“America’s Pastor” Billy Graham passed away on 21 February.
The famous evangelist showed others of his ilk how evangelists too could become power centres in a supposedly secularised West and post-colonial world.
Pastor William Bell Riley (1861-1947) was known for his electrifying preaching of the Christian Bible. History will remember him for two things – his militant opposition to teaching evolution and his antisemitism.
Riley was nevertheless, and is perhaps even today, a respectful figure for many protestant Christians in the business of saving the heathens and lost souls all over the world. For soul-saving and to establish the manifest destiny of the United States (US) through the Christian religion, he founded the Northwestern Bible Training School. Eventually, it became Northwestern Theological Seminary.
Briefly before his death, he would anoint as the leader of this institution another upcoming charismatic Christian preacher – Billy Graham.
Graham died on 21 February this year after an impressively long stint.
The Southern Baptist Minister guided the evangelist movement in a post-colonial world. He, like every expansionist monotheist preacher, saw the world as a war field between true religion and falsehoods, and desired that the entire world buy into his concept of Christianity.
What distinguishes Graham from others of his ilk is that he demonstrated how evangelists could become power centres in the supposedly secularised West and in the post-colonial nations. Though he inherited both the anti-evolution attitude and antisemitism from his spiritual predecessor, he hid them well. Unlike the straight-up Bible-thumping, pamphleteer-fundamentalist his predecessor was, Graham proved to be an intelligent strategist who could wait for his time.
Like in the case of evolution.
In this area, Graham displayed his wonderful adaptive skills, all the while working to undermine teaching evolution and avoiding adverse publicity. His oft-cited quote that he was not anti-evolution is this: “... I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ...” (Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997, pages 72-74).
However, how he maintained an anti-evolution stance over a long period and in a systematic way has been documented by science educators, as seen here:
One excellent example of the evangelical interests in anti-evolution is the journalistic masthead of evangelical Christianity: the periodical Christianity Today. Its Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors is Billy Graham. ... Christianity Today is not a fundamentalist-literalist periodical. ... Given (its) large and theologically varied evangelical readership base, it would be reasonable to expect that one of the Christianity Today’s recent books of the years would be about subjects such as witnessing (proselytizing), how to get to heaven or how to live a better Christian life. However out of the more than 200 books nominated, then reduced to a list of 26 titles by ‘a large panel of scholars, pastors, writers and other church leaders’, the book of the year’ selected was ‘Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution’, authored by a biochemist. Interestingly 25 years prior to this award Christianity Today selected as one of its ‘choice evangelical books’ of the year ‘The Genesis Flood’ authored by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, the latter being founder and President Emeritus of the Institute for Creation Research. In the same issue, Christianity Today also contains full-page advertisements for Phillip Johnson’s Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.Brian J Alters, Sandra Alters, Defending Evolution in the Classroom: A Guide to the Creation/Evolution Controversy, 2001, pages 39-40
Graham’s antisemitism would also have gone undetected if not for the release of an additional 500 hours of Nixon tapes on 2 March 2002. In the recorded conversation between the then-US president and the Christian preacher, the latter candidly expressed his antisemitism. He revealed how foolish he thought the Jews were to get attracted to evangelicals like him because of their support for Israel.
They (Jews) swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to control them.Billy Graham
If that is how Graham felt about the Jews, when it came to the Asian “heathens”, the preacher advocated a policy of extermination.
While Graham was asking the US president to bomb and destroy the North Vietnamese heathen communists, in the Indian state of Nagaland, a rejuvenated Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) had made such a significant conquest through proselytisation that the initially secular Nagaland secessionist movement would be transformed into a Christian secessionist movement.
Although made public only in 1989, a 13-page letter dated 15 April 1969 from Billy Graham to the then president of the United States Richard Nixon, drafted following his meeting with the missionaries from Vietnam in Bangkok, clearly exposes his opinion on war and occupation, and more importantly on human life itself. The letter stated: ‘There are tens of thousands of North Vietnamese defectors to bomb and invade the North. Why should all the fighting be in the South? ... Especially let them bomb the dikes which could over night destroy the economy of North Vietnam’. Such an action would not only wipe out the agricultural system of a country like Vietnam but would also kill at least a million people. Surely, this suggestion was well received and it did not take long for Nixon to launch an air attack on the north and west Vietnam. ... It was Billy Graham who had popularised the idea of evangelistic crusades in the 20th century. ... Billy Graham held these crusades all around the world and it came to be modeled upon in places like Nagaland. Although there was an ambush by the NHG on an Indian military convoy three days before the crusade, close to one million people from Nagaland and the neighbouring states gathered at Kohima stadium for the Billy Graham crusade on 17-22 November 1972.John Thomas, Evangelising the Nation: Religion and the Formation of Naga Political Identity, Routledge, 2015, pages 157-158
With respect to the Hindu religion and India, Graham’s crusade has evolved to take various forms. His magazine, Christianity Today, promotes anti-Hindu and anti-India forces and, through atrocity literature, prompts US intervention.
In 1983, when there were Hindu-Christian riots in Kanyakumari district, Christianity Today published a letter by a prominent ‘missiologist’ Donald McGavran with the “demand that Washington bring pressure to bear on Delhi to stop all such persecution, church burning and the like”.
Christianity Today also promotes Kancha Ilaiah as a leading Dalit scholar and as a person fighting for Dalit rights – even though Ilaiah is no Dalit.
The magazine lists as an achievement of Ilaiah the fact that he “testified at a widely-reported Congressional hearing in the USA”, in which he described the Hindu “roots and the ongoing reality of violence and discrimination against Dalits”.
Christianity Today also published an interview in which he equated Hinduism with Nazism and characterised it as “spiritual fascism”. His reasoning: “because the Hindu books say that Aryans wrote that, and Nazi Germany Hitler believed he belonged to an Aryan race” and so “the symbols that Hindus and Aryan Germans are the same, the swastika and the concept of a few people always being superior to the other…So Hinduism is a very spiritually fascist system and because of that our country has suffered in many ways.”
The interview and the use of the term “spiritual fascism” to characterise another religion was not accidental. Ilaiah himself reveals in his 2004 book how he was taken on board the Logos II, which was affluent like a continental hotel and where the breakfast was “superb” compared to most other hotels in the US. The ship was a floating book exhibition – often advertised as the largest of the kind, but in reality it was part of an evangelical project called ‘Operation Mobilization’. Ilaiah says how he met here the second in command to Graham:
“Bishop McKynee is the vice president of Billy Graham’s Evangelical Institutions. Among Americans, he is as popular as Billy Graham. I presented him with a copy of ‘Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy ...’”
The 2004 book in which Ilaiah narrates this incident is Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism. Then, in his subsequent interview with Christianity Today, the term “spiritual fascism” was used again in reference to Hindus.
Remember that in Graham’s worldview, non-Christian, non-white people could be bombed and what Ilaiah did was nothing but update and reinforce the worldview where the communist dykes are replaced by “spiritual fascist Hindus”.
Interestingly, the left in India, blinded by its irrational, Nietzschean hatred for the democratic nature of Hinduism, has aligned itself with this white protestant mindset.
Today, Graham’s mindset in alignment with the workings of a secular state to brand the 'other' as evil has become a model for Indian evangelists.
Take, for example, Mohan C Lazarus. He not only preaches the Bible from his ‘tents’ like Graham did, he also conducts ‘crusades’ in every town of Tamil Nadu like the evangelist. But he also cultivates personal friendships with influential Dravidianist leaders. There is a promise of votes for the politician and ‘spiritual’ counseling for the family members while for the evangelist his ‘crusades’ receive tactical support from political powers.
Using the Graham model of charismatic evangelism, the D G S Dinakaran family had built an empire. Many attribute the calculated media attacks on Isha in Coimbatore to the hidden hand of the Dinakaran family. So when the dark-skinned pagans in India face the onslaught of suave white tele-evangelists and other such agents sharing their skin colour, they unwittingly become victims of the legions unleashed by Graham.
Surely, his legacy shall plague the planet for decades and can be fought only with knowledge.