U.S. News: Billy Graham brought evangelicalism into respectability. What will his kids do?
From the cover of the new U.S. News & World Report, it looks like a story on Billy Graham and his family: "A Christian Dynasty: How Billy Graham's kids are following up his crusade." But Jeffrey Sheler's cover story really is a brief history of evangelicalism, with the elder Graham as a the main actor and foil.
Most readers of CT will be familiar with the story: The fundamentalist retreat after the Scopes trial, the split between evangelicals and fundamentalists over Graham's partnership with mainline churches and cultural re-engagement, increasing cultural prominence through politicians like Jimmy Carter, and becoming a political juggernaut in the 1990s. Sheler hits all the main points, and talks to the key players: Mark Noll, Randall Balmer, Martin Marty, Christian Smith, and William Martin, among others. All the titles in the magazine's online Bookshelf feature are also informed choices. No surprise there: Sheler has demonstrated his knowledge of the evangelical landscape in several earlier articles.
And CT readers won't be surprised by Sheler's conclusion about the direction of the evangelical movement, though it bears repeating:
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the evangelical movement in the near future, experts say, will be in coping with its new cultural status. When it emerged at midcentury, says Balmer, "evangelicalism was a counterculture" that defined itself against the secularism that dominated the American scene, especially in politics. Now, with the White House and other high offices occupied by some of their own, and with the phenomenal success of Christian books like the Left Behind novels and The Prayer of Jabez and the growing popularity of Christian music and movies, says Balmer, "evangelicalism is no longer on the margins." Adjusting to that new reality may prove to be difficult, experts say, as moderates and resurgent fundamentalists vie to redefine the movement's boundaries. For that reason alone, says Noll, "the passing of Billy Graham will mark the end of an important historical era." Short of "unforeseen developments," he says, "the apparent unity that Graham's presence bequeathed to a diverse movement will be a thing of the past."
On a related note, check out William McKenzie's recent column in The Dallas Morning News. "There is no natural successor" to Graham, he writes. "The void should not worry evangelical Protestants. … The lack of a 'next Billy Graham' actually speaks to the growing strength of their movement." Evangelicalism has become more diverse and diffuse and really doesn't need one leader to rally the troops and set the agenda, McKenzie writes. But therein lies evangelicalism's challenge as well: several factions within evangelicalism want to replace Graham's positive gospel message with "angry Christianity." "The movement either avoids blood baths, or it returns to the uglier days before Billy Graham," he concludes. "Evangelicals have a greater chance of influencing American culture through engaging it. But the choice is theirs. And Americans should watch for the answer. It will ripple through our culture."
Sheler's U.S. News article, however, isn't just a history lesson. It's also a profile of Graham and his two most famous offspring, Franklin and Anne. "Both have the lanky frame, chiseled face, and penetrating eyes of their famous father. And when they stand to preach in that familiar, lilting, North Carolina accent, there is no mistaking their pedigree," Sheler writes.
But, as the saying goes, they're no Billy Graham. "[Billy] Graham's unifying influence, experts say, stems in no small measure from his careful rhetoric and avoidance of controversy — traits that Graham's offspring have not yet displayed. … If the two Graham siblings have a harder edge than their father, say some family observers, it probably reflects the bumpy road they traveled growing up Graham."
Speaking of a harder edge, a sidebar on evangelicals and politics (which, at least on the website, runs without a byline) oddly focuses on the Christian Coalition. In a historical piece on the subject, this would make sense. But the writer uses the group as an example of current power brokering. That's a strange choice, since the Christian Coalition has been besieged by internal controversy and a loss of interest both from within its members and on the Hill. It's still around, sure, but it's hardly where the action is these days.
Meanwhile, in other Graham news, The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association may have priced its property too high as it moves from Minnesota to North Carolina. At least that's what some developers are saying. The folks in charge of selling the property disregard the complaint, saying the $21 million asking price is just fine. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also faces problems with the sale over whether the building is in a historical district, says the paper.
Edinburgh bans photos of school Nativity plays and concerts
This is not a joke. The city of Edinburgh, Scotland, has banned parents from filming school Nativity plays and Christmas concerts, saying that the images could be exploited by pedophiles. "Authorities have to recognize the risk of pedophiles," said an Edinburgh council spokeswoman, who calls it a "commonsense" approach. "This has been introduced purely as a precaution."
Any parent wanting to film their child must get the permission from all other parents. If they object, the school will film the performance and edit out the child of the parent who objected.
Michael Haimes, formerly of Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Squad, told the BBC that the council's decision made "no sense." The Timesmocks the ban. Others defend it, saying the schools have a responsibility to do all they can to defend children against predators.
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