Billy Graham, the 93-year old evangelical Christian televangelist pioneer who first came to prominence during the Harry S. Truman administration more than six decades ago, today ran full-page anti-gay marriage ads in 14 newspapers supporting North Carolina’s Amendment One. “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,” Graham, who lives in North Carolina, says in the ad. “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 on Tuesday, May 8.”
A constitutional ballot initiative, Amendment One would change North Carolina’s constitution by permanently banning same-sex marriage, removing orders of protection from domestic violence victims, and even remove children from their parents’ insurance policies.
“Graham’s statement was issued by the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is led by Graham’s son, the Rev. Franklin Graham,” Time noted today, adding:
William Martin, who wrote the authorized Graham biography “A Prophet With Honor,” couldn’t recall another effort by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association like the one the ministry plans in support of Amendment One.
The elderly evangelist preached often on the need for sexual purity, but rarely spoke about same-sex marriage, Martin said. “I am somewhat surprised that he would take that strong a stand,” said Martin, professor emeritus of religion and public policy at Rice University. “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.”
Graham’s son Franklin made headlines earlier this year when he questioned President Barack Obama’s faith and declined to state that President Obama is a Christian, saying, “I can’t say categorically,” if Obama is a Christian. He later recanted his position after pundits pointed out his hypocrisy.
Billy Graham has ruled his ministry with an eye on the media from day one. President Truman reportedly said, “I just don’t go for people like that. All he’s interested in is getting his name in the paper.”
And Graham has also had a tenuous relationship with equality, jumping back and forth from supporting segregation to opposing it, then back again.
Like many white public figures, Graham had shown little concern for segregation until the civil rights movement began to take off in the early 1950s, and many of his early crusades were segregated. In response to the civil rights movement, Graham was inconsistent, refusing to speak to some segregated auditoriums, while speaking to others. In 1953 he dramatically tore down the ropes that organizers had erected to separate the audience; he recounted in his memoirs that he told two ushers to leave the barriers down “or you can go on and have the revival without me.”. But, Graham would later retreat on the issue in Dallas, Texas and Asheville, North Carolina. Graham remained mercurial in this early period, ranging from telling audiences that the Bible said nothing on the matter of segregation, to warning a white audience, “we have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.” While Graham would integrate all his revivals after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Graham’s mercurial treatment of segregation in this early phase of his career complicated his legacy in years to come, as seen in the differing assessments of historians.
From the mid-1950s on, Graham would grow increasingly opposed to segregation and racism, all while keeping his eye on public opinion, and the shifting winds of American culture. For instance, Graham invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him in the pulpit at his 16-week revival in New York City in 1957, where 2.3 million gathered to see King at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Times Square. Yet, Graham feared angering American whites, and so he backed off from this position, never appearing with King publicly again, despite posting King’s bail to him out of jail during the 1960s civil rights movement. This balancing act clearly shows Graham’s ambivalent relationship to the civil rights movement.
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