Billy Graham died today. He preached to millions about fundamentalist end-times and the second coming of Jesus Christ, with perhaps as many as 2.2 billion lifetime television viewers. He converted multitudes of vulnerable Americans by instilling within them a primal fear of fire and brimstone.
Where Jesus taught love, he taught guilt and shame. Homosexuals were an abomination, fornication was a sentence to Hell, and if you did not accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, you were destined for the Fiery Pit.
In a new book released just two years ago, Graham espoused his hard-line philosophy of the 1950s. Hell is very real. Non-believers and sinners are destined to burn. “Hell is a place of sorrow and unrest, a place of wailing and a furnace of fire,” the book says. “And it is where many will spend eternity. If you accept any part of the Bible, you are forced to accept the reality of hell, the place for punishment for those who reject Christ.”
Graham advocated for gay conversion therapy and claimed that homosexuality was “a sinister form of perversion.” Sex outside of marriage, for any other reason than to procreate, was a grave sin, punishable by eternal Hell. The man who brought millions to Christ had a very close relationship with 12 US presidents. Nixon among them.
The Paris Peace Talks happened in 1969. While the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam were in negotiations in a futile attempt to close the Vietnam War, Graham suggested to Nixon a brutal bombing campaign of dikes in Northern Vietnam. This campaign would have killed an estimated 1 million Vietnamese. It also, in Graham’s own words, “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam.”
Graham and Nixon shared similar views on Jews. They were both in agreement that the US media was entirely controlled by the “synagogue of Satan.” These words were recorded during chats with Nixon in 1973. The pastor was highly embarrassed when the tapes were leaked in the early 2000s. He goes on to say, “a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.” This was the true Billy Graham, as recorded in private.
Billy Graham’s legacy is one of fire and brimstone, fear and shame, and eternal torture for non-believers. As many mourn, his legacy remains divided in a divided country.