals and brought their friends. But Graham wanted to attract mainline Protestants as well. By the way, in the past, I’ve used the term mainline incorrectly. I’ve tried to go back to old episodes and edit those sections out but may have missed some. To make some generalizations, mainline Protestants tend to be more theologically moderate, and are less likely to take the Bible as literal. Whereas fundamentalists are more conservative and do take every word of the Bible as literal.

For example: The story of Jonah getting swallowed by a whale from the Old Testament. Mainline churchgoers might see in that poetry or allegory whereas fundamentalists see a guy being swallowed by a literal whale.

See the difference? Okay. So, Billy Graham wanted to reach out to mainline churches, the poetry/allegory camp – a necessity in places like New York City where they were the majority of Christians. He would need their help to carry out the task of putting on his revival there.

But there was this imaginary chasm between the two groups. Us over here and those guys waaaay over there. So Graham reached out.

In 1957 he held a gigantic crusade at Madison Square Garden, which was sponsored by the Protestant Council of the City of New York, a group with many liberal ministers. Graham also spoke at liberal seminaries. Broadening the idea that maybe Christians could get along. And, seeing the gospel as the most important thing, he could preach to the choir who also needed saving.

This crossing of theological lines drew criticism. Most notably by fundamentalists like Bob Jones Sr. who saw him as cow-towing to liberal ideology.

Graham’s efforts were effective. The New York crusade was the longest-running, and most heavily attended event in Madison Square Garden history. Across all of the venues, 2 million people attended with 55,000 cards signed with people making decisions for Christ. Making it the most successful evangelistic event in American history. Of course, numbers are deceptive. Many people came more than once. Thousands came from out of town. Of those many cards that were signed, only about 6-10,000 new people started coming to church in the area. The rest were already churchgoers. This sounds like a slight but really demonstrates that churchgoers, like Christian leaders, need to hear the gospel too. This was accomplished, in no small part, because he was willing to reach across theological lines.

That’s not always easy to do. Conservatives and liberals are so used to referring to each other as “those people”. One of the things I admire about Billy Graham is that he was willing to cross those heavily guarded borders. To preach to people who otherwise might not gear the gospel.

He is often criticized today for another line he had to walk. He famously removed the ropes that divided the segregated audience for his 1953 Chattanooga crusade. A few months later, he allowed a Dallas venue to segregate rather than risk some not hearing the gospel. Understandably, folks got angry about it. Still do. There are lots of angry articles about that moment on the Internet. The next year, he determined to never hold a segregated crusade again.

In the same way, he started fighting Communism by speaking out against it. Those people. But as time went on, Graham’s approach changed. Communism was a real threat. Don’t forget that. The nuclear bomb, the spread across Asia that led the United States into wars. It would be understandable to simply treat communists as those people.. but… but… Graham didn’t leave it there. Just condemn “them” to hell. To his credit, he went to places that nobody else could imagine going. And blazed a trail behind the iron curtain.

We’ll be back after these messages.


Billy Graham was us and them about Communism. Understandable considering the great number of their own people they killed, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust. But the story doesn’t stop there… What changed, according to David Aikman, is not what he thought of communism, but ideas about how Christians should react to communists.

DA: He began to change his outlook on the communist world in the 1970’s. And two events in that decade were instrumental in altering his outlook. One was he got a very high level briefing from an official in the White House in the administration of Jimmy Carter, which really scared him because the Carter official told him how dire things would be if there were ever anything resembling a nuclear war. The other thing that happened was that in 1977 when the Cold War was still at it’s height, he made a visit to Hungary as a speaker and this set in motion a whole series of invitations to other communist countries of eastern Europe.

CS: The most famous evangelist in the world… went behind the Iron Curtain. It took five years of planning to do so. Americans of Hungarian descent criticized Graham for going there. Seeing it as an implicit endorsement of the horrors that occurred in their country. But Graham himself said,

DA: And then in 1982 he made a controversial appearance at a peace conference in Moscow organized by the Russian Orthodox Church. Of course, it was a essentially a propaganda stunt to get Graham there and to have him say some fairly innocuous things. But it set into motion a series of invitations to Graham by east European regimes like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and even Poland that allowed Graham tremendous access into these countries which previously had been closed to outside evangelists.

Graham was, once again, met with skepticism by some in the United States. He had now become strongly anti-nuclear weapon, even calling for disarmament. Dismantling the military might we had spent so much money to build. Some saw that as the hand of the Soviets, manipulating Graham so they could gain an advantage. Soften their image.

DA: He was criticized by many evangelicals in the US even for taking up that invitation to go. And he was even more criticized by not just Christians but by journalists. In 1982 when he accepted the invitation to the Russian Orthodox peace conference in Moscow. And it’s very significant that one of the strongest critics of that time was Dan Rather, the CBS anchor person. And he had lambasted Graham for his naivete for attending that conference. But later on he completely retracted that criticism because Graham was speaking to the aspirations of many ordinary Russians. And they responded in a major way to his message.

CS: He preached in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which was considered one of the most religiously oppressive of the Soviet regimes. He was not always met with enthusiasm. Authorities in these countries were brought up to fight for atheistic communism. They limited the number of people who could attend or they cut the wires to his loudspeaker systems. Still, the crusades carried on.

DA: Most significantly, of all the foreign trips that he was invited to make to eastern Europe there was a trip in Romania in the year 1985 when Graham gave an important talk at a cathedral in the city of Timisoara, which is the major city in the Hungarian speaking component of the nation of Romania.

CS: The crowd there was estimated to be 150,000 people. Enough to make a world leader nervous for sure. Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, cancelled his meeting with Graham. But the groundwork had already been laid. Protests by Protestants in Timisoara called for the end of the regime.

DA: That revolt in in Timisoara against Ceausescu triggered the collapse of the last regime in eastern Europe to succumb to the anti-communist wave that had penetrated the country.

CS: Some Romanians credit Graham’s visit for getting the ball rolling to start the revolution.

DA: Later on in 1992 after Boris Yeltsin had emerged as the leader of Russia, which was no longer part of the Soviet Union, Graham was able to make a crusade to Russia itself. Something he had prayed about on his very first trip to Russia as a tourist way back in 1959 when he said he knelt down in Red Square and prayed that the Lord would open the door for him to share the gospel with ordinary Russians and that of course happened. So I think Graham’s influence on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and Russia was very significant. And it would be quite wrong to assume that his 1950’s era anti-communism prevailed as a viewpoint throughout his life. It didn’t. It was really modified. His disgust with the dangers of nuclear war and his sincere admiration for some peace programs in the 1970s.

CS: As his approach changed, doors continued to open for him to preach in places that had previously been unthinkable. Including both North Korea and China.

DA: When he went in 1988 the Chinese authorities were a bit annoyed by the fact that he particularly asked to see a Chinese Christian named Wang Ming-dao (spelling?) who spent decades in a labor camp for his strong Christian witness. And the people accompanying Graham were very surprised that Graham decided he wanted to make this visit. But it was extremely important for Wang Ming-dao himself. And it was a great encouragement for Chinese Christians. In fact, on the same trip by Graham, Graham had invited one of the prominent house church leaders to visit him for tea in Moscow. And the guy was arrested on his way to that meeting, which, of course, made the Chinese communists look pretty bad. But the fact is that Graham showed great sensitivity to the needs of followers of Jesus who suffered serious persecution in various countries.

CS: Which is important. Everything Billy Graham did drew media attention. By meeting with these persecuted Christians, their stories could be told. His visit in 1988 occurred at a pivotal moment in Chinese history. An era of unrest, eventually leading to the student revolt of June the 4th, 1989 in Tiananmen Square. An event that David Aikman himself was witness to. You can hear more about that by visiting our Patreon page.

Billy Graham’s legacy is complex. A man whose first love was telling people about Jesus. His career spanned massive social changes from segregation to the women’s liberation movement. Nuclear proliferation to the fall of the Soviet Union. Radio, television, films, and the Internet. Not knowing where history would go, or how he would be judged.

He was instrumental in tying Christianity, capitalism, and America together in the minds of many. Spreading the idea that societal change could be accomplished by individuals. Those concepts are vital to understanding why popular Christianity in the US is the way it is today. Why critics of American Christianity see the faith as in the pocket of big business. Ask not what big business can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. He also defined a time in America that is at the center of many debates. Some of us long for a time when Christianity was visible in every corner of society, literally preached from the steps of the capital building, on network television, and in newspapers. The 1950s can have a glow to them for that reason. A warm simplicity. When they say “Make America Great Again” this is what they’d like to emulate.

This era has long made me suspicious. Was it really so different from our own or do we romanticize the past? Was that time really less complicated, or just complicated in different ways?

Because, others see the 1950s as a time of great struggle. Rampant racism and segregation. War, restricted career and social options for women, the very real threat of nuclear holocaust. Not to mention, the reality that, religiously, we were actually pretty wishy-washy in the 1950s. We’ll get to that soon.

Billy Graham had the difficult challenge of trying to be all things to all people, so that he could make the gospel known. Despite sometimes ending up on the wrong side of history, his legacy was profound and often positive. Leaving we Christians in modern times to ponder some big questions. I’ll put these in the show notes of this episode in case you want to spark a conversation with your friends and family over dinner tonight.

Is Jesus’ message individualistic, collectivist, or something in between? If the majority of a nation’s citizens say they are Christians, does that make it a Christian nation? Does hobnobbing with the wealthy and politically connected occasionally backfire? Like, say, when you’ve come out backing Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal as Graham did? Is it possible to cross political and theological lines today in order to spread the gospel? When do we prioritize the gospel over social issues and when do we have to put our foot down? When do you walk out into the stadium and take down the ropes that divide us and when do you leave the ropes where they are?

Special thanks to David Aikman. His book is titled Billy Graham: His Life and Influence. Two other books that were helpful in this story were One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse and The Evangelicals by Francis Fitzgerald. You can hear many recordings of Graham’s sermons at billygraham.org, which is where I found clips for this episode.

Truce is a listener supported show. I need your help to keep this thing going! Traditional means of financing Christian media don’t work for this show because I’m exploring some of the most complex issues in the faith. Questioning the legacy of Billy Graham, questioning the role of money and influence in the church, and whether or not the US is a Christian nation don’t tend to fit in with wealthy donor’s ideas. If you like this show, I’m counting on you. Not just to donate, but to tell your friends, and leave a review in your podcasting app. If we’re going to send the message that intelligent Christian media is important, I need your help.

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