Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Sacrament of Politics

The Canadian Manifesto: How the American Neoconservatives Stole My Country
Enthusiastic oilmen envision the Alberta of the future as a northern Texas whose oil and gas pipelines will fan out over the top half of the continent, driving the expanding industries of Canada and the northern U.S. as the oil and gas of Texas now power the South and East.  (CANADA: Texas of the North, Time Magazine, September 24, 1951)
As all that oil flowed out of Alberta, something else flowed in.  A new conservatism, then being thrust upon the Grand Old Party in the United States.

Premier Ernest Manning's close friend and confidante, J. Howard Pew, was a major player in the new Trinity of "God, Republicanism and the USA". 

Pew was a wealthy American oil tycoon and co-founder of Sun Oil (now Sunoco).  A Christian fundamentalist like Manning, he envisioned a North America run by the business elite, for the business elite, and based on the Supremacy of God.

We tend to dismiss this portion of our history, except as it relates to Alberta.  After all, the Social Credit Party is gone.  But in fact, it is now more important than ever, to study Ernest Manning's contribution to history, since it speaks to the time when Movement Conservatism first began in Canada.  Manning had abandoned the populism of Social Credit for the corporatism of the new American Right, and formulated his plans for a new Canadian Right, in the boardrooms of "enthusiastic oilmen", and financiers.

What was remarkable, was that they were able to turn a corporate takeover into a religious crusade.

Billy Graham and his Magical Kingdom

In 1964, Evangelical leader, Billy Graham, toured university campuses, speaking to students about God.  When appearing at Harvard, a young reporter for the school's newspaper, noticed that something was a bit off.  Or perhaps a bit too "on".

A question was presented to Graham from an audience member.  'How can I keep my intellectual integrity and believe in God?'  A good question, I suppose.  So good that someone else had made the same query at a press conference, held earlier that day.

In fact, it was identical to a question asked of Graham when he was speaking at Wellesley, Rindge Tech, Princeton and Michigan State.  The answers were also exactly the same, delivered with the same passion, and sense of revelation at such an obvious wringer.

The astute reporter for the Harvard Crimson, also noticed something else.  Graham's presentation reminded him of that of a Republican hopeful, who was also on a speaking engagement.  Said he:  "Billy Graham and Barry Goldwater have more in common than the initials they use." (1)

This would not have been such a surprise if the author had understood that both Graham and Goldwater were players in the movement conservatism that would soon be taking over right-wing politics.   Heavily scripted and rehearsed, nothing was left to chance.

When Billy Graham claimed to " believe every word of the Bible . . .", it was difficult for many in the audience to imagine how an ancient text could help solve the problems of the day.  Graham refused to address the Civil Rights Movement, only criticizing the demonstrations.

Harvard pastor, Rev. James R. Blanning, had been looking forward to Graham's appearance, but was disappointed.
Billy Graham was with us last week and it was a pleasure to have him in the Harvard community. Yet I think it should be clearly understood that he does not represent Protestant thinking and speaks only for himself. I say this because personally I have always felt that Dr. Graham combines a most appealing sincerity with an incredible understanding of Christian thought and theology. I say incredible because I don't know of any reputable Protestant seminary that teaches the kind of theology that he represented here last week.
For one thing, I am troubled by his insistence that the Bible was a kind of magical authority. His oft-repeated statement, "The Bible says," leaves the impression that a simple reading of the scriptures will provide all the answers to life. Never a word is said about biblical criticism or the contemporary understanding of textual material. In the matter of authority, the teachings of the Church or the development of theology are never mentioned. Billy Graham gives to the Bible a kind of authority that would make even Martin Luther uncomfortable. (2)
Other critics of Graham, suggested that he had taken religion back a century, something he would gladly claim to be true and intentional, though a century wasn't nearly enough.

Movement conservatism is a doctrine and their political actions a sacrament.  The infallibility of the Bible was necessary if they were going to build a set of principles around it.

But did Graham really believe it himself?  Perhaps not.

The late Charles Templeton (1915-2001), evangelical turned agnostic; wrote a book Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. In it he describes his journey from a popular Christian crusader, and colleague of Billy Graham, to his eventual abandonment of organized religion.

At a stage in his life when he was beginning to have doubts about his faith, he went to his friend Graham, expecting some spiritual guidance.  He asked him how he could accept creationism as 'fact' when there was irrefutable evidence that the world had evolved over millions of years. Graham, an intelligent man, told him "I've discovered something in my ministry: when I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power." (3)

It wasn't about what he believed but what he could sell.  He has built a  $100 million dollar empire and his own personal net worth is pegged at $25 million.  Former President Bush called Graham "America's pastor." Harry Truman called him a "counterfeit" and publicity seeker.

They were both right.

1964 was a pivotal year for movement conservatives.  They had taken over the Republican National Convention, bringing forth their own presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.  Howard Pew had contributed to Goldwater's victory and financed Billy Graham's crusades.

When some in the mainstream media refused to run Goldwater's ads because they were too radical, they took down names.  When Harvard criticized both Graham and Goldwater, they dismissed them as "dupes, stupes and traitors".  And when Lyndon Johnson gave Goldwater a trouncing, they smiled. 

The battle lines were now drawn.  They had God and country on their side.  Let the crusades begin.

Perhaps the controversial Christian Crusader, Billy James Hargis said it best:
In the wake of the tragic events of November 3 [1964], and their fearful consequences on the course of human events in the years to come, Crusaders must most assuredly don their armor of Christian responsibility and face the rigors of the battle ahead. With the cross of Christ and the American Flag as our only standards, we must reconsecrate our efforts, regardless of the cost, to right the terrible wrong which has been done. (4)
Canada Begins Her own Crusade

While Billy Graham was crusading for Howard Pew and his "Oil Tycoons" in the U.S., there was an opening for a crusader in Canada, and they saw promise in Preston Manning, the young son of Alberta Premier Ernest Manning.

He had studied the Reformation and was ready to apply what he learned to Canadian politics.  According to biographer Frank Dabbs:
Preston Manning's first major research project after his convocation was to assemble a body of literature on the Protestant Reformation and the history of English evangelical "awakenings" and American revival movements. He studied this material intensively for several weeks, created his own synthesis, then wrote a paper and developed some speeches about spiritual awakening in the 1960s. (5)
He then tested his theories on his father's Back to Bible radio program.  The elder Manning was hoping to return to the reforming passion that had first brought Social Credit to power in the province, instilling a sense of mission that could spread to a federal government.

It would take forty years and three failed parties, but eventually his dream came true, though he wouldn't live to see it.


1. Billy Graham Silhouette, By Donald E. Graham, The Harvard Crimson, February 20, 1964

2. Billy Graham, The Mail, Harvard Crimson, February 26, 1964

3. Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, By Charles Templeton, McClelland & Stewart, 1996, ISBN: 0-7710-8422-6, p. 7-8

4. The American Far Right:  A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and Christian Crusade, By John Harold Redekop, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-28375, p. 201

5. Preston Manning: Roots of Reform, By: Frank Dabbs, Greystone, 2000, ISBN -13-97815-50547504, p. 59

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