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.

S6:E2 Harold Ockenga – Can Christians Unite?

S6:E2 Harold Ockenga – Can Christians Unite?

From Decline to Unity: Evangelicals Embrace the Youth Culture Revolution – Joel Carpenter

Does this sound familiar? As an evangelical leader, have you been told that the key to reaching today’s youth culture is to simply preach louder and hold more events? But despite your efforts, do you find that young people are still disengaged and uninterested in your message? The pain of investing time, energy, and resources into ineffective strategies can be disheartening. But what if there was a better way? By understanding the historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party, exploring the impact of the Scopes trial, and learning about the challenges and opportunities of connecting with youth culture, you can gain valuable insights and discover new strategies for effective outreach.

My special guest is Joel Carpenter

Renowned historian Joel Carpenter joins Chris Staron in this episode to provide expert insights into the relationship between the evangelical movement and youth culture. With his extensive knowledge and research, Joel offers a deep understanding of the historical context and challenges faced by evangelical leaders in engaging with young people. As the author of the influential book “Revive Us Again,” Joel’s expertise in the subject matter is unparalleled. His analysis sheds light on the dynamics within the evangelical movement, highlighting the need for a renewed focus on outreach to effectively connect with the youth of today. Listeners can expect a thought-provoking discussion as Chris and Joel explore the complexities of the evangelical movement’s interaction with youth culture, paving the way for a unified movement and a renewed commitment to reaching out to the younger generation.

The weird duality of separating oneself while also feeling wounded by the culture at large. – Joel Carpenter

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Understand the historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party, and how these connections have shaped the political landscape.
  • Explore the impact of the Scopes trial on the fundamentalist movement and gain insights into the ongoing tensions between science and faith.
  • Learn about the challenges and opportunities of connecting with the youth culture as an evangelical leader, and discover new strategies for effective outreach.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the formation and influence of the National Association of Evangelicals, and its role in shaping the evangelical movement.
  • Examine the reasons behind the evangelical shift towards the Republican Party, and uncover the implications of this alliance on both religion and politics.

Historical ties between evangelicals and the Republican Party
Historically, evangelicals have had a complex relationship with the Republican Party in the U.S. Initially, key figures in the evangelical movement, such as Harold Ockenga, did not feel the necessity to align solely with a single political party. However, as the counterculture and student protests of the 1960s and 70s unfolded, the anxieties and fears regarding youth culture pushed evangelicals towards a refocused Republican Party.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  • Start at the beginning of season six: After listening to this episode, the host encourages listeners to go back and start at the beginning of season six to fully understand the context and background of the topic being discussed.
  • Check out the book Revive Us Again by Joel Carpenter: The host mentions Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again, which provides insights into the history of evangelicalism. Interested listeners are encouraged to check out this book for a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  • Become a patron on Patreon: The host mentions that there is a special bonus episode about Herbert J. Taylor, the president of a Chicago aluminum company, available for patrons on Patreon. Interested listeners are invited to become patrons to gain access to this exclusive content.
  • Visit trucepodcast.com: The host encourages listeners to visit the official website of the Truce Podcast, trucepodcast.com, where they can find additional information, resources, and episodes related to the topics discussed in this episode.
  • Listen to the episode about Harold Ockengay: The host mentions that there is an interview with Harold Ockengay available, but due to audio quality issues, an actor recreated the conversation.


  • “Revive Us Again” by Joel Carpenter
  • “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald
  • Interesting article about the American “Religious Depression”
  • “The Surprising Work of God” by Garth Rosell
  • “After the Ivory Tower Falls” by Will Bunch
  • “Reaganland” by Rick Perlstein
  • Bill Graham’s Sermon “The Flames of Revolution”
  • The National Association of Evangelicals “The New Treason”

Discussion Questions:

  • The episode starts by recapping the Scopes Trial. What are your thoughts about that event?
  • Do we as Christians define ourselves by our wounds? Is that good or bad?
  • Do you define yourself by your wound?
  • Does it make sense for evangelists to target the youth? What was the effect in the 1940s and 50s?
  • How did the GI Bill impact college education?
  • Does it bother you that kids going to colleges that were partially funded by the GI Bill then went on to lead the counterculture movements of the 1960s?

Transcript (generated by AI)

This episode is part of a long series exploring how some evangelicals tied themselves to the Truce Podcast in the United States. It can stand on its own, but when you’re done, go back and start at the beginning of season six. This is Harold Akingay and the National Association of Evangelicals. Last season, I covered the history of fundamentalism up through 1925, and in this season, I’m going to spend most of my time in the 1960s. There are a lot of years left out, like 35.

So in this one episode, we’re going to try to catch up. Let’s begin where I left off in season five. Here we go. In 1925, do you believe Joshua made. The sun stand still?

Two lawyers squared off in a large, hot courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee, to try a case in which a young teacher was accused of breaking the law by teaching evolution in a public school. It was the first complete American trial ever broadcast on radio. I believe what the Bible says advertised as a battle of the Giants, science versus religion, ending in an embarrassing moment when a lawyer from the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, was called to the stand. And they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion didn’t do so well.

At the time, the case seemed like a draw. Nobody won. Nobody lost. But in the following decades, the 1930s story grew, and the legend of the Scopes trial turned into a defeat for fundamentalism in the public imagination. Fundamentalists lost in the denominations.

Remember, they didn’t die out. They went underground. That will be important later on. When fundamentalists come out of the woodwork in the 1970s and surprise the culture, fundamentalism was anything but unified. Some denominations divided and others didn’t.

Most fundamentalists stayed put, opting for unity. In the 1930s, historian Joel Carpenter, who we’ll hear from in just a moment, wrote this even when fundamentalists have expressed their alienation toward American cultural trends and advocated separation from worldly involvement, their words have been more those of wounded lovers than true outsiders. That’s something to look out for this season, the weird duality of separating oneself while also feeling wounded by the culture at large. Like a middle schooler who sits alone, joins no clubs, plays no sports, and wonders why they’re barely in the yearbook at the end of the year. Why is the culture we don’t engage with moving away from us?

They will have spent decades in their own Christian bubble when they suddenly start getting involved in politics in the 1970s. And speaking of the Christian bubble, it was about to get a lot bigger. As the scope of the American government grew, it went to war in a foreign nation. Then students protested, and Christian leaders, the same ones who tried to evangelize to young people, questioned the activism of the 1960s. They struggled to unify but failed, and then learned to fear the very kids they tried to reach.

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.

On December 1741, the US Naval base at Pearl harbor was bombed along with a bunch of other places, and the US was at war. For evangelical Christians who stayed home, there was a renewed sense of purpose. The previous World War had left in its wake an age of flappers, illicit booze, new forms of music, and waning interest in Christianity. Instead of pushing people into churches, the Great Depression drove them away, what some have called the American religious depression. The term is disputed because some denominations grew in that period.

Mainline or theologically liberal churches faced incredible losses, but conservative and fundamentalist churches actually grew. Yet church attendance overall in the 1930s was on the decline. As morals loosened, evangelical clergy wanted to turn the tide. Here is Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again. The term juvenile delinquency was probably invented in the early 40s, books coming out about the national youth problem.

So focus on youth. And of course, the war did that, too. All the young people serving, young people moving to factory towns to get jobs. And so the nightlife scene all of a sudden is filled with teenagers. As Pastor Tori Johnson put it, America cannot survive another 25 years like the last 25.

If we have another lost generation after this war, like at the close of the last war, America will be sunk. The quote is from the first ever annual convention of Youth for Christ in 1945. YFC in the 1940s may have been the most effective organization at reaching young people, though it certainly was not the only one more followed in the 1950s. Like fellowship of Christian Athletes, some leaders of those organizations are going to be important as this season goes on. From YFC’s Billy Graham, who gets mixed up with Nixon, to campus Crusade’s Bill Bright rallying for votes in the 1980 election, this will come up again.

At this stage, all these organizations, and there were a bunch of them, focused on two goals, evangelism of young people and discipleship. Several were financed by the same guy, Herbert J. Taylor, the president of a Chicago aluminum company. Patrons of the show can hear a special bonus episode about him@patreon.com. Truce Podcast so there was a real concern for the youth of America in the 1940s, and a group of young preachers rose up to meet the challenge.

They preached to big churches, and small stood in open fields. And soon these young preachers came to trust each other. Youth for Christ was one of the organizations that brought them together, led by Tori Johnson. He was a very winsome, zippy with it. Pastor of a Midwest Bible church on Cicero Avenue, west side of Chicago.

Chicago is such a powerhouse, and Johnson is such a great organizer that he’s the one who kind of builds a national network of these pop up, locally supported youth rallies around the country, and he forms Youth for Christ International. I think what changed is sort of a generational change in fundamentalism. Here’s a second generation. These are the people who don’t necessarily remember the scopes trial. They don’t remember as Christian leaders the humiliation of losing battles for orthodoxy and the denominations.

They in many respects are reverting to D. L. Moody’s style of evangelicalism. DL Moody Being maybe the most famous American evangelist in the 18 hundreds, his model was important to what would become Christian fundamentalism, essentially grow the kingdom using any method possible. Print media, organize events, start schools, found conferences, be everywhere, win the world for.

Christ, find Winsome ways to do that, speak the language of the people of our day. So as a major innovative surge that’s going on using pop culture, Jack Wurtson played saxophone in a dance band before he got saved. Sorry, I know this is a lot of names. He’s doing things that kind of shock and alarm people, like putting gospel songs to swing dance band tunes and rhythms, wearing loud socks. And some of his gospel musicians are actually more stand up comedians.

So it’s really a fresh wave of revivalism that seems much more with it than the older fundamentalist preachers. If you look at charts of church attendance in the 19 hundreds, you see a spike in the 1950s. This was due in part to citywide evangelism campaigns like those of Billy Graham. Church attendance went from 43% before the war to 55% in 1950 and 69% in 1960. But the precursor to those massive events was the youth rallies of the 1940s.

Even among fundamentalist groups, there was a desire to distance themselves from some of their fundamentalist past, a call to unity. But while also maintaining the authority of the Bible, they wanted an organization to present their cause before people of power. The NAE was sparked by the fact that the Federal Council of Churches put out a code in which the regular broadcasting should be confined to those people who were recommended by the Council of Churches. In 1979, Harold Ockengay sat down for this interview. I can’t play it for you because the audio quality is somewhat diminished and difficult to understand.

So I had an actor recreate it. In the 1940s, radio was king. New units sold even during the Depression. And evangelists were some of the first people to adopt the new technology. As time went on, though, there came a need to regulate the airwaves.

The Federal Communications Commission governed licensing of radio, and there were very strong efforts by the mainline denominations, the Federal Council of Churches, to say, you don’t want crazy sectarian dudes dominating the radio. Work with us FCC to get the networks to go for non paid representative radio broadcasts, and we Federal Council people will provide those for you. The Federal Council of Churches was a mainline group of largely theologically liberal churches. When you hear the word mainline, don’t confuse it with mainstream like I used to. Instead think liberal in their theology, a less literal interpretation of the Bible.

Perhaps they considered that Jesus wasn’t God, but simply a nice teacher, that kind of thing. Radio airwaves belonged to the public, and so the public good had to be served. Some stations opted to use preachers to fill that obligation. The Federal Council of Know that represented liberal and mainline churches became the go between. Who decided who got to be on the radio for free and who didn’t?

That’s a lot of power for a single organization, especially one with an agenda. And of course, fundamentalists, other Pentecostals, other kinds of evangelicals were all over the radio, and they saw this as a big threat, an attempt to put them off the air. So they said, no, we have to have our lobbying efforts, too. In the 1940s, a syndicated radio show meant reaching a huge percentage of the population. If modernists controlled the airwaves, then the God talked about would be the liberal vision, not the literal biblical one.

What theological conservatives needed was an organization that could represent their side to the Federal Communications Commission. Evangelicals also lacked representation as military chaplains. That, too, would need to be addressed. Enter Harold Ochenge. And his name may sound familiar.

He’s kind of coming back into the conversation. Akenge serves as a handy contrast to some of the people we’re going to cover later this season. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Laughley, Patton Robertson, those people. Akenge was a guy with strong religious conviction and a desire to have influence in politics, but one who didn’t feel the need to honor a single political party. Okay, so who was Harold Akingay?

Harold and his cohorts came onto the scene in the midst of the youth revivals of the 1940s. He was kind of rough as a young man and was maybe a little too anxious to get married. He proposed to a woman the very first time they met after one of his mentors recommended her. Surprise, surprise, that didn’t work out. Akane preached over 400 times before even leaving seminary.

He first went to Princeton, and then, when they turned modernist, went to the New Westminster Theological Seminary. Even in those early days, you can see his opposition to modernism. One of his professors was a big name in the modernist fundamentalist debate. But the cultural appetite for the old fundamentalist battles was waning. Well, people were tired of the fundamentalist withdraw, both political and economic and social scene.

This again is an actor recreating a recording of Harold Ockengay and also the. Ecclesiology the fundamentalists had of a pure church and dividing every denomination if they didn’t have a, quote, pure church, and so on, and felt that we ought to take more of an active part in the fray. So I remember in 1947, I coined the word neo evangelical. I felt we needed a new evangelicalism to enter again into all areas of life, the academic, the social, the political, the economic, the ecclesiastical realms, and take a strong stance for the movement. Instead of being like the fundamentalists and withdrawing and allowing the endowments and the controls and the bureaucracy and everything going to the liberals.

His nickname was Mr. Evangelical. We did embrace, I think quite fully the fundamentalist theology. The movement embraced fundamentalist theology, where neo evangelicals like Akanke differed from other fundies, was on separation. They thought you should work within the denominations.

Infiltrate was the word they used, and make change within the existing structures rather than splitting. We thought that the organization should be, the NAE should be the means of bringing that about. The aim of the National association of Evangelicals at its founding was unity among Christ followers. The organization was still going to duke it out with modernism. How they would do that was still yet to be decided.

One big question was whether or not the NAE should allow Pentecostals to join. Akenge, thanks to his personal holiness, background, was open to the idea, and the NAE eventually welcomed them. One historian wrote, given the fact that. Modern Pentecostalism and its charismatic offspring represents the largest and fastest growing movement in the history of the Christian Church, with a worldwide membership of nearly 600 million after only a century of existence, makes one wonder where evangelicalism would be without it. This is a vital move.

Pentecostals were not yet part of the inside crowd of evangelicalism. Mid 19 hundreds. They were outsiders. By allowing Pentecostals into a national movement. They were essentially given a place at the table in Christian culture.

Decades later, as we’ll see, Pentecostals played a big role in tying evangelicals to the Truce Podcast. One, Pat Robertson, even ran for president. Others used their television ministries to rally for Ronald Reagan. In the 1970s and 80s. They were huge in the they were on the outside looking in.

Inviting them to the NAE meant legitimacy, and the NAE needed their muscle again. The goals of the new group were to gain access to free radio waves and also represent evangelicals to the government, seek representation as military chaplains, and Unify Christ followers. And of course, this being the 1940s, Akengay’s opening speech at the first national meeting also punctuated the need to oppose communism. He was such a powerful speaker that he was nominated for the position of President of the NAE. Yet Akengay’s vision for the NAE, which he shared with Billy Graham, was never fully accomplished.

The golden age of the evangelistic movement simmered down by the end of the 1950s. Part of that goes back to the old battles between fundamentalists and modernists, but also because the new evangelicals tended to start their own organizations rather than work within existing structures, as Akanke envisioned. Still, these guys transformed the country in the 1940s and 50s, welcoming Pentecostals and focusing on reaching young people. But they couldn’t have foreseen the tide of countercultural changes that was headed their way. Revival started in the youth, but so would upheaval.

I’ll continue the story after these messages.

In 1932, at least 20,000 American veterans marched on Washington, DC. They set up camps and occupied government buildings. After the Great War, they’d been promised a bonus, cash set up by the Congress to be paid out in 1945, literally decades after the final battle. Then the Great Depression hit, and veterans needed the money twelve years early. So they set up camps and demanded early payment.

The ensuing battle to shoe them away was a national embarrassment. So when World War II happened, the US government did not want a repeat. They passed the Servicemen’s Adjustment act of 1944, also called the GI Bill, which eventually paid for 2.2 million members of the armed forces earn a college degree. By World War II, only 5% of Americans had a bachelor’s degree. Compare that to 37% today.

A huge jump. Partially thanks to assistance to veterans, a veritable gold rush emerged to accommodate all the new students, largely men, and this being the 1940s, most of them white. Then came the war in Vietnam. Student protests of the war gotten national attention as they increased, leading into 1965 when the US began bombing in earnest, not to mention people of college age, had the most to lose with at its peak, 40,000 young men drafted every month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Came out against the war, highlighting that African American men were disproportionately dying in Vietnam while also being harassed here at home. In 1968, many Americans turned against the war due to the Tet Offensive, which was a series of coordinated attacks that the Communist north took on the South. Targeting areas where American presence was concentrated. It demonstrated that the north was not as weak as the Johnson administration had said they were. This conflict, as you know, created tension.

Student protests grew severe. This placed evangelical leaders in a tight spot. By 1967, around 15,000 young Americans were dead and over 109,000 wounded. If the Vietnam War was a mission of God, as some had claimed, how could you justify bombing the stuffing out of a poor, small country to protect an economic model? Because, you know, it was a battle between communism and capitalism.

As I said earlier in the 1940s, Revival started with young people. 20 years later, it looked like they would rip the country apart. Billy Graham, who had risen to prominence as an evangelist to the youth on his 1966 and 1967 radio program, Hour of Decision, featured sermons like a nation rocked by crime or flames of revolution. He sermonized on how peace efforts through organizations like the United nations were a sign of the end times and that the only peace we can have on this earth is through Jesus Christ. To be fair, Graham had always used current events to create a sense of immediacy in his sermons.

Here are just a few clips from his 1969 sermon, can America Survive? I’ll play a few selections because, as per usual, it’s hard to put Graham in a box. America is involved in two Revolutionary wars, one in Vietnam and the other here at home. The Vietnam War gets bloodier and bloodier as AmericA finds itself the only nation in the world which has ever purposely fought a no win war. Hold on now.

Billy Graham described Vietnam as a war we couldn’t win in 1969. That may surprise you. It surprised me. The other war is just as complicated and perhaps even more serious. The President’s Commission on Riots and Disorders has bluntly warned that we may be in for anarchy, insurrection and revolution within a few months unless immediate emergency action is taken to solve the problems of the ghettos.

There was real concern about what these protests over race feminism in Vietnam would lead to. Were they legitimate or were they started by Communists? In a series of surprise moves, he warns about demagogues using this moment to gain power, hiding behind our suburban wealth and comfort consumerism on TV, saying that people will want to vote for the presidential candidate who panders to them. Thus this fall they are going to be tempted to vote for the man that promises them the most, whether he can deliver it or not. And a small minority are going to burn, loot, steal, and even kill to get what they think is theirs by right.

Scary stuff. My heart races just listening to him, even though this was 50 years ago. And rather than knocking liberals, he credits. Them, many liberal writers and intellectuals, a warning that America may be headed toward a left wing or a right wing dictatorship. His warning in this sermon is classic Graham look to Jesus to solve your deepest problems.

But clearly he wasn’t keen on protests. Neither were others. A 1966 resolution by the National association of Evangelicals, Remember them? Spoke out against the rage coming from young people. It’s really short.

Here is the whole resolution believing that. The authority of the state is sanctioned by God. The NAE deplores the burning of draft cards, subversive movements and seditious utterances and prevalent disloyalty to the United States of America. By the way, those two sentences are titled the Truce Podcast. Heavy word, treason.

This is kind of an interesting example because you’ll see this as we go through the season, people calling on the authority that God gives the state when it suits them to do so, but not maybe when the state does something that offends us, like, I don’t know, charging us taxes or tells us how to run our schools. And the NAE wasn’t alone. The Southern Baptist Convention echoed their concerns in 1971 of the major shifts in this era was a loss of trust for the American government as new truths came to light. Atrocities committed in Vietnam, spying on Americans, shiftiness in our leaders. The other big change is distrust of young people, as there were real concerns about the outcome of these protests.

Where would these battles over gay and lesbian communities, women’s rights, and African Americans lead us? Changing attitudes towards economics and taxes in the 1940s and youth ushered in an era of revival and prosperity in the white middle class of the United States. Then in the 1960s and 70s, some of the same religious leaders who helped in the viewed young people with growing concern. I wanted to start the season with Harold Akingay because he’s a fun mix of things, a theological fundamentalist and someone who sought unity even to the point of opening the door to mainstream acceptance of Pentecostal believers. I also want to highlight a reality.

The NAE didn’t unify evangelicals. Ultimately, it would be our common social and political fights that would do that. But you gotta love the impulse of the early NAE. It’s also important to touch on these student led protests, because what follows won’t make sense in a vacuum. As conservatives witnessed their country being challenged by students whose college educations had been paid for with taxpayer money, their attitudes towards taxation and education would change, too.

Youth, in their mind, could no longer be trusted. To recap after the Scopes trial, I believe what the Bible says, American fundamentalists went underground. Young people coming back from World War II were evangelized heavily. Church attendance in the 1950s and 60s skyrocketed. Young people were the key.

Repent for the day of the Lord approaches. Then those young people and their kids took part in the GI Bill. After the World War, Korean War, and Vietnam, they sought out higher education. And soon those colleges became hotbeds of protest, which national celebrity preachers like Billy Graham didn’t quite know how to respond to. Repent for the day of the Communist approaches.

Through the NAE, evangelicals tried to unite, even with Pentecostals. Repent and be baptized in the Holy Spirit. But they failed. The NAE didn’t do the trick. It wasn’t until the 1970s that evangelicals found common cause.

This time around politics and battles over morals, that stuff was kicked off when evangelicals panicked about the behavior of the youth. Was the country backsliding? Even though it had only been, what? Forward sliding? It had only been increasing in its religion for a short time.

Take note of that. The glory days that a lot of Christians look back on were not a sure thing. In the early 1940s, evangelicals were legitimately concerned that Christianity in America was about to disappear 80 years ago. Instead of simply lecturing young people, they shared the gospel, even if it meant wearing colorful socks. This era reminds me of today when so many evangelicals.

My people are terrified of the youth. And I get it. I drive a school bus. They’re intimidating. But what if we took all of our fear and anxiety and turned it to outreach, as the preachers of the 1940s and 50s did?

This middle period that we’re so quickly jumping over here between seasons five and six is fascinating. You can hear about the negative side, the fear of communism and socialism, our efforts to take resources in the Third World, and evolving ideas about the role of religion in America by listening to season three. But this period was also defined by that can do spirit of evangelism and hope. What would it take to let go of our wounds of the Scopes trial, past inabilities to unite, and the fear of the youth culture in order to do the right thing. That loving drive of the 1950s became anxiety in the 1960s and 70s, opening new wounds that pushed evangelicals into a radically refocused Truce Podcast.

But let’s end on hope. Could we prayerfully see that our hope doesn’t come from opposition, but from sharing the simple message of salvation and in the process, just maybe find unity among fellow believers?

Special thanks to everyone who gave me their voice for this episode, including my friend Chris Staron and Marcus Watson of the Spiritual Life and Leadership podcast. As usual, you can find a full list of my sources on the website@Truce Podcast.com or in your show notes. In particular, I benefited from the books the Surprising Work of God by Garth Roselle, the Evangelicals by Francis Fitzgerald, and an interview with Harold Ockengay that resides at the Wheaton Archives. Thanks to Emily Vanis of the Buswell Library Archives for her help. I’m also indebted to Joel Carpenter, author of the book Revive Us Again.

It does a great job of filling in the gaps between last season and this one. Truce is listener-supported. It takes so many hours to do this show. I’m doing it while also driving a school bus, which is my full-time job. If you’d like to hear more truce, consider giving a little each month by Check, PayPal, Venmo or Patreon.

Details are in your show notes or trucepodcast.com donate for this series, I’m breezing through the 1940s and 50s, which means I’m skipping over important topics like McCarthyism, fear of Soviets that we took as permission to ruin the Third World, tying Christianity to capitalism, and Eisenhower’s social religion. I covered that stuff in season three of this very podcast. My Christian films Bringing up Bobby and Between the Walls are streaming for free on Hoopla, YouTube, and Tubi. Check them out. They are a fun and cool way to talk to your friends about Jesus.

Send me your comments or follow the show on social media. God Willing, new episodes of Truce will drop every two weeks. Like and subscribe so you to every new episode as it’s released. Truce is a production of Truce Media, LLC. I’m Chris Staron and this is Truce.

S6:E1 Prelude – What is Biblical?

S6:E1 Prelude – What is Biblical?

What do we mean by the word “biblical”?

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Thomas McIntyre stood before the US Congress to deliver a moving speech. The man was being hounded by a fringe movement known as the New Right. The movement came from the work of men like Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, and Richard Viguerie. Their goal was to disrupt the Republican Party. They wanted to do away with much of the federal government and program to help the poor while simultaneously cutting taxes and increasing the military. They hoped to accomplish this by controlling direct mail. Direct mail! It sounds silly, but by inundating voters and congressional offices with bulk mail they could control the story.

The New Right

Men like McIntyre and Senator Mark Hatfield didn’t know what to do with this influx of petty politics. Someone had even gone so far as to question Hatfield’s Christian salvation just because of how we was going to vote on the Panama Canal treaty. What does giving the Panama Canal back to Panama have to do with salvation? Almost nothing.

Today, we’re going to explore this wacky phenomenon where we call something “Christian” or “biblical” if it fits out politics not if it is addressed in the Bible. How are we being manipulated by propaganda like this? And what can we do about it?

Discussion Questions:

  • Was the United States responsible in its claiming the Panama Canal as a territory?
  • Are there things in your life that you mix with Christianity?
  • How have your politics gotten confused with your faith?
  • Does the Bible have anything to say on the Panama Canal treaty?
  • What do we mean by the word “biblical”?


Episode Transcript

MCINTYRE: “That said, Mr. President, let me now turn to my second purpose here today.”1

CHRIS: This is an actor reading from a speech given on February 28, 1978. The original speaker was a Democratic Senator from New Hampshire named Thomas McIntyre. By the way, welcome to the Truce Podcast. I know that this probably sounds stuffy, a crazy way to start a season. Where is the action? The drama? The condemnation of an enemy? No, no, no, my friend. This… this is a great speech.

MCINTYRE: “Mr. President, I believe the techniques used to exploit the issue of the canal treaties are the most compelling evidence to date that an ominous change is taking place in the very character and direction of American politics”

CHRIS: He’s in front of the Senate talking about the Panama Canal. One of the most important manmade waterways in the world. It’s about 40 miles long, traveling southeast across Panama. In debate after debate, the Senate wrestled with President Carter’s plan to give the land to the Panamanian people.

The US had been involved with the canal since 1902 with the passage of the Spooner Act. Originally, a French company tried to build there and 20,000 people died, mostly from yellow fever and malaria4. By the way, notice that the US takes over for French imperialism gone awry. The same will be true when we cover the Vietnam War.

The French gave up, so the Americans wanted a shot, guys like Teddy Roosevelt. There was just one problem: they couldn’t get a treaty with Columbia who, at the time, controlled the land. So they did what would become a defacto plan in South America – the US backed a revolution5. And guess what? The new government of Panama was far more receptive. Even more lives were lost to disease, dynamite accidents, and mudslides. But it was ours. A treaty provision allowed the US to act as it wished within a 10-mile zone of the canal, essentially, giving the US a foreign colony6.

That is what was up for debate in 1978. Should the United States return the land to the people? Or, as candidate for the Republican nomination Ronald Reagan said, “we built it, we paid for it, it’s ours”7. This speech by Senator McIntyre is about a lot more than what to do with the canal. It’s about the state of politics in the US.

MCINTYRE: But whatever the cause, Mr. President, I see abundant evidence that these “dangerously passionate certainties” are being cynically fomented, manipulated, and targeted in ways that threaten amity, unity, and the purposeful course of government in order to advance a radical ideology that is alien to mainstream political thought.”

CHRIS: In other words, the US, and the debates over the treaty, were becoming more polarized. The radicals involved were unwilling to work together, even within their own parties.

MCINTYRE: “As a result, the traditional role of the parties is slowly being usurped by a thousand and one passionately committed special interest, splinter faction, and single-issue constituencies.”

CHRIS: What’s more, the splinter groups were mobilized, using cutting-edge technology to go around traditional forms of communication.

MCINTYRE: My colleagues know what I am talking about. They know, as I know, that on any given issue someone somewhere can depress a computer key and within hours or a few days at the most we are inundated by mimeographed postcards and custom-tailored letters and telegrams that vary scarcely a comma in the message they deliver.

CHRIS: That’s true. If a member of Congress took a misstep or followed the party line instead of the opinions of these factions, their offices, those of the media, and other members of Congress were flooded with pre-printed letters demanding that they change their minds. These were not hand-written notes, thoughtfully penned and sent by individuals. No. These letters were sent to constituents through mass mailings. Then those people would sign their names and send them out without so much as an added comment. Bulk mail as a weapon. And it was taking over Congress. Some of it, in the name of Jesus.

Welcome to season six. This season we’re taking a deep dive into one big question. How did evangelical Christians in the United States get associated with the Republican Party? It’s a big story, full of surprises, interesting characters, dynamite, war, money, sexual revolution, righteous indignation, and corruption from all sides. Together we’ll track how the GOP changed from the 1950s through the 1990s, shifting from the party of Eisenhower to that of Ronald Reagan. How factions of Protestantism who rarely worked together found unity in common enemies, then invited Mormons, Catholics, and Jews to join them.

This podcast is non-partisan. Last season I covered the Democratic Party and the rise of fundamentalism, especially in regard to their complicity in Jim Crow laws. Now we’re pivoting to follow Republicans. I’m not here to pick winners and losers. Instead of summarizing a world of movements and characters in one hour, then hiding behind application points, we’re going to take our time. Our goal is to understand how we got to today, where so many evangelical Christians live in a state of constant anger and fear. And we’re going to talk about whether or not that’s what we want, and what we can do about it. I’m your tour guide. I’ve produced this show for six years. I’m an evangelical Christian who directed two gospel films, wrote evangelistic novels, has taught Sunday school. I drive a school bus. Now I’m on the hunt for the story of my people. How did we get here and can we get back to doing the work of the gospel?

Let’s find out. Together.

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.


CHRIS: McIntyre’s speech was just heating up. His seat in the Senate was under fire. His challenger, an airline pilot named Gordon Humphrey, announced his candidacy two days earlier, and would soon win. Not just on his own merits. Humphrey was backed by a new kind of political machine.

MCINTYRE: “By proceeding from the flawed premise that all of us are alike, it is easy for ideologues to conclude that we must see every issue as they see it unless there is something sinister in our motivation. And they proceed from that premise, Mr. President, with an arrogance born of the conviction that they and they alone have a corner on patriotism, morality, and God’s own truths, that their values and standards and viewpoints are so unassailable they justify any means, however coarse and brutish, of imposing them on others.”

CHRIS: The parties were radicalizing. Not working together. They hunkered down and marketed each other not as those who disagree, but as devils out to destroy the country.

MCINTYRE: “Now I want to be fair about this, Mr. President. In the particular instance of the canal treaties, I am talking about the kind of politics practiced by what has come to be known as the New Right. But I want to note that the record of extremists on the ideological left bears a remarkable, and regrettable, similarity.”

CHRIS: In this speech, he’s going to hone in on the New Right. In another year, he’d co-author a book on the subject, “The Fear Brokers”. Who was the New Right? This cabal started as a small group, so tiny they could fit in a single living room. Their ideas were radical, based on a mishmash of teachings mixed with dramatic tax cuts. They wanted to dismantle the American government, institutions like public schools and aid for the poor. Boost the military. Undo the liberalism of the 1960s. And, yes, those on the left picked up on some of their tactics. McIntyre was here to put into the public record the nastiness of the New Right.

MCINTYRE: “Last summer the national director of the Conservative Caucus, Howard Phillips…”

CHRIS: …one of the founders of the New Right…

MCINTYRE: “…said conservatives should make “a political sitting duck” of Tom McIntyre over the canal treaties and that the Conservative Caucus could, “make it a political impossibility for McIntyre to vote for that treaty.”

CHRIS: This was before McIntyre even knew which way he was going to vote. Howard Phillips and the New Right decided they would force his hand. Their people censured McIntyre, and alleged he was helping the communists if he voted to hand the canal to the people of Panama.

MCINTYRE: “Hear, if you will, the revealing words of Howard Phillips on other occasions: ‘We organize discontent. We must prove our ability to get revenge on people who go against us.・・・ We’ll be after them, if they vote the wrong way. We’re not going to stop after the vote’s past.’

CHRIS: And hear the words of another spokesman for the New Right, Paul Weyrich (pronounced Way-Rick), director of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress:

‘We are different from previous generations of conservatives. We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.’

Mr. President, these people are different from traditional conservatives. I know the traditional conservatives of my own State. I have competed with them in the political arena. Í have worked with them in behalf of our State. They are people of honor, civility, and decency.

The New Right cannot comprehend how people of opposing viewpoints can find common ground and work together. For them, there is no common ground. And this, in my judgment, is the best indication of what they truly are – radicals whose aim is not to compete with honor and decency, not to compromise when necessary to advance the common good, but to annihilate those they see as enemies.”

CHRIS: This movement, the New Right, would revive a failing political party by radicalizing it. They did so with the backing of big business, the help of direct mailings targeted at people most receptive, then using the money they raised to back their kind of candidates. They smeared anyone who got in their way. McIntyre wasn’t the only representative harassed by the New Right. The same was true for others like Mark Hatfield, Republican from Oregon who spoke later.

HATFIELD: “I have a few letters with me today which are replete with phrases like ‘A vote for support of the treaty is an act of treason.’ ‘You are a traitor for having indicated your support of the treaty. You are not an American.””

CHRIS: Others use anti-semitic language that I won’t repeat here. He goes on to say…

HATFIELD: “The second thing these individuals do is baptize their position with religious nomenclature. I have letters here. ‘I thought you were a born-again Christian. Now I know you are not because you support the treaty.’ They do not bother to ask my view of Jesus Christ in an effort to reach some determination of my salvation: Instead, they chose to make a judgment on my religious salvation on basis of my position regarding the Panama Canal Treaty.”8

CHRIS: Imagine that. Having your faith questioned not based on your relationship with Jesus, the gospels, salvation, your morality, whether you faith bears fruit, or if you dedicated your life to Christ… but on your opinions about the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal!

This gets at the heart of of what we’ll be talking about this season. We’re going to cover a lot of ground. Go deep into the belly of this beast. There may be times where you wonder why we’re even covering the International Women’s Year, supply-side economics, textbooks, public education or televangelists. It’s because it all ties back into what we’ve heard in this speech. Each of these pieces will take us one step closer to understanding this movement that lumps Jesus with national defense, low taxes, corporate gains, the Republican Party, and the New Right.

Before we do, I want to ask you a big big question. I want you to have it ready in your mind when we get to these big issues: what do we mean when we call something “Christian” or “biblical”? Those terms get thrown around a lot. All of the time. To the point of Congressman Hatfield having to wrestle with it on the Senate floor. But what do we mean by it?

Does something have to be explicitly discussed in the Bible to be “biblical”? Let’s use that test. Is voting for the Panama Canal to be returned to the people of Panama explicitly mentioned in the Bible?

I’ve read it multiple times. Panama is never mentioned. So, the issue fails the explicit test.

Perhaps when someone says that something is biblical they mean they’re applying existing biblical principles. Does the Bible have anything to say about handing a canal over to another nation? No. How about transferring land from one country to another? Not really. Imperialism? Not a lot. Hmm…

So what basis did the radicals of the 1970s have when questioning the actions of senators involved in the Panama Canal treaty? It doesn’t seem to have been the Bible. Perhaps they allowed themselves to get caught up in the propaganda of the New Right to the point where they couldn’t tell where the Bible ended and their politics began.

We are going to see a lot of that this season. If you’re paying attention, it’s going to happen to you. The goal here isn’t to make us feel better. It’s to understand what happened. Maybe not the best way to build an audience for a podcast, but it’s what we need to do. As per usual, I’m not going to give you easy answers. I want you to think for yourself. As we continue and evangelicals, my people, make claims that something is or isn’t biblical, ask yourself what they mean. Because we humans are fallible, we tend to bundle everything that we like together in one bunch.

Here is a lighter example. I had a former roommate make a case that Crossfit is biblical. Not exercising, or maintaining your body as God’s temple, Crossfit in particular is biblical. Does the Bible say that Crossfit is God’s exercise plan? No. Does that mean Crossfit is evil? No. It literally has nothing to say about Crossfit. Nothing. What I think happened is that, since my roommate liked it, and he was a Christian, he subconsciously made a connection. Since he, a believer, liked Crossfit, and I think his workout leader was involved in his church, it must be biblical.

That sounds funny. But we do this all of the time. All the time. That’s what that writer did when they questioned Hatfield’s decision on the Panama Canal. They took their opinion, as a Christian, and assumed that anyone who disagreed with them was not a Christian, based not on the Bible, but on their politics. Some of what we cover this season is explicitly laid out in the Bible. A lot of it isn’t. So when we get to big issues, stop and ask yourself: were the actions of the evangelicals of the 70s and 80s appropriate? What should they have done? We too are in confusing times. How can we learn from the mistakes and triumphs of this era?

How was fear used to manipulate people? Were the threats real or imagined? We’re going to have both. Is it possible that we, conservative, liberal, or centrist, American or otherwise, Christian or not, are being manipulated by our fears for the financial and political gain of a few? Will we understand that a Christian is a person who follows Christ, or will we narrow it down to the fate of a 40 mile waterway in Central America?

That’s this season on the Truce Podcast. Truce is a long-form journalism show where, frequently, I pick one big story and dive deep to uncover the the truth about some aspect of Christianity. The goal: point us back to the simple work of the gospel. Love our neighbors and love God. Many of us have never examine the things that cling to our beliefs, the barnacles on the boat, as it were. Together, we’re going to explore how the support of one political party in the United States had affected us. Always asking, is this who Jesus calls us to be? If so, great. If not, how can we make the necessary changes before these barnacles damage our testimony to the world?

I hope you’ll join us.

Thanks so much for listening. From here on out, God-willing, I’ll be releasing new episodes every two weeks with some breaks for holidays. If you’re new to the show, welcome. Please like and subscribe so you get every new episode as it’s released. Also, you’ll notice that I ask for financial help at the end of most episodes. Money requests make some of us uneasy. This is not out of greed. It’s my hope to do this show full time, which would mean more episodes for you and a healthier work-life balance for me. Right now I’m doing this show while holding down a full-time job driving a school bus. There is no obligation to give. Nobody’s getting rich on Truce. I just need to keep the lights on in my apartment like anyone else.

For those who do want to help, visit trucepodcast.com/donate to learn about ways to give on Patreon, Venmo, by check, or Paypal. On the site you can also find sources for most episodes if you want to go deeper on your own. I first heard about this speech from Reaganland by Rick Perlstein, and I have links to the entire text of the speeches if you want to read them for yourself on Google Books.

Thanks to my friend Chris Sloan for loaning me his voice for this episode.

Truce is a production of Truce Media LLC. God willing, we’ll talk again soon. I’m Chris Staron. This is Truce.

S5:E38 Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn

S5:E38 Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn

Give to help Chris make Truce!

Joseph McCarthy’s Search for Communists in the American Government

Joseph McCarthy was an unexceptional junior congressman from Wisconsin. He grew up brawling in the streets, playing cards, and embellishing his stories. Then, during a Lincoln Day address in 1950, Joseph McCarthy told an audience that he had a list of 205 communists working in the government. Within days, he was a household name.

McCarthy started “investigating” suspected communists in the American government, focusing on the US State Department. Along the way, he brought in a young lawyer named Roy Cohn. Cohn was already known for his work sending Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair. Now, he and McCarthy bullied and cajoled during private hearings. Being labeled a communist, or even a suspected communist could ruin a person’s career. People committed suicide rather than face their scrutiny.

Roy Cohn was Donald Trump’s Mentor

Their reign lasted four years, ending in the televised broadcasts of the Army-McCarthy hearings in which a lawyer asked if McCarthy had any decency. That was pretty much it for McCarthy. But Roy Cohn went on to have a well-connected career, providing legal services for the mob and Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News. He also became a mentor to a young real estate mogul named Donald Trump. Famous people like Andy Warhol attended his birthday party at Studio 54. Cohn died of AIDS, something that was killing gay men rapidly in the 1980s, though he denied he ever had it.

This is the story of two men allowed to prey on the fears of the American people for their own gain. One fell hard, the other found himself fighting against his own people.

Larry Tye, author of “Demagogue”

In this episode, Chris interviews Larry Tye, author of the book “Demagogue”. He’s also the author of “Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend” and “Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon”.


  • “Demagogue” by Larry Tye
  • Helpful article about the Rosenbergs
  • Article about Klaus Fuchs
  • McCarthy’s speech in Wheeling, WV
  • New York Times, February 23, 1954. Pages 16-17 “Transcript of General Zwicker’s Testimony Before the McCarthy Senate Subcommittee”
  • Video from Army-McCarthy hearings (forward to the last 20 minutes if you want to jump to the stuff I used)
  • The guest list for Roy Cohn’s birthday at Studio 54

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do we love demagogues?
  • Who are other demagogues in American history?
  • The threat of communists in the government in the 1950s is sometimes downplayed. Do you think it was a real concern?
  • McCarthy ran for Congress in an illegal way while still in the Marines. How do you feel about that?
  • Roy Cohn sometimes went against his own people, claiming that gay people did not deserve equal rights. What might have been his motivation?
  • Do you see any crossover between McCarthy, Cohn, and Donald Trump?
  • Cohn died of AIDs in the 1980s when the disease was at its peak. Why might he have wanted to keep his illness a secret?
S5:E32 How Should We Deal With Heresy?

S5:E32 How Should We Deal With Heresy?

Donate to help Chris make Truce!

How did the early church deal with heresy?

The first-century Christian Church had a lot going on. Their Savior died and was resurrected, sending the Holy Spirit and leaving them with the command to take this new message to all tribes and tongues. The book of Acts records some of their travels, as they went all over the known world with this good news. But they were not the only people evangelizing. So were the gnostics. Gnosticism takes a lot of different shapes. It was a belief system that challenged Christianity, even as some tried to incorporate elements into the faith.

Is modernism heresy?

Now consider modernist theology – what we’ve been talking about all season. It is a belief system that doesn’t believe in the miracles or the divinity of Jesus. To evangelicals of the 1800s and 1900s, this was a real threat. Like Gnosticism before it, modernism threatened to destabilize the gospel message. What to do?

In this bonus episode, Chris takes a look at 1-3 John to see what they have to say about dealing with heresy.

Chris is hard at work on season 6! He’ll be presenting these short episodes in the meantime to recap some of the themes of season 5.

Discussion Questions:

  • If you were alive in the mid-1800s and saw modernism rising, what would you do?
  • Do you think modernism is a heresy?
  • How should Christians today deal with heresy?
  • What did the fundamentalists get right and how did they mess up when approaching heresy?

Selected Source Materials:

  • 1-3 John
  • “The Early Church” by Henry Chadwick