Reflections on Billy Graham

The recent death of evangelist Billy Graham brought forth a number of memories for me. I have long entertained conflicting feelings about him and his ministry. As a survivor of a Fundamentalist church during my years in grade school, I was repelled by Graham’s Biblical literalism during his early years and his simplistic approach to the world. Early in my own ministry in the early 60s I recall that my Presbyterian Church issued a series of low-cost books called The Layman’s Theological Commentary, one of which was by Cornelius Lowe, MODERN RIVALS TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. The most startling chapter in the book was devoted to Billy Graham, whom the author took to task for his individual-centered, social justice ignoring theology.

Then through the years I encountered in a couple of cities the network of supporters of the Billy Graham Crusades and was impressed by their ecumenism, bringing leaders of diverse theologies and polities together. Most of all, I was impressed by the evangelist’s refusal to speak to segregated audiences. This latter was well before the Civil Rights movement sprang up. He did not become a prophet like Dr. King or the Berrigan brothers, but to insist on integrated audiences at the time certainly made him their ally—and probably took some courage, as I would suppose that his advisers cautioned him about the consequences in the South. Throughout his career he insisted on the equality of the races, rejecting the widespread racism of his fellow Southerners (and of many Northerners too)–though he never appeared before the public with fellow preacher whom he called “my friend,” Dr. Martin Luther King. (Also disappointing was his response to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” Talk about “Pie in the Sky”!)

I came to a new respect of Graham’s moral integrity in the early 60s when I sat next to Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood at a luncheon. During my college years his books inspired me to think about the moral and political implications of the Christian faith, so I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him. I was then a student associate campus minister at Bowling Green State University, and we had invited Dr. Trueblood to be our Religious Emphasis Week speaker. The subject of Billy Graham had come up, and, given Trueblood’s liberal views, I expected to hear some critical remark offered. Instead, Dr. Trueblood revealed that he had known the evangelist for many years. When the young evangelist started to become nationally famous, he had come to the Quaker for advice, and Dr. Trueblood suggested that he needed to avoid the temptation that had ruined many a traveling evangelist, the lust for money with its resulting corruption.  He should set up an independent body to handle all finances, and he should accept a fixed salary.

Billy Graham followed this advice, the result being that there have been no charges of financial misdeeds. He might deserve criticisms of being too close to some U.S. presidents; of being uncritically supportive of the Vietnam War; and even of harboring anti-Semitic feelings, but never of financial shenanigans. And, we should add, given the fate of so many TV evangelists, of any sexual improprieties.

Billy Graham left a legacy of changed lives, we ought to remember. After reviewing the film Unbroken I read a biography of its WW 2 POW hero Louis Zamperini from which I learned how he was converted at a Billy Graham rally and subsequently began a long career as an evangelist preaching forgiveness and reconciliation—a career assisted by Graham. Thus, though I still have reservations about Billy Graham, I can join with those who laud his ministry and mourn his loss. The world is richer for his having lived and ministered among us.

12 STRONG: Interview with Spec. Ops Team Leader Mark Nutsch

On the afternoon of January 11 2018 I was privileged to interview by telephone Major Mark D. Nutsch.  A captain in 2001, he was the team leader and commander of ODA 595, one of the first Task Force Dagger combined Special Forces teams sent to Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban terrorist attack on New York City’s Twin Towers. The story of his team’s fantastic adventures is told in the film 12 Strong, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

After exchanging greetings, the following transpired:

Mark: In the film 12 Strong I was portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. In 2001 I was Southern Forces Detachment Commander of the Army’s Green Beret, with the rank of captain.

Ed: The film is based on a book called The Horse Soldiers. Were you interviewed by the author?

Mark: Yes, years ago members of my team, including myself, was interviewed very, very briefly, and the book was published a number of years later and eventually purchased for a film. And it took 5 or 6 years for that film to be developed, and here we are.

Ed: Yes, and I could hardly believe the film, it seemed so much like a novel, the 12 of you accomplishing so much in such a short time.

Mark: I’ll tell you, we were so inspired by the first responders. Most of America was watching the smoking pile of rubble in New York or that hole in the Pentagon or that field in Pennsylvania. We had in a very short time. By the 15th of September our team was alerted for a mission and in final preparations to deploy, knowing our mission was going to unfold in Afghanistan. Didn’t fully know the details yet. But by seeing the TV and seeing the first responders and what America was doing, rallying around them at those tragic locations where 3000 of our American citizens and international citizens were murdered, we were honored to be on the first team to be sent into Afghanistan.

Ed: It’s good to know that. How did it feel to see yourself in the film portrayed by an actor?

Mark: Well, my 2 daughters and 2 sons take a little humor in the fact that Chris Hemsworth is portraying their dad. I don’t think they fully grasp or realize yet what the mission entailed, the sacrifices and the commitment that our entire team had throughout the duration of that extended mission—that mission was several months long. It wasn’t just one of these fly in on helicopters, step off for a few hours, you know, and get up close and personal in discussions with the enemy, and get on the helicopter and be home for breakfast. We were living it day in and day out, 24-7 in that situation, just pushing each other and pushing ourselves. My resilience to bounce back in time, we learned lessons we took some lumps, no doubt.

Chris Hemsworth as Capt. Nutsch. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ed: In the film there was a deadline set while you were being briefed?

Mark: Yeah, we—the Command actually didn’t set the deadline. They didn’t expect us honestly to survive the mission. They expected us to winter in the mountains with our local partner force, build that army in capability, and come down out of the mountains in the spring, and help our U.S. military conventional forces, the Army and the Marines, that would try and come in, because it was going to take them months to build up the force that they needed. Our local allies, Gen. Dostum and others from three different ethnic factions that had been utterly brutalized by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they didn’t want to wait either. None of us wanted to hole-up in the mountains past the winter. We did it within 21 days–we had liberated the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the surrounding six northern provinces of Afghanistan.

Ed: That was incredible. Were you really as confident as Chris Hemsworth said, “Well get it done before that time, and we’ll all come back”?

Mark: No, because as I said, the Command was not imposing that time-line on us. We were confident. We were confident that our team was the one to send. Very much the spirit of our team was, “Send me. Send us. We’re the team that is trained, mature, ready. We’ve been working so closely together that we are the right team to put into this unknown situation. Let us figure it out…

Hal Spencer was the pseudonym of the character portrayed by Michael Shannon. Some Special Forces teams do get ready for a mission, they have to go into an isolation that cuts them off from any distractions, and then they plan the mission. And they brief the Command on what they feel is the best course of action to that meeting. Once we briefed our plan, the task force commander, looked at it and said, “Hey, that’s a pretty good plan,” because really nothing was happening, there was not very much information out there. So, we thought we put together the best plan going.

You asked something earlier about confidence, and here’s how the confidence resonated throughout the team. One of the questions that was asked, “Can you make it to Mazar-e-Sharif in a good time frame?” And we told him, “Well, we’ll give it our best shot.  If we don’t, the storms that come in will push us up into the mountains, but we will continue to fight from the mountains, and we will conduct ambushes, raids, everything we need to whip up the Northern Alliance forces, advising and training them in those types of operations. The last question asked of me was by Col. H. He said, “That will work, and what do you think you will gain from that?” And I told him flat out, “Well win! We’ll win,” so we had the confidence going in.

(The press agent announced we had just a brief time left—and unknown to me I was also at the end of the cassette recording tape, so the following is what I can remember from Major Nutsch’s answers to my last questions.)

To my query about the his experience with Muslims, of the people being more than the stereotypical one held by some Americans, he replied that some Muslims did, of course, have a distorted form of the faith that led them to do terrible things. But that was not the way the people he dealt with were. He visited in the homes of many while deployed in the country and found them warm and hospitable. He has maintained contact with some, including Gen. Dostum, who now is Vice President of the country. The Major has done more than staying in contact with people in Afghanistan; he and his wife Amy have been supporting rural development and educational projects in the country as well. Our all too brief time concluded with my thanking him for his service to our country and the honor of talking directly with him.

Mark Nutsch himself has appeared in a documentary film, Greg Barker’s Legion of Brothers that was featured at the 2017 Sun Dance Film Festival and broadcast on CNN in October. It tells the story of Mark’s group in northern Afghanistan in October 2001 and a second group that infiltrated the southern part of the country. His bio sheet states,”Nutsch is now a research analyst for the Instiute and a reservist in special operations, working on aerial intelligence surveillance and emerging field technologies. He provides analytical support on Syria and the ISIS network. During his service he earned Bronze Stars and was awarded a Purple Heart.

An Artist for MLK Day

This morning I just discovered the marvelous works of artist Brian Washington, which made me aware again of how little I know. His works are in the collections of several museums and famous people. Mr. Washington is an African American lawyer by profession, but a fine artist by avocation. Working in charcoal, he has created a series of works on the rise of blacks from sharecropping to freedom fighters. In all of them he has captured their patience and dignity as they rise above their current circumstances.

You can see his works at

I especially urge you to click onto the Interactive Tour bar because it includes his comments on each picture and its background. This Tour is a great way to celebrate MLK Day, or to honor on any day, the brave women and men who pushed this country closer to Dr. King’s great Dream.

Now in his mid 30s and fighting a disease, here is a work he created when he was just 17!


“Hurting a Nation” is this young man’s comment on how Liberty is crucified by those racists who persist in persecuting blacks. His collection called “The Continual Struggle” begins with share croppers and moves on the scenes of the brave women and men fighting for freedom and equality in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these pictures brought to my mind memories of the brave souls I met and worked with when I participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. Treat yourself to an inspiring experience by seeing this wonderful art collection.

Five Good Films For MLK Holiday

Whether for personal or group viewing, below are some excellent films available in video that honor this great prophet for America. To read my reviews, click onto a title.



I start with this wonderful film because it is so little know, despite its two major stars, Whoopi Goldberg & Susie Spacek–and also because I will be leading a screening of it at the church I attend in Bellbrook, OH. The film chronicles the fateful impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott on a black and a white family. Thus, it is a film about the foot soldiers rather than the General in the war on Jim Crow. Odessa is a household servant who must walk across town during the boycott because none of the black drivers go that far to the white side of town. Her employer Miriam is a dutiful housewife whose husband has just joined the White Citizen’s Council. She is upset at first by Miriam’s frequent tardiness. Then as she gets to know her servant better, she begins to understand and sympathize, and…




This TV drama covers Dr. King’s life, from his days as a flashily-dressed seminarian courting Coretta Scott through the bus boycott that catapulted him to fame, through the March on Washington and His “I Have a Dream” speech and the dark days when he was shunned by fellow CR leaders because of his public opposition to the Vietnam War, to his untimely murder in Memphis. The cast is excellent, the chief actors being Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Ossie Davis as, respectively, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Sr.



Much shorter than King, this HBO film focuses upon Dr. King’s days in Montgomery. It also gives notice of the importance of Montgomery’s black women in starting and spreading the word about the boycott after Rosa park’s arrest for refusing to give up her seat.



A contemporary of Dr. King, and like him, devoted to the non-violence espoused by Gandhi, this is the moving story of the leader who brought dignity to oppressed California Latino grape pickers by organizing a nation-wide boycott of table grapes.


gandhiAs with KING, this story of the Grandfather of the nonviolent movements for freedom and justice is for those with lots of time, its running time being over 3 hours, But there are so many good scenes of Gandhi and his followers facing hatred with nonviolence that you will long remember them.

Films for 9/11 Remembrance

Here are several films worth watching during the upcoming 15th Anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers. Click on the title to see my longer reviews.


United 93 (2006)

Rated R. Our content ratings: Violence 0; Language 4 ; Sex/Nudity 5. Running time: 1 hour 51 min.

This film, unfolding in real time, reminds us that there were three planes taken over by terrorists on that horrific—and that passengers and crew, learning of the fate of the two other commandeered planes, bravely decided not to go down without fight.

A&E Cable also produced an account of this event, though Flight 93 was not as well done as this taut tale.


September 11

French producer Alain Brigand asked 11 directors from around the world to make a film exactly 11 minutes, 9 frames, and 1 frame in length. Just 3 take place in this country (New York City), with most showing the reaction to the disaster. Some of the other countries are  Bosnia, Israel, Japan, Iran, Burkino Faso—United Kingdom’s Ken Loach’s film is perhaps the most interesting and biting.


World Trade Center (2006)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2 ; Language 3 ; Sex/Nudity-1; Running time: 2 hours 5 min.

An unusually restrained Oliver Stone directs Nicholas Cage and a number of others in this story of one of firemen, office workers, Marines, and police officers—and their families—all caught up in the tragedy of the twin towers


Post 9/11

Land of Plenty (2004)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language1; Sex/Nudity 3 . Running time: 2 hours 9 min.

The marvelous German director (Wings of Desire, one of the truly great spiritual films!) explores the sad and almost paranoid atmosphere of America the year after 9/11. The daughter of a missionary returns home from Africa to deliver in person a letter to her uncle. The adults had been estranged from one another because he has been gug-ho for the Vietnam War. Now mentally and emotionally damaged by it, he spends all of his time, money and energy patrolling the streets of Los Angeles, his mission to spot any “rag head” intent on attacking his city. I specially love this film because of its very positive image of the church and its ethic of love.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Rated PG-13. Our content ratings: Violence 2; Language1; Sex/Nudity 3 . Running time: 2 hours 9 min.

A precocious nine-year-old boy, haunted by the fact that he did not pick up the telephone when his father called home while trapped in one of the towers, develops a tense relationship with his mother. A year later he goes on a scavenger hunt similar to the trips around the burroughs of the city once conducted by father. Now he is trying to find out what lock fits the key that he found in his fathers belongings.


The Power of Forgiveness (2008)

Unrated documentary. Running time: 1 hour 18 min

Among the many powerful episodes of this riveting documentary in which noted fimmaker Martin Doblmeir explores “forgiveness from every conceivable aspect is the story of a few relatives of victims who want to create a “Garden of Forgiveness” at Ground Zero, based on one in Lebanon run by a peace activist who is trying to bring Muslims and Jews together (there is also an episode on this).

Twin Towers Cameos (2011)

Filmmaker Dan Meth’s almost 8-minute film shows how the Twin Towers appeared in so many films, from comedies to crime thrillers to romances, fantasy and science fiction. The dozens of brief clips films include King Kong (remake), Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Manhattan, Bonfire of the Vanities, Ghostbusters 2, Escape From New York, Staying Alive—all set to the mournful song by Kansas “Dust in the Wind” plus one other song. The last half might be too much for some because it includes so many clips of the planes smashing into the towers and their eventual collapse. If so, you could stop at the half-way mark, or else watch virtually the same first half of the film that comes on after this, this 4+ minute film called New York’s Twin Towers.


New York’s Twin Towers is still another of the many short films on YouTube.

ENTERTAING ANGELS: The Dorothy Day Story


It’s Saturday evening, Aug. 27, and I’m putting the finishing touches on tomorrow’s sermon. (Filling in out at the Eaton Ohio Presbyterian Church.) At the beginning of the week I was delighted to find that the Common Lectionary’s Epistle Lesson for this week is Hebrews 13:1-8. This section has the line that gives its name to one of my favorite films, ENTERTAINING ANGELS: The Dorothy Day Story. You need not guess what film I will be bringing into the sermon.


Ordinarily I would write a blog about this, but then while Googling the title I found that both my review of the film and the discussion guide I wrote for Paulist Press are available on line.

The review is at  In addition to the film review there are reviews of two books, Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness and  FRITZ EICHENBERG:  WORKS OF MERCY, a book that includes many of the woodcuts by the artist who worked with Ms. Day.

I had forgotten about writing the guide for Paulist Press, the Paulist Brothers publishing house aligned with Paulist Films, producer of the film. It has 21 discussion questions and a list of books related to her. If you have not used this film with a group, I would urge you to do so, especially if you are involved with peacemaking and other social justice issues.


Book Review: Hollywood Epics

“Camp Spectacle and Queer Style from the Silent Era to the Modern Day”

By Richard Lindsay. Praeger. 2015

Reprinted from the July 2016 issue of Visual Parables.


The subtitle immediately puts the potential reader on notice that this book is not just another survey of Hollywood’s attack on, uh, adaptation of, the Bible for the silver screen. Its author, Dr. Richard Lindsay *, has taken his Ph.D. thesis and transposed it into a very readable text that will lead you to view those old Hollywood epics in a new light. Richard is a member of the LBGT community, so under his guidance I received intriguing insights into films that I thought I knew thoroughly, but really did not. We really do “have eyes that see, but do not perceive,” in this case due to the limitations of our gender preference.

The author covers the films of Cecil B. DeMille—his 1927 King of Kings; The S ign of the Cross; Samson and Delilah; and The Ten Commandments—in great detail, pointing out the director’s ability to mix sex, violence and religion, as well as to convince famous religious leaders to endorse his works. This potent brew draw large audiences, who could enjoy the onscreen debaucheries and violence but never feel guilty because God and the good guys won in the end, even if that end was martyrdom.. Other films that receive their due include Ben Hur; Quo Vadis?; the Robe; Jesus of Montreal; and of course, The Passion of the Christ, as well as the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ: Superstar.

One of his observations that is especially intriguing is that it is the film version of a Bible story that becomes for many people “Scripture,” even long time church members believing some of the non-Biblical content of a film came from the Bible. That members of the gay community view the spectacles as camp also is of interest, he even using “beefcake” to describe many of the Hollywood stars playing Bible heroes. (In his helpful Index “Beefcake” is one of many intriguing entries, along with “Femme Fatale,” “Kinsey Report,” “Physique Pictorial,” “Queer,” and “Sex Crime Panic.”

Richard is serious about his subject, but still injects some welcome humor into his observations of the homoerotic scenes of so many of the films. The book might have started out as a doctoral thesis, but it is highly readable. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the first reviewer on has written, “Way too much academic jargon, reads like a Queer Theory thesis. Some interesting insights, but probably not for the general reader.” Don’t be put off by this. If he means by the latter a reader of Marvel Comics, he might be right—there are some big words in some of the sentences—but for those of you who have been willing to read through an issue of VP, there will be no real problem.

The 193+ pages (includes lots of End Notes as well as a long Introduction) and numerous photographs are packed with helpful information for anyone planning on showing a Biblical epic. Equipped with the information and insights of the book, you should be able to lead a memorable discussion afterwards. Published by Praeger, a scholarly and professional book company, the book is more expensive than one from a church press. Thus you should consider a purchase as a long-term investment, one that will pay dividends every time you go back to it when showing one of the films explored in its pages. If price is a big problem, then consider going in with a colleague to purchase it. At least, go to where you can read a small portion of the book. I think you will be hooked.


*I must disclose that Richard is a friend I met when I began attending Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Northern KY back in 2001. His parents are active elders in the church there, his mother having served as moderator of the Presbytery of Cincinnati. Both they and the church have stood by Richard as he has struggled the past few years over what to do about a denomination in which he could not be ordained because of his gender. I have looked forward to each Christmas when he and his equally film-loving brother Rob return home so that we can get together over a long brunch to share our experience with films since we last met. I am delighted that his keen cinematic and theological insights are now available to the public.