Billy Graham once warned evangelicals they 'can't be closely identified with any particular party or person.' What happened?
The Rev. Billy Graham, who died in his sleep on Wednesday morning at age 99, will lie in repose under a revival-style tent for two days next week before being buried in a coffin made by inmates on March 2, said Mark DeMoss, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham, known as "America's Pastor," was a counselor to American presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush, which was "a source of pride for conservative Christians who were often caricatured as backward," The Associated Press says. But when his good friend Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace, Graham was "devastated and baffled."
After being burned by Nixon, Graham "resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics," AP reports, offering this 1981 advice from Graham: "Evangelicals can't be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left. ... I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will in the future."
Falwell did not heed Graham's advice — the Moral Majority, and the evangelical Christian power structure Graham made possible, became deeply entwined in Republican politics, but Graham had his lapses, too: He effectively endorsed Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, AP notes. Graham's son and heir, Rev. Franklin Graham, is one of President Trump's most stalwart supporters.
Billy Graham was "firmly committed to remaining bipartisan," but his "legacy of outreach across lines of race, class, and political party doesn't seem as resonant in contemporary evangelicalism," Emma Green says at The Atlantic. "His death marks the end of an era for evangelicalism, and poses a fundamental question: Will his legacy of bipartisan, ecumenical outreach be carried forward?"