The U.S. Capitol may soon display a statue to evangelist Billy Graham, who devoted his life to converting people to Christianity and promoted anti-LGBTQ sentiment when he was alive.
Every state gets to pick two people to honor with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, and the North Carolina legislature just approved a model for a statue of Graham – who was born in North Carolina – to replace the statue of a white supremacist.
Graham was perhaps the most influential American evangelist in the twentieth century and gave “spiritual counsel” to every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama before his death in 2018. Through what he called his “crusades” – basically revival meetings – he preached to 210 million people, according to one book on his life.
But he wasn’t known for welcoming all people into Christianity. In 1973, he said that homosexuality is a “sinister form of perversion” in his advice column, responding to a girl who wrote in and said she was in love with another girl.
“We traffic in homosexuality at the peril of spiritual welfare,” he wrote. “Your affection for another of your own sex is misdirected, and will be judged by God’s holy standards.”
He then claimed that the U.S. – in 1973 – “applauded” homosexuality because “morals have so eroded” and advised the girl to be “converted” and that “such reformation is possible for you.”
In 1993, he said that AIDS was “God’s punishment” for homosexuality.
“I could not say for sure, but I think so,” he said. He later apologized for the remark.
Graham was opposed to marriage equality. So much so that in 2012 he took out a full-page ad in 14 North Carolina newspapers to urge people to vote against marriage equality, calling it part of “the moral decline of our country causes me great concern.”
And, to this day, Graham’s website says that sex is sin unless it’s “within a marriage between a man and a woman” and that the Bible “speaks only negatively of homosexual behavior whenever it is mentioned.”
With the influence that Graham had in his life, it’s impossible to know how many among the hundreds of millions of people who listened to him were affirmed in their anti-LGBTQ views or converted by his words.
The statue of Graham will replace a statue of former North Carolina Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock, who is perhaps best known today for his campaigns to advance white supremacy. He was involved in the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, which led to more severe racial segregation in the state and more barriers for Black people who tried to vote.
His most famous speech was entitled “The Negro Problem” and it outlined plans to circumvent the Constitution to oppress Black people in order to protect “the dominance of the Caucasian.”
North Carolina’s other statue in Congress depicts Zebulon B. Vance, a Confederate military officer.
A committee selected by the state legislature approved a two-foot model made by sculptor Chas Fagan of Billy Graham. He will now work on a life-size model that will have to be approved by a committee in the U.S. Congress.