Culture At Large

Billy Graham in The New Yorker


Many left-leaning publications have been featuring stories on evangelicals in recent months, especially since the 2004 election. It's as if The New Yorker and the New York Times have been trying to satisfy their readers' intense curiosity: just who are these strange creatures called evangelicals who are said to have given W another four years in the White House? Some articles seem more like anthropological studies, as if American evangelicals were as foreign as some pre-modern, indigenous tribe just discovered in the wilds of the Amazon.

But many of the articles are very well written and researched, including a profile of Billy and Franklin Graham in the newest issue of The New Yorker. (Unfortunately, the text of the article doesn't appear to be online but an interview with the author, Peter J. Boyer, and a slide show are available instead.) The article explores how Graham Pater shaped 20th century American Christianity with a kinder, gentler, perhaps even more liberal approach than Graham Fils, who reflects much of the conservative absolutism that is dominant in American culture at present. Boyer also includes a positive portrayal of Franklin Graham's work with World Vision and Samaritan's Purse. Primarily, though, the piece looks at Billy Graham's crucial influence on evangelicalism today:

What was at stake for [Billy] Graham in that first New York crusade was the evangelist's final break from the fundamentalist wing that had formed him, and his hope of advancing a new evangelicalism that would survive, even thrive, in the cultural mainstream.

The events that brought Graham to that moment, and to a subsequent bittersweet triumph in New York, had huge consequences, including the marginalization of fundamentalists and the steady withering of the mainline denominations. It is largely because of Graham's bold course that evangelicalism - a heterogeneous multidenominational movement estimated to number more than fifty million born-again followers, with best-selling books (the "Left Behind" series), megachurches, and the nation's President, George W. Bush - has attained its current place in American culture as the center of gravity of Protestant Christianity.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends