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Billy Graham & the Chamber of Secrets

My satirical trip through BillyWorld's hidden exhibits

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Graham, at the height of America's culture war turmoil, was seen less as an agent of change than as a sanctioning voice for Nixon's "Silent Majority," those Americans who were nervous, or angry, about changes sweeping the country -- young war protesters, sex education in schools, the speed of forced racial integration, the Supreme Court's school prayer ruling.

Graham often spoke of how "We ruled prayer out of the schools and put sex in." He lambasted the Court's Miranda decision, which mandated that arresting officers read suspects their rights. And always, throughout his career, there were the Presidents -- photo after photo of Graham praying in the Oval Office and offering implied support for whatever war the current President was engaged in. It was a tendency -- his intoxication with nearness to power -- that his wife, the late Ruth Graham, repeatedly tried to steer him away from. Unfortunately, her counsel on that issue didn't take hold.

I was so lost in thought, I didn't notice the Billy Graham insulated drink tumbler someone had dropped in the gift shop. I slipped on it, hit my head on a bookcase, and fell to the floor. I came around a second later and got up on my own, and that was when things took an unexpected turn.

I heard a distinct "Pssst." I turned toward the sound, and a man in coveralls with "Billy Graham Library" embroidered on the chest pocket asked me in a low voice, "Are you a reporter?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Did I hear you saying something about 'something missing'?"

"Well, yes, as a matter of fact."

"Well then, how would you like to see the museum's hidden exhibits?"

"What?"

"Come here, follow me."

The man guided me out of the gift shop and said, "Just keep walking. I'm Paul Jones [not his real name] -- I helped design and put together some of the exhibits here. At least I did until Franklin Graham didn't like some of the displays I oversaw, so he fired me and moved those exhibits down to the basement. You wanna see them?"

How could I refuse? I followed Paul around a couple of corners and to a nondescript, gray door. He unlocked it, led me down to the museum's basement, flipped on the lights, and walked over to one of several exhibits that were covered by tarps.

"Now, this is an exhibit I put together, called 'Integration Indecision,'" said Paul, pulling off a tarp. In front of us was a young-looking, audio-animatronic Billy Graham standing before a photographic mural showing highlights from the civil rights movement: Montgomery, Freedom Rides, Birmingham, the March on Washington. Over and over, the robot Billy turned his head to the left and said, "Help 'em rise up!" Then he slowly turned his head to the right and mumbled, "Hey, not so fast."

I looked from the Billy animatron to Paul and said, "I don't get it."

"Look, Billy couldn't seem to make up his mind about equality for blacks. I guess you've heard about his refusal to preach to segregated audiences, even before the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools."

"Sure, and I think that's great."

"It was, but at the same time, Billy was against mandatory integration of public facilities, even during the lead-up to the 1964 Civil Rights Act."

"You're kidding. Didn't he introduce Martin Luther King to his audiences in those days?"

"He did it once, in New York City in 1957, and that was it -- and he sure as hell never did it in the South. Billy never joined civil rights marches, unlike the preachers, rabbis, priests and nuns who put their bodies on the line back then for others' freedom. And here's another thing. After King's 'I Have A Dream' speech? Billy said that the only time white children and black children in Alabama would walk hand in hand would be 'when Christ comes again.'"

"You're kidding."

"I wish I was," Paul said. "Come over here and look at this."

We walked over to the next rejected exhibit.

"This one's called 'Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition.' Have a look."

A large photo of Graham shaking hands with some Asian men stood to one side, opposite a blank TV screen, while between them hung a poster of Graham in the Oval Office with the first President Bush.

"Those guys," said Paul, pointing to the Asian men in the photo with Graham, "were missionaries Billy met in Bangkok in 1969. They wanted Nixon to bomb North Vietnam's dike system, so Billy sent Nixon a secret letter recommending just that, saying it 'could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam.' Trouble was, Nixon had already rejected the idea because it would kill around a million people."

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