On February 21st, Billy Graham died. In another nine months he would have been 100 years old, and for several years past he has suffered from Parkinson's disease, and he retired in 2007; but that life was as long as it was influential. The reason this appraisal is appearing in an anarchist blog is right there; in my opinion he was the single most influential person of the 20th Century. The people we wish to move away from government have been influenced by him, so it helps to know what he taught.
The scope of his work is summarized well enough by Wikipedia here, and those not familiar with his life story may wish to pay that a visit first. But in my view nobody represented the Christian religion better. He exemplified its best and worst aspects. His son Franklin says he plans to mark his grave with the single word "PREACHER" and that's a fine choice. It's what he did. He loved doing it, and he did it extraordinarily well.
In the ZGBlog Political Women last month I noted how in the late 19th Century there was a big shift of emphasis in the Christian church, towards a "social gospel" but that was not Billy's scene. He stuck with the old-fashioned religion; probably his most-used phrase when preaching was "The Bible says..." To him, if the Bible said something, no further discussion was needed. It is, he believed, the word of God. In his "crusades" all over the world he laid out what that book says to people of all backgrounds, scores of thousands at a time. He may have preached it to more people than anyone in history.
There are some tough questions about the Bible, contradictions or apparent ones; and while some can be explained away not unreasonably, others remain. Billy's answer to those was to say that he looked forward to learning the answers as soon as he got to heaven; and he wasn't joking or dissimulating, he really meant it. If his beliefs were correct, he'll be finding all those answers right now.
His message was the traditional one, summarized well for the last 17 centuries in the Nicene Creed, and said that there is a God, who has set standards of behavior for mankind which have been flouted. That flouting requires a sacrifice to clear the account, and God provided it Himself by becoming human for a period, living in perfect innocence, but then dying on the cross in our place. Forgiveness is, therefore, available to anyone who will accept it. Jesus resurrected, and those who accept that offer live with his companionship now, and will continue to do so for ever.
Other religions wrestle with how to reconcile imperfect creatures with a perfect creator, but none of them have any solution to compare with that. It's a comforting story, internally consistent, and nobody proclaimed it better than Billy Graham.
That consistency, however, is only internal; it can not be verified by external evidence. The Bible does not even try to prove even the first item - the existence of God. It gets as far as claiming that "the heavens declare the glory of God" and scorning non-believers as "fools", but that's about it. One must either swallow it whole, or reject it. The Resurrection would (as a singularity) suffice as proof of the whole if it were itself proven, but there is at least one perfectly natural, rational explanation for the empty tomb, so no such proof is provided.
None of that seemed to worry Billy, and his sincerity was very clear. His Association handled large sums of money (one criticism often leveled) but every cent of it was given voluntarily, unlike payments to government. He took the chance to befriend everyone he could, high or low; and succeeded in getting close to every President since WW2. No doubt he hoped that such friendships would enable him to apply influence at times of crisis, and maybe they did. From their point of view, these politicians knew how widely Graham was admired, so a photo-op with him would play well with voters.
Toleration is a virtue, up to a point; to my mind, Billy Graham went far beyond that point. Early on, he gained an audience with Harry Truman - who had in August 1945 incinerated a quarter of a million men, women and children. He was very close to Dwight Eisenhower, who had run the biggest invasion in history and commanded one of its greatest military slaughters, willingly obeying the policy of "absolute surrender" which needlessly killed, so estimates Thomas Fleming, as many as eight million people in the final year of WW2. Graham was close friends with Richard Nixon, he of the foul tongue and lying lips; yet there too we hear no criticism. Jesus too "ate with publicans and sinners" (Mk 2:16) but justified it by saying he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; I've not heard of much repentance among past US Presidents.
Not having paid close attention I may have missed it, but think Billy Graham never once preached against government as such. Every government massively violates the 8th Commandment, for none of them can even exist without wholesale theft; nobody is so foolish as to sustain one voluntarily. Yet Graham (as does the Bible) evidently gave them all a free pass. Governments also massively violate the 6th Commandment, whenever waging war, and they all do; yet Graham never denounced the military aspect of government. This is the great weakness of this preacher, and of the religion which he faithfully presented. Enormous evil stared him in the face, yet he never admitted to seeing it. I wrote LIVELLAFOTOOREHTSITNEMNREVOG in the 1990s - but instead, the Bible says the source of evil is the Devil, another alleged being who cannot be seen, touched, heard, smelled or tasted. Is it possible that such blindness is involuntary? - decide for yourself, but I doubt it.
Billy's blindness is very typical of Christians generally. The evil governments do is unmistakable when faced openly - and by whatever standard; they flagrantly violate the Decalog as above, and certainly violate a rational system of ethics that requires no belief in a supernatural being and conflicts radically with its prime basis, yet ends up with a great deal of practical common ground. The anarchist's job is to persuade a person to look at the situation face-on; that is, to lay aside his presumption that government can do no wrong. Once that is done, the evidence of its evil nature simply tumbles out.