Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Assessing Billy Graham's Legacy: "After the Bombing That Murdered the Four Girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church He Visited a White Congregation in the City and Made No Comment about the Attack"

I abide by the old dictum not to speak ill of the dead. I do not think it means, however, that we ought to lie about the dead and their legacy. That said, I'd like to point you to a valuable discussion taking place on Twitter now after Billy Graham has died:

Also important to note in Fitzgerald's book, as she follows the testimony about Billy Graham cited at the head of the posting with further testimony that is not beside the point, as we assess his legacy:

Recapitulating their old sermons, evangelical preachers proposed [after the South's defeat in the Civil War] that the South was the most spiritual part of the country, the only one to hold to the truth of the New Testament Gospels, a sacred soil and the saving remnant of pure Anglo-Saxon culture. The terrible ordeal of war was, they explained, a part of the divine plan, the judgment of God, not on the sin of slaveholding, as northerners saw it, but on an insufficiency of religious zeal. The defeat, they preached, was a purification process - a baptism in blood - that would serve to steel them against the worldliness and the apostasy of the North. Thus turning inward, evangelicals once again sanctified the social order, championing states' rights, white supremacy, and the existing economic arrangements. Their message was defensive and isolationist - except for its promise that the South would rise again by fulfilling its God-given mission to Christianize America and bring the Gospel to the rest of the world (p. 225).


Southern Baptists were comfortable in their social setting, where segregation and inequality were figured as a part of the natural order. Then, too, unchallenged by other theologies, they had come to what the historian Sam Hill calls a "special self-estimate": the view that the SBC had largely attained the simple faith and the pure gospel of the New Testament and embodied the purest expression of Christianity since apostolic times (p. 228).

Then there's Robert P. Jones, who, like me, has  roots running back to Southern Baptist preachers in Twiggs County, Georgia:

No segment of White Christian America has been more complicit in the nation's fraught racial history than white evangelical Protestants. And no group of white evangelical Protestants bears more responsibility than Southern Baptists, who comprise the overwhelming majority of white evangelicals, particularly in the states of the former Confederacy
~ Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016), p. 167.

You all do know that Billy Graham was raised Presbyterian but became a Southern Baptist, right?

Let's not keep pretending that history did not happen, folks. Or that it doesn't matter. That's called whitewashing. And, Lord knows, whitewashing has not gotten the U.S. any place good at all.

And lest Catholics want to mount their high horses and pretend the whitewashing is only a Southern white evangelical or Southern Baptist problem, please let me remind you — all over again — that six in ten white Catholics placed the moral monstrosity in the White House. And that over half of all white Christians in the U.S. did so.

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