A day after evangelist Billy Graham lay in the U.S. Capitol rotunda so people could pay their respects — a move that was opposed by church/state separation advocates — Republicans in Congress have requested that a statue of the famous Christian be placed in the Capitol building itself.
Each state is allowed to request two statues in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (a Democrat, I should add) has asked for a statue of former governor Charles Aycock (a White supremacist) to come down to make room for the Charlotte-born preacher. Legislators in the state actually approved the change in 2015, but the formal request for a statue couldn’t be made until Graham died.
With Graham’s death, Cooper took the next step in the process Wednesday.
“I ask the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress to approve the State of North Carolina’s request to replace the statue of Governor Charles B. Aycock in the Statuary Hall Section, and to provide a new statue of the late Reverend William Franklin “Billy” Graham, Jr.,” Cooper wrote in the letter, which is one of the required steps in the detailed process for replacing a statute.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest also sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol on Tuesday.
“As Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina and President of the North Carolina Senate, I write to encourage you to approve North Carolina’s request to replace Governor Aycock’s statue with one of Rev. Graham,” Forest wrote.
There’s a ten-step process to replace statues, and North Carolina has now taken care of the first two. (It’s up to state officials to figure out how to pay for it.)
The News & Observer points out that Graham wouldn’t be the only religious figure in the building:
Graham will not be the first faith leader to be honored with a statue. Brigham Young, the Mormon leader, represents Utah, and Father Damien, a Catholic priest, represents Hawaii.
We can argue about those men, too, but I’m curious what Graham’s statue will say. Maybe they could use the comment he once made to President Richard Nixon: “This stranglehold [that Jews have] has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.”
Or maybe they can say he thought people who disagreed with him would burn in Hell for all eternity.
Or maybe these people can stop lionizing a man whose biggest claim to fame was perpetuating mythology that, if he truly inspired the Religious Right, has steered our country into a ditch.
It’s one thing for Christians to act like he was a great man. But people willing to look at his full résumé, his blemishes, or, come on, at least his children should be embarrassed by what he’s come to represent.
His body didn’t deserve to lay in the U.S. Capitol rotunda yesterday, and his likeness doesn’t deserve a semi-permanent place in Statuary Hall.
If that happens, though, Graham’s statue would be right next to one of another former North Carolina governor, Zebulon Baird Vance. Vance was a slaveowner who served in the Confederate army. The Religious Right, now known by everyone outside their bubble for trying to strip away rights from oppressed minorities, would at least have the proper bedfellow.