Evangelising is an ugly thing. It assumes indisputable truths, and limits the field of inquiry. Its very assertiveness lies in unquestioning rather than probing, a sheepish acceptance of the truth. The tele-pastor and media choked evangelists, of which the United States became famed, had a figure who was, for much of his time, without peer.
The late Billy Graham, who died on Wednesday at his home in Montreat, NC, received packed audiences in gatherings of orgiastic religiosity. His was a crusader beamed via satellite, a religious demagogue attuned to mass media.
Like other religious super figures, including Mother Theresa, he also had the ear of leaders who cared to listen to him. To receive Graham in the White House was to court and entertain power itself. Presidents duly took note, even, it might be said, in dereliction of their office. The Bible was consumed with Dwight Eisenhower; company was kept with Gerald Ford. A very flawed George W. Bush supposedly received a spiritual rebirth under his eye. With one exception, he told the New York Times, “I never asked to meet them. They always asked to meet with me.”
The enormity of his reputation was belied by his lack of ostentation. He dressed simply; he eschewed scandal. Admirers pondered about his appeal, his ability to traverse partisanship and avoid the stain of naked populism.
“Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the…