February 21, 2018

PASTOR TO THE PURITAN NATION:

How Billy Graham's legacy lives on in American life (David Mislin, 2/21/18, The Conversation)

In the 1950s, however, religious language found its way into government and politics, due in no small part to Billy Graham.

In 1953, at the strong encouragement of Graham, President Dwight Eisenhower held the first National Prayer Breakfast, an event that brings together political, military and corporate leaders in Washington, D.C., usually on the first Thursday of February.

In the following years, Eisenhower signed a bill placing the phrase "In God We Trust" on all American currency and the phrase was adopted as the first official motto of the United States.

Both of these developments reflected the desire to emphasize Americans' religious commitment in the early years of the Cold War. Historians such as Jonathan Herzog have chronicled how leaders such as Eisenhower and Graham stressed the strong faith of the nation in setting the U.S. apart from the godlessness of Soviet communism. But, there were domestic concerns as well. Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse has shown that religious language was not merely rhetoric against communism.

Indeed, this belief in American religiosity had emerged over several decades. Conservative businessmen had allied with ministers and evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham, to combat the social welfare policies and government expansion that began with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. These wide-ranging programs, designed to tackle the Great Depression, irked many conservatives. They objected to government intervention in business and Roosevelt's support for labor unions.

As Kruse notes, this alliance of conservative business leaders and ministers linked "faith, freedom, and free enterprise."

To be sure, Billy Graham was not singularly responsible for all of these developments. But as his biographers have noted, he loomed large in the religious politics of the 1950s.

Posted by at February 21, 2018 5:35 PM

  

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