Blogs > Cliopatria > A Letter to Billy Graham ...

Jun 26, 2005 5:14 am


A Letter to Billy Graham ...



Dear Billy,

I see that you will close out your final crusade tonight in New York City. Almost fifty years have passed since I marched along side my dad to the opening of your first crusade in Louisville, Kentucky in September 1956. Within three years, my dad would be dead and, now, both you and I are prostate cancer survivors. I suspect that I'll always be in dad's and your debt for telling me on that day that life is a serious business and that it was time for a 16 year old kid in suburban Louisville to begin to grow up. The way I grew up diverged a bit from your paths. Within three years of dad's death, I would be in other marches – in Durham, North Carolina, Albany, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. Sometimes, those marches took me to jail. I've never been quite certain that dad would have approved of all that. He was a pretty conservative man.

You didn't join those marches either. I wish you had. But what you did do was to insist that you would not preach to a segregated audience. I like to remember that you opened your crusade in Louisville in September 1956, when our public school systems opened for the first time on a desegregated basis. I can't prove a cause and effect relationship between these two things, but there was no rioting in the streets. There was, instead, the marching to your crusade. My class would be the last all white class to graduate from my high school and an African American woman was elected to the cheerleading squad in my senior year. That's a small thing, to be sure, but given token desegregation it meant that she had overwhelming support from white students.

Oddly enough, I went back to a racially segregated school when I entered Duke in September 1958. I didn't go there because it was segregated, but I was again the beneficiary of discrimination. I will never forget the corps of African American women who came through our dormitories each morning to sweep our floors, make our beds, dust our furniture, and take out our trash. Dad died at the end of my first year at Duke and I stayed at home with mom to see her through her first year without him, so I missed out on the sit-ins that swept from Greensboro to Durham and many other Southern cities that year. But I returned to Duke in September 1960 and, by January 1961, I was walking the picket lines outside Durham's segregated movie theaters. In those days, it was only a short step from there to the slammer. And they ran me out of town just as soon as my diploma was in hand.

Still, I like to think that my dad would have approved and that you had a hand in my being active in the civil rights movement. Someone had taught me that in Christ"there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." It was only many years later that I learned that Martin Luther King had been in communication with you and that in some ways he modeled his own crusades on your example. Some day, a historian will take that seriously and tell the story of the civil rights movement as a major chapter in the history of American revivalism. I like to think that marching by my dad's side to your crusade in September 1956 was a preparation for manhood, a step toward other marches, even if it did mean going through the slammer. So, Billy, hail and farewell. Many thanks.

Your friend in Christ,
Ralph



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More Comments:


Joe Smith - 8/6/2005

This board is a joke. First of all, merely because Graham has certain qualms and issues regarding what he believes is an increase of power in the hands of Jews, doesn't make him anti-Semitic. Semitic people include not only Jews. Also, others politicians have espoused similar views. Does this make them anti-semitic as well? I can think of one easily off the top of my head. Pat Buchanan. The term anti-semitic is used very loosely nowadays to encompass anything that is critical of Israel or the powerful Jewish lobbies in Washington like AIPAC. This knee jerk type of doesn't aid in democratic discussion.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

Dr. Luker:
You're right that we're not getting anywhere. For the record, I never said Graham was a Nazi--I merely regard his rhetoric as Nazi-like. You don't. You're right,Billy Graham will not seize power. God, or his opposite number, will have him soon enough.


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

This conversation isn't going anywhere. You keep insisting that Graham's attitudes toward Jews are Nazi-like. They aren't, but you keep insisting. He's in his mid-80s, is unlikely to seize national dictatorship any time soon -- ever -- and you keep insisting. Why not just say that your rhetoric was excessive and move on to something constructive.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

Jonathan:
I agree and respect what you say, especially regarding the religious nature of American anti-semitism. I'm sure Graham thinks his anti-semitism is part of being a good Christian. There are some other points I made earlier, which I am posting yet again, hoping someone will address it.
The most pernicious aspect of Billy Graham's statement is that he followed it by saying that he lies to the Jews' faces, but behind their backs he awaits the moment when power allows him to do to them what he really wants. Given that, he is obligated to either explain what he was thinking at the time, or have people assume (as I do) that he is, in his apology, again lying to the Jews.
It may have been private, but it was said to a President--arguably the only person with the power to attempt some sort of vengence of the sort Graham desired.
What makes it Nazi-like is its combination of anti-Semitic sterotypes--power, evil, pornography, control, undermining of the nation-- followed by a promise of retribution.
I am sure he did a million wonderful things, and we must have some perspective, but most people manage not to sound as Nazi-like as Graham.
You read the trasncripts and he sounds like an awful human being.



Jonathan Dresner - 6/26/2005

As, among other things, a Jew, I'd have to answer that Ralph is right: not all anti-semitic statements justify Nazi analogies. In the case of Graham and Nixon, their private anti-semitism was not followed up with discriminatory actions or policy, public anti-semitic rhetoric, or anything resembling a totalitarian program. Nixon's private anti-semitism was the least of his flaws; nor did it prevent him from doing things which benefited Jews as individuals and as a people. Graham's career, as Ralph so eloquently attests, has been to promote a vigorous Christianity which emphasizes personal faith and the shared humanity of all; whatever the differences between Christians and Jews on theological issues, Graham has not inserted himself into the political sphere (without invitation), has not tried to impose his vision of Christianity on unwilling or unaware communities, has apologized, and has been considered, by those who keep track of that sort of thing, decent in his dealings with Jews and Jewish leaders.

American anti-semitism had somewhat different roots than did the German (more theological; less racial), and though public anti-semitism became unpopular after WWII, the roots remained and remain quite strong.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

That's true, and it does show how difficult it is to come up with examples that parallel Graham's parotting of Nazi ideas less than thirty years after genocide.
I wonder what Billy Graham had (has?) in mind for the Jews once he gets his much covetted real power?


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

I might, but then Klan-like is not comparable to Nazi-like. The Klan had no plan of extermination -- ever.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

Dr. Luker:

If a minister were to meet with a politician and say, on tape, that he thought blacks were lazy, responsible for all the crime, ruining America, destroying to morals of decent white folk, and he then followed it up by saying they "swarm" around me because I pretend to support civil rights, and they're so violent that I'm afraid of them--but some day, when you (George Wallace) are in power, then we'll get 'em!
Would you characterize that as Klan-like rhetoric?


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

Mr. Ramirez, Are all anti-Semitic statements Nazi-like? Had you said that what Graham said was anti-Semitic, I'd have had no problem with that. But, really, Nazi-like ought to be reserved for things that are, well, Nazi-like. Otherwise, your use trivializes a powerful term. You can do that, but it's just one more example of extremist rhetoric which makes effective communication increasingly difficult.


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

Of course you can't see what I'm getting at. You said his statements were Nazi-like. I was merely pointing out that your sense of when one thing is like another isn't very strong.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

I can't see what you're getting at. Have I ever told a President (or anyone) that I thought a particular ethnic group was ruining the country and I await a chance to tell them what I really think? No, of course not.
Have you?


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

The most pernicious aspect of Billy Graham's statement is that he followed it by saying that he lies to the Jews' faces, but behind their backs he awaits the moment when power allows him to do to them what he really wants. Given that, he is obligated to either explain what he was thinking at the time, or have people assume (as I do) that he is, in his apology, again lying to the Jews.
It may have been private, but it was said to a President--arguably the only person with the power to attempt some sort of vengence of the sort Graham desired.
What makes it Nazi-like is its combination of anti-Semitic sterotypes--power, evil, pornography, control, undermining of the nation-- followed by a promise of retribution.
I am sure he did a million wonderful things, and we must have some perspective, but most people manage not to sound as Nazi-like as Graham.
You read the trasncripts and he sounds like an awful human being.


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

This discussion is, at best, only tangentially related to what I posted. It's rather like if I posted something about King and someone insisted on highlighting his flaws. We could talk about his plagiarism. We could talk about his womanizing. We could talk about what he said in a climatic indescretion. And it was a real prize winner. In both cases, men are held accountable for what they said in private when they were unaware of the taping. I am surprised that our sense of history doesn't give us pause about holding other people accountable for private indescretions when we are not likely to be put up to such public scrutiny of our private moments ourselves. My post didn't deny them. Nor is it an apologia for them.


Jonathan Dresner - 6/26/2005

Try some of these for details


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

Let's see: where was the call for extermination? Where was any repudiation of alliance with the state of Israel? If Graham's statements were preposterous and extreme, are there issues other than this one on which you do not make preposterous and extreme claims?


Michael Charles Benson - 6/26/2005

Sergio,

I don't really want to get involved in this exchange, but do you have a source on those quotes? Googling didn't work.


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

Good Dr. Luker, I was hoping you'd say that.
Instead of apologizing he needs to explain. Anyone,especially a Christian, can apologize and be forgiven for anything. Has he changed his mind? Was he lying to impress his "hero" Richard Nixon? Explain, not apologize.
And as to not being Nazi-like--
Let us take five elements from The Reverend's TAPED statements:

Jews are destroying America
Jews control the media
Jews are responsible for pornography
Jews are too powerful now, but if we can expose them they will be destroyed
They swarm around me and I pretend to like them, but someday, they will pay.

How do those fall short of Nazi-like?


Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

Well, no, not quite Nazi-like. You've already lost to the Godwin's Law rule of thumb. What would "adequate accountability" be for what he said? Should he be sent to prison? Barred from public speech? Barred from the pulpit? He has apologized publicly. What more accounting can he do? His son has said as bad or worse of Islam and refused to apologize for it. What penalty would you impose for that?


Sergio Ramirez - 6/26/2005

Why has Billy Graham never been adequately held accountable for the Nazi-like(yes Nazi-like) statements he made about Jews in 1972?