God and Politics: NY Times Review of Steven Miller's Biography of Billy Graham



1 comments
Paul Harvey

Hi ya'll, it's been a while. And it's going to be a while more, as I plow through 42 senior thesis rough drafts and 27 graduate seminar drafts, and some health situations in the famille. More regular blogging should resume around the end of the month.

Until then, enjoy this nice review in today's New York Times book review section of Steven Miller's new book Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South. Congratulations to Steven for the great notice for his book, which originated as a Ph.D. dissertation at Vanderbilt. Reviewer Ross Douhat (soon to be a regular columnist for the Times, so I gather -- presumably replacing the egregiously bad William Kristol) gets it right in the review, I think. Here's a little excerpt:

a similar combination of theological principle and careerist caution meant that Graham’s critique of segregation never went nearly as far as civil rights activists wanted him to go. He stressed individual conversion over political change, supporting legal reform in lukewarm terms while insisting that only the Gospel could really improve race relations. He maintained strong friendships with segregationist clergymen and politicians, and his attacks on racism were always tempered by deliberate hedges and straddles — denunciations of extremists on “both sides” of the debate, suggestions that race relations were worse in the North than in the South, and so forth. Where Martin Luther King used eschatological language as a spur to political change, Graham used eschatology to emphasize the limits of politics. “Only when Christ comes again,” he reportedly said after King’s speech at the March on Washington, “will the lion lie down with the lamb and the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with the little black children.” . . . .

In one story, Sun Belt Republicanism was a coalition forged in cynicism and denial: it perpetuated real injustices while denying they existed and relied on the votes of bigots to achieve political dominance. In another telling, though, the majority that Nixon built managed to achieve something that seemed impossible at mid­century — using the rhetoric of Christianity and colorblindness to reconcile the white South to a legal and social revolution, and confining the once-ubiquitous support for segregation to a lunatic fringe.

Again, as with Graham, both of these stories are true. And Steven Miller’s book offers a valuable contribution to the debate precisely because it manages to tell them both at once — to emphasize not only the black and white of a polarizing era, but its many shades of gray as well.

1 comments:

foxofbama at: April 22, 2009 at 6:10 PM said...

If you have contact with Steven Miller please have him email me at smfoxbama@hotmail.com

I am a big fan of Marshall Frady who first explored the material Miller addresses; and am most interested to see what Miller does with Perlstein's opening pages of the Chapter "Purity" in Nixonland.
I was footnoted several times in Oram Smith's Rise of Baptist Republicanism.
Also anxious to see how Harry Dent fares in Miller's work

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