A Brief Review of
Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South.
Steven P. Miller.
Hardback: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Billy Graham was undoubtedly one of the key figures of American evangelicalism in the latter half of the 20th century, but what role did he play in the broader culture as evangelicalism became a major power player in the United States? This question is one that Steven Miller tackles – with a particular focus on the region to which Graham was native, the South – in his recent book Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South. From his interactions with the challenges of race in the South (he was a “racial moderate,” Miller observes) through his engagements with Presidents in the Watergate era and beyond, Miller explores Graham’s political and social engagements and their impact on the rapidly-changing culture of the South.
Miller demonstrates that although Graham had significant influence with many American presidents and other key political figures, he remained committed to non-partisanism, believing that Christianity should season that way we engage politics, but that it also should not become its own political movement. However, with some careful historical analysis, Miller concludes:
In key respects, Graham helped to construct the political and religious culture that made the Christian right possible. He gave public expression to the shift among many post-World War II evangelicals away from separatist fundamentalism and toward greater social and political engagement. During the 1950s, he helped to make evangelicalism a vital component of anticommunist discourse. He was the best-known, if not necessarily the noisiest, postwar exponent of “Christian Americanism” … Even after Graham toned down his Cold War jeremiads, he continued to view patriotism as a normative manifestation of piety (202).
Miller has done excellent work here and Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South deserves to be read as a fair, but often critical assessment of the nature of the politics and culture of evangelicalism.