Was Billy Graham “the Last Nonpartisan Evangelical”?

(RNS) — In the wake of Billy Graham’s death, several major media outlets ran columns suggesting that the evangelist was the “last nonpartisan evangelical,”comparing him favorably with his decidedly partisan son Franklin.

Graham père, it was affirmed, got along with every president since Truman, while Graham fils is a rabid Trumpist, lined up with the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and the rest of Donald Trump’s evangelical curia.

Funeral orations are thus being offered, with more than a dash of schadenfreude, over the corpse of white American evangelicalism as a moral community hopelessly compromised by its allegiance to an immoral president.

And yet, the report of this death is, as was Mark Twain’s, an exaggeration.

Yes, Falwell Jr., Liberty University’s president, is happily in the pocket of the president. But evangelicalism’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, is led by the Oxford-doctorate-holding Philip Ryken. Partisan? Not in the slightest.

Nor are the presidents of similar leading institutions: Calvin College in Michigan, Gordon College in Massachusetts, Westmont College in California and so on. Baylor University, the Baptist school aiming to rival Notre Dame, is led by a president who has her hands full defusing various ethical scandals and guiding Baylor into a brighter future. She has no time for political partisanship.

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