Letter to Editor - Politics made sacred

Dear Editor,

Billy Graham’s funeral attracted a huge number of Trump supporters who donned their MAGA hats and turned the occasion into yet another 2020 Trump for President rally, aided and abetted by Franklin Graham who gave special attention to Donald Trump’s attendance. 

No doubt some of those red-hatted Trump worshippers are also members of the huge (upwards of 400 thousand) online forum where Trump is called “God Emperor” and even “Big Daddy God Emperor.”  

Congressman Jason Smith in his weekly letter to constituents, which is usually a weekly tribute to Trump and an Obama diatribe,  talked about how moved he was by viewing Graham’s remains at the Capitol Rotunda. But since neither Trump nor Smith made mention of having ever attended one of Graham’s services - surely they would have done so if they had - I would like to share my recollections.

I was a fervently religious adolescent when Billy Graham brought his crusade to Chicago. My own minister did not encourage parishioners to go, and in fact expressed some sense of disdain for what was then described as ‘making money off of Jesus.’ That was long before Prosperity Religion became the very popular branch of evangelicalism it is today: the huge crowds drawn to Graham’s crusades were not viewed favorably by my minister who thought it essential to shake hands with everyone as they left the church.  

But my parents were more liberal, letting me follow whatever religious inklings I might have, though they themselves were not interested in going.

A church friend and I took a crowded city bus and managed to find seats close to the front. To be honest, I don’t recall much of Graham’s sermon other than it was passionate: quite a few people in the crowd were moved to “come forward” and receive special counseling from the attendants, and many received Graham’s personal touch when he laid his hands on their bowed heads. 

I did not sense the devil moving through the crowd as my own minister had suggested might happen. Had my minister known that Graham tried to derail Kennedy’s rise to the presidency (because of his Catholicism) or the anti-Semitic remarks Graham made to Nixon (recorded on tape) I am sure my minister would have regarded the revivalist rival more favorably. Such revelations about Graham gradually led to my disenchantment with Graham (and I had long lost any remaining faith in my own pastor).  

Billy Graham denied having political ambition yet hobnobbed with presidents of both political parties. Still, all in all, he seemed to avoid extreme controversies and political entanglement. 

That’s not true of his son, Franklin Graham, who has decidedly used his pulpit for advancing right-wing views and advocating for right-wing politicians. 

That, of course, includes Donald Trump, who Franklin Graham has fondly embraced; in fact, Franklin Graham called for a ban on Muslim immigration six months before Trump did. 

Trump’s serial marriages and extra-marital affairs, his foul-mouth, his habitual lying, his corrupt business practices, his hoarding of wealth - none of this seems to impair his image to his devoted followers and that includes Franklin. The heir apparent of Billy Graham may not call Trump “God Emperor,” but certainly he was glad to have the Commander in Chief front and center for the eulogy.

Sometimes I miss the innocent trust in religious leaders I had as a child. More often I think Gloria Steinem got it right when she said, “Religion is often politics made sacred.”

Sue Hagan