Conclusion: “We Are Now in the Violent Society”—A Question of Legacy

  • Michael G. Long


“The brutal assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King has stunned the world!”1 So began Billy Graham’s Hour of Decision sermon on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of the civil rights leader. It was also Palm Sunday, the day in the church year when liturgically minded Christians remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Jesus had entered Jerusalem at the time of Passover, a dramaturgical season that brought together large gatherings of dispossessed Jews for public religious observances. The sizable crowds, thick with discontent, made Roman authorities more than wary of the possibility of political insurrection; and, in fact, Jesus was arrested and crucified shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem partly because the violent Roman government had envisioned him and his followers as a threat to their status and role as occupiers. Of course, Christians have long de-radicalized and de-politicized the story of Jesus and his final days, even to the point of marketing Palm Sunday merely as a family event for waving palm branches and prompting small children to pet the hired donkey.


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  1. 4.
    Drew D. Hansen, The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation (New York: Ecco, 2003), 228.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Martin Marty, Religion and Republic: The American Circumstance (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987), accurately claims that Graham’s premillenialism “says in effect that churches cannot do much about the nagging issues of their day. The only substantial change in history will occur with the Second Coming of Christ.…”(256). McLoughlin, Billy Graham, made a similar point, though using a different interpretive hermeneutic. “Graham,” McLoughlin wrote, “is giving voice to that strong perfectionist streak in American pietism which, by refusing to be satisfied with anything less than a perfect social order, leads to a refusal to make any effort to alter the status quo” (91). McLoughlin’s comment is enlightening but not as helpful as tracing Graham’s politics of resignation to his premillenialism.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Streiker and Strober, Religion and the New Majority, rightly argue that “any analysis which conceives Billy Graham to be either the greatest revivalist of all time or White House ‘chaplain’ falls short of defining his actual place in American society.” Writing in 1972, the authors attempt to define his role as “the leader of the politically decisive majority, the man who more consistendy than anyone else articulates the aspirations and fears of the bulk of his fellow citizens” (189). By contrast, my thesis defines his role during the King years as two-fold—as the twentieth century’s greatest evangelist, and as the major Protestant obstructionist to the beloved community. On a related note, Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), refers to Graham as the “evangelist to the nation”— hence my “world’s best trumpeter for personal salvation.”Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    For more on Graham’s rhetoric, see Wayne Bond, “The Rhetoric of Billy Graham: A Description, Analysis, and Evaluation” (Ph.D. diss., University of Southern Illinois, 1979);Google Scholar
  5. and Billy Edward Vaughn, “Billy Graham: A Rhetorical Study in Adaptation” (Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 1972). Perhaps the most creative subject in this field can be found inGoogle Scholar
  6. Hubert Coleman, “A Comparative Rhetorical Analysis of Speeches of Stokely Carmichael and Billy Graham” (M.A. thesis, Bowling Green State University, 1970). And for more on Graham’s consistent popularity during part of the King years, see Jon P. Alston, “Popularity of Billy Graham, 1963—1969: Review of the Polls,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June 1973): 227—230.Google Scholar

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© Michael G. Long 2006

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  • Michael G. Long

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