The Reverend Billy Graham was perhaps one of the best known preachers in American history. His “crusades” had audiences numbering in the tens of thousands and many people, including former President George W. Bush, credit him with bringing them back to the church. He is also one of the few, if not the only, televangelist who did not have some type of scandal, either financial or sexual, associated with his name.
Graham was particularly well known for his relationships with a number of presidents, especially Richard Nixon. That must have been an interesting mix: a Southern Baptist and a Quaker, but if anyone needed religious guidance it would have been Dick Nixon. Whether Graham gave him the right guidance, or if Nixon accepted it, we will never know.
But because Graham spent so much of his early ministry traveling across the country, his wife Ruth raised their children – as Presbyterians. In fact, Graham’s final home in tiny Montreat, North Carolina is home to a Presbyterian college, a major Presbyterian retreat center, and the archives of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
But does any of this mean that Reverend Graham deserves lying in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda? This is an privilege usually reserved for former presidents, military leaders, or other elected officials. Rosa Parks was accorded that honor, but not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Time Magazine, Graham is only the fourth private citizen to be accorded this recognition. Time notes that Graham will not be lying in state, but in honor.
Many people may disagree, but because Billy Graham is being recognized as a religious leader, of one particular religion, this is not only a potentially divisive issue, but one that is disrespectful of the many Americans of other faith traditions. They do NOT consider him “America’s pastor.” One also wonders if Graham himself would have welcomed this attention.
In fact, while all paid tribute to Graham, only one living president, Donald Trump, will be present at the Rotunda while Graham is there. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura traveled to North Carolina to pay their respects, President Obama also offered his praise, but even the born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter said he would not be there. Which begs the question – is Donald Trump using the death of Billy Graham to further endear him to his evangelical base? Don’t forget that one of his strongest supporters who can see no wrong in anything that Trump does is Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham.
There are many ways for Christians to honor and remember the legacy of Reverend Graham. They could donate to charities in his name. They could do community service in his honor. They could reflect on the ways that they could become better Christians themselves.
Unfortunately we are saddled with a President who revels in pomp and circumstance, and perhaps sees this as the only way to honor someone. The same president who wants to enjoy a military parade that he thinks would be a tribute to himself. I don’t think Reverend Graham shared those sentiments.