Human sexuality is fraught, particularly when mixed with the complexities of culture, religion, patriarchy, and adolescence.
In his recent biography of Billy Graham, Grant Wacker nicknamed the Baptist preacher “America’s pastor.” Owing to a prolific career that began in 1949 and has now spanned nearly 70 years, which saw him as the spiritual advisor to multiple U.S. presidents, the moniker is arguably fitting. Graham began his career at a pivotal time in American history, as Cold War anxieties pitted American piety against “godless communists.”
Let it be said at once: this is the best book ever written about Billy Graham. I found this an absolutely captivating book and have read every word, including the footnotes.
Barton Swaim, reviewing Elesha J. Coffman’s The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline for the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), wrote this: Nor were the editors [of the Christian Century] above dirty tricks, at one point even hiring an investigative reporter to find some impropriety in [the Billy Graham] organization’s finances. None came to light, but in something of a scoop, Ms. Coffman has discovered documents linking the revered historian Martin Marty to the rough anti-Graham campaign. As far as Coffman’s book goes, I have only the usual quibbles that a historian voices when reviewing the work of another historian. It is Swaim who is unfair to the magazine.
The questions started coming as soon as Billy Graham left the spotlight following his last crusade in 2005 in New York. Can anyone take his place as a galvanizing figure in American Christianity? What is the future of his style of evangelism—and, more specifically, of the organization he founded, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association? All that son Franklin Graham knows about the future of the organization that he now runs is this: “If I’m around 20 years from now, I’ll be doing the same thing—telling people about Jesus Christ.”The question is how many will be listening.
I told a friend that I was planning to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte and he said, “There are no books. They should call it the ‘Billy Graham Experience.’” He was right. The experience is both tackier and more interesting than I'd imagined. The schmaltz has been well documented, like the mechanized talking cow that tells visitors how cold young Billy’s hands were before sunrise on the dairy farm where he grew up. Fortunately, the physical artifacts of Graham’s life have an eloquence that the cheesiness can’t quite spoil.