Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at age 99, was known for being an informal advisor to presidents of both political parties as well as one of the most admired people in America for decades.
That’s the white-washed version of his legacy.
He also helped inspire the modern Religious Right, left behind a son who’s best known for making life worse for LGBTQ people and women and minorities, disparaged Jews over their “stranglehold” on the media, and was hardly a champion of civil rights in the 1960s even when his support could’ve helped African Americans.
That’s the full legacy. You can’t talk about Graham without noting those glaring flaws in his life.
And that’s why it’s inappropriate for Republican leaders to honor him by bringing his body to the United States Capitol Rotunda next week so that people can pay their last respects.
This is an honor that has been bestowed on only a handful of people in our nation’s history. Of the 31 people whose bodies have lain in state at the Rotunda, 11 were presidents, several others were members of Congress, and the rest made undeniably significant contributions to American life, whether we’re talking about Rosa Parks or police officers killed in the line of duty while serving for the Capitol Police.
How exactly does Billy Graham fit into that picture? He doesn’t. What he contributed to American life is controversial and, for many Americans, harmful. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell protesting the honor.
… the fact is that Graham lived his life in service to his evangelical Christian religion, and the bible that he believed was an infallible reference manual. He placed the bible far above the Constitution. He was known as a soul-winner and lauded as a “Christian superstar preacher.” What influence he had on this country and its government was purely religious, not civic in nature, and that religious influence was uniformly regressive. While it would be appropriate for evangelical Christian institutions to honor him in this manner, it is not appropriate for Congress and our federal government to do so.
FFRF added that the honor suggests a preference for evangelical Christianity because it’s “impossible to imagine” atheists, rabbis, or Catholic bishops being honored in the same way. They also raised concerns about taxpayer money being used to transport and display the body.
Billy Graham believed fervently in Christianity and people listened to him. But that is not worthy of praise or a spot in the U.S. Capitol, however temporary. Graham in his own way sought to undo the only sure way to guarantee freedom of religion: a government free from religion.
Graham is on the wrong side of history. You will be, too, if you authorize this unearned honor.
That last line may be precisely why Republicans don’t give a damn what FFRF says about this. They’re already on the wrong side of history because of the complicity in Donald Trump‘s ignorant, bigoted agenda. We will remember every elected Republican in this Congress for their reluctance to stand up to Trump’s divisiveness and hatred for people who aren’t like him. Even when they said they oppose it, they voted the way Trump wanted them to vote.
Honoring a notable Christian using government resources? In terms of scandal, this one’s a relative blip.
FFRF is right that Graham doesn’t deserve this honor. The problem is that evangelical Christians disagree. And this GOP-led Congress only cares about one of those groups.
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