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Sunday, August 16, 2020


by Alan Walowitz

The U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, where two iconic figures from every state hold court, will soon have a new resident: A clay likeness of the late Reverend Billy Graham, the popular televangelist who brought the word of Jesus Christ to the masses through a series of high-profile “crusades,” evangelistic campaigns that saw massive rallies across the United States. For Jews and groups concerned with the separation of church and state, the prospect is a problematic one. Last week, a North Carolina legislative committee approved a scale model of the 10-foot, 10-inch Graham statue, which would be placed at the Capitol sometime next year pending the approval of a congressional committee. If that approval comes through, Graham’s effigy will replace a statue of Charles Brantley Aycock, a North Carolina governor and white supremacist…  Graham, who died in 2018 at the age of 99, was beloved by many and is certainly an improvement over Aycock, who helped engineer the overthrow of a largely Black government in Wilmington, N.C. But the preacher is controversial on several fronts. His record with regard to civil rights was mixed, as he accepted segregation at some of his crusades and critiqued the tactics of marches and sit-ins to end Jim Crow laws. Like many Evangelicals, he also believed homosexuality to be a sin, calling it a “sinister form of perversion.” And while he had a reputation for building interfaith bridges, a major rift with his relationship with the Jewish community emerged in 1994, when Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman’s White House diaries became public. Haldeman wrote that Nixon and Graham, alone in the Oval Office after a prayer breakfast in February of 1972, discussed Jewish control of the media. Graham denied having this conversation, but in 2002, the tape was released by the National Archives.In the recording, Graham agreed with Nixon that liberal Jews had too much influence, saying, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” Graham further accused Jews of “putting out the pornographic stuff” in the culture and contended that, while he was friendly with Jews who “swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel,” those Jews “don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances.” Graham apologized after the tape became public, telling a group of Jewish leaders he was on his “hands and knees” to make up for the harm of his remarks. —The Forward, August 10, 2020. Photo: An earlier statue of Graham was removed in 2016 from its location in downtown Nashville destined be relocated to a Christian Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina. —WTVF, Nashville.

"I've read the last page of the Bible; it's all going to turn out all right." —Billy Graham

Far as I’m concerned, the Reverend Graham
may take his place in Statuary Hall. Must’ve been tall,
10 foot 10, the story implies, good reason alone—
but we were at least that high as we made our way
to the stage at Shea that time, to be saved behind
the pitcher's mound. The Jesus-part never stuck, as God
surely knew, which might be why Billy told his presidential pal
he’d have better luck without the Jews controlling all.
And sometimes he didn’t like those Black folks coming
round to those Deep South crusades.  How else
was he to get those crackers to accept
Christ—for Christ’s sake—and be forgiven in his name?
“God will curse all who add or take away,” it says right near the end.
The God I want would love, accept—and, Bill, even sometimes amend.

Alan Walowitz has been published various places on the web and off.  His work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and 2018 and he is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry.  His chapbook Exactly Like Love is available from Osedax Press, and his full-length book The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems is available from Truth Serum Press.