Why Won’t They Admit They’re Political?

Nobody would be fooled this time. So why do conservative “court evangelicals” like Franklin Graham still pretend that they’re not into politics?

Franklin graham decision america 2018

Graham’s “religious” rally.

Here’s what we know: A recent NYT profile of Franklin Graham’s California bus tour leaves little doubt. The goal of Graham’s crusade, as NYT writer Elizabeth Dias puts it, is

to urge evangelicals to vote and to win California for Jesus.

It’s a political rally on wheels. So why does Graham pretend it’s not? In his official crusade propaganda, Graham explains his political goals in thinly disguised religious language. He says,

The goal isn’t to turn California red, but to get Christians involved in the everyday happenings of their communities so that others come to know Christ through them. That often means standing up for Christlike values.

When asked to explain his goal to puncture Calfornia’s liberal “blue wall,” Franklin Graham retorts,

I want to pierce that blue wall but not for politics. I want to pierce that blue wall for Christ.

And when the evangelistic association tries to describe the bus tour “in a few words,” none of those words are about explicitly about politics, even though they’re clearly about politics. As they explain,

It’s part prayer rally. Part evangelistic outreach. Part energizing and challenging the church to live out their faith in Jesus Christ.

For too long—as I’ve argued in my new book and in recent posts in these pages—pundits and even historians have accepted these sorts of statements at face value. They’ve accepted the self-serving myth of conservative evangelical preachers that they retreated from politics after the Scopes Trial in 1925, only to re-enter the political fray in the late 1970s, led by “New Christian Right” leaders such as Jerry Falwell Sr.

It doesn’t hold water. As great historians such as Daniel K. Williams have established beyond any sort of reasonable doubt, conservative evangelicals have ALWAYS been into politics. The change of the 1970s was simply an aggressive embrace of one political party, the GOP.

So why bother? Why does Franklin Graham bother to pretend he’s not staging a political campaign, when everyone knows that he is?

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6 Comments

  1. Daniel Mandell

     /  May 31, 2018

    Hypocrisy and (avoiding) taxes.

    Reply
  2. Agellius

     /  May 31, 2018

    I don’t see why the statement that they want to “pierce the blue wall for Christ” shouldn’t be accepted at face value. The Republican party and conservatism in general are clearly more friendly to traditional Christian values than the Democrats. In other words why can’t it be both? That they’re being political but also that they’re doing it for the sake of the Gospel?

    Reply
    • This is part of what puzzles me about conservative evangelical popular thinking. How could anyone assume that the cause of Christ could ever be contained within one mere political party? I understand this is not what you’re saying. It is different if Christian goals happen to coincide with the goals of a specific political party. In the twentieth century, however, and clearly continuing today, I see evangelical Christians assuming–gleefully almost–that Christianity is on one side of our domestic partisan debates. I’m not much of a Christian, but I just don’t see how any earnest Christian could be okay with anything along those lines.

      Reply
      • Agellius

         /  May 31, 2018

        You’re right, there can’t be a political position that is coterminous with the Christian religion, since religion and politics occupy different spheres. If people are claiming that the Republican party is the party of Christ, or what have you, then I would agree that that’s inappropriate. But based on my own observations, I haven’t seen that except maybe among people who are really very shallow thinkers and flibbertigibbets.

        Still, as I’ve said before, abortion is considered such a massive evil, and the Democrats have endorsed so many other things that conflict with Christian morals and beliefs, and liberals generally exhibit so much vitriol towards traditional Christianity, and if they’re not directly hostile then at least inconsiderate of the effect that their political positions and policies have on devout Christians, that it doesn’t surprise me at all that people consider the Democrats the anti-Christian party and the Republicans the pro-Christian party. It’s not so much that Christ is on one side or the other, but the extent to which the two parties show themselves to be on the side of Christ — that is, neither is specifically and completely Christian, but one is much more hostile to Christianity, and traditional religion generally, than the other.

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