Billy Graham — I can’t bring myself to call him “Reverend” — issued a statement yesterday through the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in support of Amendment 1, the constitutional marriage discrimination amendment being put before North Carolina voters next Tuesday.
According to Martha Waggoner of the Associated Press, Graham’s statement will appear in its entirety in a full-page pro-marriage discrimination ad running in 14 North Carolina newspapers this weekend. The statement reads, in part:
“At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment. . . Watching the moral decline of our country causes me great concern. I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and must be protected.”
The fact that the 93-year-old Graham — who was born during the final days of the First World War — supports marriage discrimination is not, in and of itself, surprising, when one considers both his age and his evangelicalism. What is rather surprising, however, is the fact that he’s made such a public anti-gay pronouncement at all. After all, the man has been essentially in retirement since 2007. Since that time, he’s left most of the right-wing craziness to his son, Franklin “President Obama may or may not be a ‘son of Islam’” Graham, and his daughter, Anne “9/11 was God’s way of getting back into the government and our schools” Graham Lotz. Waggoner notes that William Martin, an authorized biographer of Graham, cannot recall any effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association similar in size and scope to its current pro-discrimination push in the organization’s entire 62-year history. And according to Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University, this can only mean one thing: that the source of this bigotry is not Franklin Graham, who heads the BGEA, but Billy Graham himself.
“I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand. In the past, I have heard him say with respect to homosexuality, there are greater sins. Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will.”
For what it’s worth, both Franklin Graham and Anne Graham Lotz have also endorsed Amendment 1.
While Graham’s evangelical “crusades,” pro-war views on Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, and closeness to twelve American presidents (most notably the racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic Richard Nixon) give me the heebie-jeebies, the fact is that he was one of the most widely-admired figures of the twentieth century. (Hell, he’s made Gallup’s list of the Top 10 Most Admired Men 55 times since 1955.) Billy Graham forged himself a place in history decades ago; he had absolutely nothing to gain by weighing in on the battle over North Carolina’s Amendment 1. It’s a shame that, when confronted with the choice between preserving his popular image as a venerable, unifying figure and mounting one last crusade against the LGBT community, Billy Graham chose the latter. It says a lot about the man’s true character, that he selected for what may be his final public gesture an act of malice, divisiveness, and discrimination. Supporters of Billy Graham like to call him the “pastor to presidents” and “the world’s preacher,” but now there’s one more title to add to the list: bigot.
Wear it proudly, “Reverend.” You’ve earned it.