Militant Evangelists

It is not often that the military gets to rebuke an evangelical, no matter how much the evangelist may deserve it. In the world of Christian crusaders few come close to the stature of Billy Graham, a man who has had more than half a century of undue influence on American culture. At a library book sale a couple weekends ago a middle aged-couple hovering over the religion books (where I have professional obligations to hover) were discussing how they’d read all of Billy Graham’s books. When the family business passed to Franklin Graham, however, the scepter failed to be firmly grasped by the blushing co-regent. At the center of controversy since his comments about Islam beginning in 2001, Graham the younger was recently stricken from the (apparently) prestigious Pentagon prayer service roster.

I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that the Pentagon has a regular prayer service. My image of the military is one of beefy guys (and some gals) with ultimate confidence in their weapons and more than enough brashness to go around. They don’t project the down-on-your-knees-before-the-almighty image. “Guided by the beauty of our weapons,” as Leonard Cohen once sagaciously quipped, the military gets first crack at technological advances and heavy metals. The basic components of carnage and devastation. Yet they pray.

The old adage that there are no atheists in fox-holes glosses military service with a divine prerogative, so when these tough guys rebuff a famous evangelist there must be a story behind it. The military’s refusal to dis Islam displays a sensitivity uncharacteristic of most evangelical rhetoric and theology. The Religious Right’s revisionist claims that America was founded as a Christian nation are impotent without their WMD. Even so, the program should continue. “I don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up,” do you?

When Enola Gay comes to play

3 thoughts on “Militant Evangelists

  1. Steve… my outlook on the matter may be from the sidelines. I’m Canadian.

    We’re far less “religious tolerant” here than you guys. As a nation that is… or so it appears anyway.

    It does seem a contradiction to have the most powerful military centre in the world take such a seemingly judgemental stance on the views of an otherwise well-respected minister.

    Does it not beg the question, why would it be any more important for this or any minister to be welcomed at the Pentagon as any other location?

    Pentagon staff are no more important than any other group of people in terms of needing leadership. Higher profile? Yes. More prestigious? Yes. But so what? Jesus spent most of his time among the everyday people. Did he ever teach or lead prayer with the Roman military?

    Would this not follow the advice Jesus himself gave in Mark 6:11 … And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

    One thing that frankly I became allergic to in my church experience was the posturing of ministers based on who they ministered to. Why should a minister seek this out? Fame and prestige are the groundwork for the downfall of many. Although I will say Billy Graham seemed to handle it without becoming corrupt. Is he not an exception?

    I am a member of AA. We have a structure that has virtually no titles, office, and we do not take positions publicly on any issues. Why? Because it would taint what our primary and only focus is… to stay sober and help others do the same.

    Bill W, the primary founder of AA declined many accolades, including Time Magazine Man of the Year in the 1940’s or 50’s. Why? Because such notoriety has proven to be frequently corrupting. Most of us can’t handle it and it frequently destroys us.

    Church culture could learn a lot from this.

    So Frankie Graham isn’t necessarily missing much. And contradiction, hypocricy and politics is not surprising anyway.




    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks Chaz.

      Most clergy that I’ve known don’t share Bill W’s grace or sense of mission. Sure, I’ve known many who enter ministry for the right reasons, but power frequently grips and corrupts them. It takes a strong commitment to the cause to avoid it!


  2. Power so often corrupts. Even those who set out with the most pure of intentions. Then again, do we know what threads of selfishness lay domant in their hearts or minds? Do they? Clearly not.

    In your study of history, surely it must be apparent that rulers continually fall into self-based corruption.

    Having seen one-time seemingly humble ministers become self-serving egotists as their churches (empires) grew, I believe this to be a temptation whose power and cunningness is under rated.

    I attended a church in young adulthood that had started as a home fellowship…. then mushroomed into a large local church, and now TV broadcast and global speaking engagements.

    Money and fame seem to have made them into something completely different. Many people have been used and hurt to get them to where they are at today.

    How many times do patterns like this happen?

    Frequently in my experience.




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