For a more balanced view of Billy Graham in Scotland, read Kevin McKenna's recent piece in the Observer/Guardian. He begins: 'The death of Billy Graham last week drew a curious response from BBC Scotland, which seemed keen to disparage the legacy of the great Christian evangelist.'
Interesting that for once Kenneth Roy (28 February
) has aligned himself with the BBC, in disparaging Graham.
Kevin McKenna continues: 'The national broadcaster turned to its former head of religious broadcasting, the Rev Johnston McKay, to provide some analysis and perspective on the life and times of Graham. Sadly, there was neither. Instead, McKay gave vent to what seemed to me a long-held resentment at Graham based on personal animosity seasoned with just a bat squeak of envy.' As a non-Christian, I strongly recommend this article, headed 'Who in Scotland will now defend the virtues of religious observance?' I found it much more thought-provoking than Kenneth Roy's re-hash from the pages of his excellent book, 'The Invisible Spirit.'
Other obituarists have emphasised the fact that Graham refused to embrace a president, unlike his son, who is a strong supporter of Trump. Billy Graham was a more humane and tolerant person than this portrayal in the Scottish Review. The 1955 Graham crusade was less a psychological breakdown, more a logical culmination of the work my father had been engaged in for 10 years, and a last upsurge of the religious outlook of the times.
A rigorously intellectual analysis of the evangelistic approach and its effects in Scotland can be found in 'Mission by the People: Rediscovering the Dynamic Missiology of Tom Allan and his Scottish Contemporaries,' by Alexander Forsyth.
It was with some interest that I read about Storm Billy. Sitting in my northern fastness and musing that for once the major weather 'event' isn't actually hitting as badly as the central belt, I concurred with the main thrust of Kenneth Roy's piece, and his honouring of the 'refuseniks'. I wonder too if Storm Billy was another example of the signs of the times. In 1955, still in the throes of austerity and a clear memory of rationing, would it be fair to say that Scots were gagging for anything American, having experienced chewing gum and nylons and wanting more? As history has borne out, the American-style fundamentalist Christianity of Billy Graham (at his peak, although he mellowed in later years) is a deeply unattractive version of the faith.
I would also encourage Kenneth Roy with the assertion that yes, there is an intellectual deficit in many parts of the Church but that there are also still a good few of us left who would espouse critical thinking, and intelligent conversation, whilst loving all into their full potential. Perhaps the lesson is not to hide our lights under a bush but to do more of our thinking out loud.
In Storm Billy, Kenneth Roy uses the tendentious description 'right wing.' This carries the conceit that anything right-of-centre is wrong and to be despised. To be 10% morally right-of-centre today is to be abused for bigotry, so far from Judaeo-Christian ethics has our nation of people travelled, and far also from the common sense moderations of secular ethics from Aristotle to Peterson. Politically, Billy Graham was a registered Democrat.
Christian revivalists have always had a cutting edge, Francis, Savonarola, Knox, Loyola, Wesley, to name a few. They operated outside the domestic Christianity of parish and congregational life as Jesus Himself did. The Biblical Old Testament prophets including John the Baptist operated this way also seeking to awaken recalcitrants to obedience and faithfulness. Some of the world's psychologists would no more make sense of Scots' response to Billy Graham's message than they would of Christianity itself, but others more spiritually inclined would see the value of individual human redemption and the gifts of inward peace and life purpose which have constituted the Christian offer from day one of the Church's life.
Billy Graham was an ecumenical figure who suffered opprobrium from members of the American Bible Belt for welcoming and working with Roman Catholics. He moderated his youthful extremes and matured in his opinions. His thinking evolved. The anti-communist preached in Russia! Kenneth Roy does not acknowledge this.
The ministers of the Kirk have always been big on initials. A college friend of mine had been a joiner in Glasgow before his call to the ministry. Lo and behold, plain Andy Smith appeared after his ordination in the Church's Year Book as Rev A McLaren Smith. There was R Leonard Small, W Roy Sanderson and others to this day with this affectation.
'Mass emotionalism' is a derogatory term for Billy Graham's rallies. Emotion was surely present but at a deeper level a mental and spiritual response was taking place in people's lives. For many this lasted and bore fruit and harvest in the Church of Scotland and beyond. Billy Graham converts in the Church of Scotland ministry whom I knew personally were fine people with compassion to the fore of their Christian praxis. What a contrast is there today. Since the 2009 General Assembly the Church of Scotland has ethnically cleansed evangelicals out of its sight. The once reliable conveyor belts of candidates for the ministry from Glasgow and Lanarkshire and from the Highlands are now rusted and broken. The prayerful generosity of evangelicals has been followed by decreasing income.
It is true that Billy Graham came from the fundamentalist Bible Belt of America and it is true that some evangelicals still hold to the literal historical truth of Genesis chapter one. But Tom Allan did not and neither did D P Thomson and T F Torrance, nor do Peter Neilson and Albert Bogle. It has never been necessary to surrender intelligence and integrity to become a Christian. Witness St Paul. It is however necessary to surrender as a whole person in order that Jesus Christ might be born within each of us. Billy Graham converts knew what they were doing and why.
George MacLeod was an opponent of Tom Allan. The latter wished to put the Gospel offer first and social and political application second. The former advocated the opposite. This disagreement was another instalment of the centuries-old Moderate versus Evangelical warring which led to the 1843 Disruption and the post-2009 exodus of evangelicals. The Church of Scotland has been much influenced by the politics of MacLeod's Iona Community and has lost its historical, theological and Christological grounding.
Kenneth Roy seems to despise Billy Graham for criticising some popular culture, films, plays and popular music at the time. It was not long afterwards that the Beatles and others introduced young people to drug culture and eastern religion. John Lennon said: 'We are more popular than Jesus.' Anyone with any moral or spiritual sensitivity must be appalled by much of what passes for entertainment today. Teenagers' mental problems are associated with over-use of internet violent gaming, extreme plot film watching and extraneous music listening. It is now acceptable for children to use the 'F' word in some schools without correction. Is that good?
Kenneth Roy's superiority complex allows him to link judgementalism with comedy and absurdity in retrospect. The Scottish government is about to increase the price of cheap alcohol threefold to try to mitigate Scotland's problems with drink. Why doesn't he lampoon that? Due to TV soap operas, generations have been raised to think that alcohol is central to life, meaning and society. For anyone to suggest that human life can be fulfilling without alcohol is regarded as a social heresy. This attitude is also driven by multi-national businesses. Is it judgementalism to speak out against TV advertising of gambling? Christians have a voice and we take a stand against the values of contemporary Scotland. We are marginalised as a consequence and Kenneth Roy's superciliousness adds to our suffering.
The Church of Scotland's decline was not caused by Billy Graham. It was the permissive 60s which damaged Christianity, 1967 in particular when the elitist and adulterous Roy Jenkins loosed Britain from its moorings in Judaeo-Christianity. Today we have atomisation, confusion and fragmentation permeated by the indelicate fragrance of our contemporary culture of death. Christianity is resilient. Anything based on resurrection from the dead must be so. The Church of Scotland does not express the Christian challenge well.
Billy Graham, though not perfect, was a globally successful Christian communicator. Kenneth Roy might consider evaluating him with balance and perhaps even with some humility.
I enjoyed Kenneth Roy's Billy Graham piece. Apparently having counselled Nixon, Graham was later told of the contents of the Watergate tapes. He said he was shocked, as he never know Nixon used all these bad swear words.
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