Evangelist of Incarceration? Billy Graham as Symbol for the Religious Problem of Mass Incarceration

White, Bryson

This paper looks at Billy Graham as a symbol for a platonized Christianity that gives birth to and maintains the social problem of mass incarceration. I suggest Kelly Brown Douglass’s analytic of platonized Christianity provides a way of seeing Billy Graham as a symbol of this religious tradition. I unpack Billy Graham lying in state in a casket built by inmates as an intersectional symbolic representation of a platonized Christianity (Graham), politics (Capital Building), mass incarceration (casket), and the divinization of whiteness (Apotheosis of George Washington on the ceiling of the Rotunda). I draw upon selected sermonic moments of Graham propagating law and order rhetoric as a criticism of the strategy of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement. I argue Graham’s embrace of law and order politics, helped lay the foundation for the social “solution” of mass incarceration, and his lying in state is a symbol of this legacy.


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Black Theology Papers Project

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August 17, 2022