Home National Politics My Take on Billy Graham (and Liberty University), in Spiritual Terms

My Take on Billy Graham (and Liberty University), in Spiritual Terms

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A Reader (a conservative Christian) commented, on a post in which I condemned Liberty University as a “bastion of hypocrisy”– [see Note below for what I wrote about Liberty]:

Just curious; what do you think of Billy Graham ?

He’s deluded ?

A false ‘prophet’ ?

I think he did not object to his grandson attending Liberty (?)

Do you think he could help the cause of Christianity by denouncing Liberty U ?

And I responded:

I basically have respect for Billy Graham, and I think he was in some ways a man of God. One could tell that he had some godly virtues that were real.

(He’s a whole lot more whole a spirit than this Franklin Graham (his son?) who seems a very warped spirit, at heart.)

But he was in other ways broken, too.  Billy Graham truly believed in some Christ-like things, but he also had a weakness for power, for being seduced and attracted by power.

His relationship with Richard Nixon is powerful evidence that within Billy Graham there was another spirit — a spirit of brokenness — besides the Christian spirit.

There Nixon was, in all his cramped and twisted ways, being Nixon of a dark spirit, who from beginning to end of his career had a penchant for the ugly and divisive. And here comes this man devoted to Christ cozying up to him, and affirming him. And so also with other presidents.  He made himself into a public figure, the spiritual friend of presidents, without ever seeming to work to influence those presidents to act in more godly ways.

So Graham had his brokenness, as well as his godliness.

I wonder also what it says about him that he raised a son who is such a schmuck as to launch a “crusade” into the world of Islam, to convert them to Christianity, at the very time that the world of Islam and the world of the West were on such delicate ground, ready to explode in perhaps another 9/11 or Iraq war.

It seems to me I’ve done a lot better with my two sons, managing to transmit the values of integrity and of serving the good. Shouldn’t a good man be able to model being a good man well enough that his sons become good men?

And speaking of Liberty University, and its unChrist-like ways. From what people around Lynchburg have told me, the son of Jerry Falwell — the son who is the king in the Liberty kingdom — is far more craven a character than was his father. (There’s another son who is the spiritual leader, and is said to be of much less evil spirit than his brother)

It seems there’s a dark side in the fathers that is available for a son to identify with, if for whatever reason he prefers the dark side. Who knows what evil lurks… i.e., what would be the dynamic between father and son that would lead the son to choose as his model the worst and not the best spirits that dwell within his father?

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Here’s what I had written about Liberty University (in an op/ed recently published in both the Roanoke Times and the Lynchburg News & Advance):

When I was a candidate for Congress (2011-12), I traveled all around Virginia’s 6th District, speaking with citizens of all kinds. In the process, I was privy to a variety of strains and disagreements and antagonisms in the District’s body politic. But among all these, one stood out dramatically.

There was one actor – one power – in the District that was regarded by some good and solid citizens in a way like no other, with a kind of deep dread and elemental revulsion I’d never heard expressed in America before. The object of these extraordinary feelings was Liberty University, the Christian institution of higher education in Lynchburg, Virginia.

What does it mean for a Christian institution to be experienced that way by its neighbors. It hardly seems possible that following Jesus’ teachings -“Love they neighbor as thyself”-could give rise to such feelings.

And what does it mean for an institution built to advance Christian values to be aligned with the Party that serves the mighty powers of Mammon, and that regularly preys on the lowly and vulnerable?

  • Dan Sullivan

    I commend Kevin Roose’s “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” for a superior, sympathetic insight into Liberty (where there is none) and its students.

    Faith should not stifle critical thinking, fear challenge, or reject physical evidence out-of-hand. Nor should an educational institution. There lays the sin being perpetrated on the students who matriculate at Liberty. The students are not bad people. They are threatened by life’s complexity and have found an environment that suits their idealized perception of the universe and shields them from pesky contradictory facts.

    It just saddens to know that many of them will eventually realize that their investment of this portion of their lives will not be returned.

  • BatCave

    and frankly, it’s coming across as nutty coo-coo in some ways.

    First of all, there is nothing “spiritual” in so many of your comments:

    From what people around Lynchburg have told me, the son of Jerry Falwell — the son who is the king in the Liberty kingdom — is far more craven a character than was his father. (There’s another son who is the spiritual leader, and is said to be of much less evil spirit than his brother)

    It seems there’s a dark side in the fathers that is available for a son to identify with, if for whatever reason he prefers the dark side. Who knows what evil lurks… i.e., what would be the dynamic between father and son that would lead the son to choose as his model the worst and not the best spirits that dwell within his father?

    First, you are talking about “what people around Lynchburg” have told you, then you use that to assassinate the character of both of Falwell’s sons, calling one “more craven” than his father, and the other “to be much less evil spirit than his brother.”  There is nothing spiritual about what you said here.  

    I was never a Falwell fan, and I fought him every inch of the way in the political arena for trying to inflict his religious views on the rest of us.  

    And as far as Liberty University is concerned, I just don’t get what you are saying here.  Religious schools, be it elementary, middle, high school or college, are created to attract those who think like they do and whose parents want their children to have an education steeped in their religious views. So of course, to many that do not share those same values, it doesn’t make any sense. My parents sent me to parochial schools because they wanted me to have a religious education with all the trimmings – and I now classify myself as a Recovering Catholic because of that experience.  But millions of kids today are enrolled in religious schools across the country for the same reason.  Of course their world view is going to be different – that is the whole point!

    ‘Nough said.

    Now, here is my Falwell story.

    On October 4, 1983, a friend of mine and I made the long drive all the way to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia to hear U. S. Senator Ted Kennedy address the student body at Liberty University.  My friend happened to hear about this on the radio that afternoon, stating it was open to the public.    

    The event was held in the gymnasium at Liberty.

    The first 30 rows were reserved for students, and when we arrived right at 7:30 p.m., they realized the had too many rows designated for students so they opened up one row for visitors, and by some strange coincidence, we ended up scoring these amazing seats on the end of a row, with an awesome view of the stage.  The place was packed with folks from everywhere – and finally the students arrived, filling in the front 30 rows.  

    Finally, Falwell came out and spoke for a few minutes, then introduced Kennedy.  Kennedy’s speech was amazing and it is something I will never forget.  He was forceful in flushing out his liberal views on a host of issues (universal health care being one of them)never backing down on anything.  My friend and I were almost apoplectic – watching our idol at Liberty University taking it to the very constituency that opposed most of what he stood for and never minced one word.  

    After the speech, Falwell and Kennedy ended up forging this friendship throughout the years, and that friendship, along with pictures from the October 4, 1983 speech, is well documented in a column by Jerry Falwell, Jr:

    One poignant reminder of lessons learned from those who came before occurred to me recently when it was announced that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. Philosophically and politically, Kennedy and my father were diametrically opposed, but that did not prevent their friendship. My father invited Kennedy to speak at Liberty University on Oct. 3, 1983. I was in my third year at Liberty and remember the event well.

    We were impressed with Kennedy as he and his family ate dinner at our family’s home. He was warm and personable and reminded me of Dad in many ways. When he spoke to Liberty University students, he was well received and, even though the students did not agree with much of what he said, they were polite and kind. He stayed in touch with my father after he left Lynchburg.

    The next year, I applied for admission to the law school at the University of Virginia, where Kennedy had attended. He volunteered to write a letter of recommendation for me. I am sure the faculty was surprised to see a Kennedy recommending a Falwell, but I guess it helped because I was admitted. Later, when I was a student at the University of Virginia Law School, Kennedy invited our entire family to have dinner at his home in McLean, Va.

    On another occasion, when my father was in south Florida, Kennedy asked him to come and pray with his mother who was nearly 100 years old and in failing health. Dad was honored to oblige the request and visit with Rose Kennedy.

    Over the years our family encountered the senator less frequently, but I was struck by one particular act of kindness on his part just a few years ago. In 2005, when my father was hospitalized with severe pulmonary edema, one of the first letters he received was from Kennedy. The letter was heartfelt and encouraging, wishing my father a quick recovery. I am sure that if my father were alive today, he would be the first to send a similar letter of well wishes to Kennedy.

    http://www.liberty.edu/news/?P

    So get a grip on yourselves – if Ted Kennedy could forge a friendship with Jerry Falwell, anything is possible.  

  • Andy Schmookler

    I apparently need to make clearer the nature of the problem with Liberty that I alluded to when I spoke of the “deep dread and elemental revulsion” that Liberty seemed to evoke in some of its “neighbors” with whom I had contact when I campaigned in the Lynchburg area.

    It was not about its being a religious school, not about the nature of the instruction, not about the belief system that not everybody shared.

    It was specifically about the way Liberty University conducts itself in the arena of power. It’s about what and whom they work to strengthen.



    But especially, it is about the methods it employs to get its way in politics. People described ruthless, hardball tactics, occasionally viciousness.
    People had been hurt and scarred by their experiences– not physically but in other ways.

    I myself did not experience those, but I did experience, as a candidate, a lack of respect for fairness, and a disregard of some basic American values of democracy. I saw them pretend to care about citizenship, but then prevent their students from exercising autonomous, informed choice in the exercise of their franchise.

    It is noteworthy that, on the right, the force of brokenness almost invariably expresses itself around issues of power.