singing 'bout satan
Look out your window, baby, there’s a scene you’d like to catch
The band is playing “Dixie,” a man got his hand outstretched
Could be the fuhrer
Could be the local priest
You know sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
“Man of Peace” Bob Dylan, 1983
Saturday, August 12, 2017. Another lazy, muggy morning in Northeast Georgia. On my way back to Atlanta. A Chevrolet pick-up, vintage mid ’70s, just ahead, is plodding along even slower than my car. As I pass the truck, I can’t help but read a sticker stretching across the back of the cab. In all caps, the sticker proclaims, “JESUS PAID THE PRICE.” The driver expresses his gratitude to a loving Jesus Christ, but on the truck’s rear window are two Confederate flag stickers. Really, that’s no surprise in rural Georgia. Many in the hinterlands of Georgia wear their religion on their sleeves. The same goes for their political and social views, hateful and incompatible with the words of the Man who paid the price.
80% of the voters in the congressional district along that stretch of 365 voted for Donald Trump in November 2016. The remaining 20% there must shiver and quake, or at least keep their political opinions to themselves, just as part-time residents like I do, unless kindred souls are around. Besides, I go up there to do the chores, push a mower across an acre or two, and when finished, enjoy the quiet, with Hank Williams singing his lonesome blues on the CD player inside. Just rock to the music on the porch; don’t rock the boat.
Arriving back home, where our local precinct went for Hillary Clinton by numbers approaching 90%, I stop in front of the TV with the ubiquitous CNN on, bringing news of violence at a White Nationalists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counter-protesters showed up to shout down the racists. Charlottesville, like my community, is a liberal enclave, where voters chose Clinton by a wide margin. And so Charlottesville is invaded by riffraff with their Confederate and Nazi flags, spewing hatred and getting physical with those who say this sort of behavior isn’t welcome here. But they would hear nothing like that. Scout Finch wouldn’t be able to shame these 21st Century Bob Ewells. Instead, it’s America that’s shamed.
Already the United States of America had just gone through its most tense week since 9/11. The President of the United States, the aforementioned Donald Trump, had spent the past several days sabre-rattling, shaking up the world with his talk of nuclear war with North Korea. Trump, who never recovered from a severe case of arrested development before entering grade school, was stepping across the line that former presidents would never approach, at least not publicly. But the days are different now. Trump makes them so. Like the rabble gathered in Charlottesville, 62,984,825 U.S. citizens, so distressed by eight years of the nation’s first black president, decided they must take their country back. As if this was Romania in the early ’90s. The hard-core Trumpers want to take their country back alright, way back to the 1850s, when the Barack Obamas of the world were kept in their place, shackled and chained when necessary.
Could Be The Fuhrer … With his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Trump was widely thought to be harking back to the 1950s, not one hundred years prior, when James Buchanan was president. The shackles and chains of the 1950s were the Jim Crow laws, which were coming to an end, but still there was enough legally-enforced segregation for many Trumpers to look at that decade as America’s last golden age. Trump didn’t have to say it, his messages and the company he kept more than implied it. Always the salesman, he could persuade moderate Republicans (known to exist here and there) he wanted to be president for all Americans. Never mind such company as Steve Bannon, friend to hate-mongers. As with Satan in Bob Dylan’s song, “Man of Peace,” Trump’s “got a sweet gift of gab” and “a harmonious tongue.” He knows “every song of love that ever has been sung.” Or at least Trump thinks he does.
Written in 1983, the same year Trump Tower opened in Midtown Manhattan, “Man of Peace” has Satan swaggering through your door. He lays on the BS, with compliments and accolades flowing freely. If he thinks your cause is worthy of his support; he’ll write out a check here and now. Dylan’s Satan is endowed with all the blustering characteristics easily associated with Trump.
He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed
He’ll put both his arms around you
You can feel the tender touch of the beast
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
Though “Man of Peace” wasn’t included in Dylan’s trilogy of Christian albums, its imagery is straight from the New Testament. In verses 13 and 14, chapter 11 of Second Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is bemoaning — some 2000 years before televangelism — those who exploit the Gospel for their own material gain.
(13) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
(14)And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
The false apostles of the modern age, namely televangelists, exploit their followers, begging for money to maintain their lives of luxury. Historically, the TV con-artists hawking the “prosperity gospel” and other perversions of the Christian message have gained their largest following in the 15 so-called Sun Belt states, 13 of which went for Trump. Desperate viewers are desperate voters. And as Stephen Stills wrote, though with a different scenario in mind, “Paranoia runs deep, into your life it will creep.” Paranoid and resentful, millions of Americans, thinking they’ve lost their shot at the American dream due to the advancement of minorities and a more liberal social order, believed they could make America great again. That’ll show those college-educated seculars. So they vote for an ill-tempered lout whose personal behavior exceeds the worst examples they ever heard about in Sunday School. Many of them, supposedly committed to the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity, are also the ones most devoted to President Trump. They ignore the 5th chapter of Matthew and other parts of the four Gospels in which Christ made plain his love for humanity.
The Fundamentalists rally behind Trump’s hateful remarks about Mexicans who come to work in this country. They cheer on his administration’s moves to weaken environmental regulations which protect the air and water, all part of the world they believe God created in six days. Just as they sacrifice their hard-earned money for cheats like Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen, they set their brains free for Donald Trump. And they think Trump gives them their money’s worth even if they realize Trump’s lifestyle more resembles the late Hugh Hefner’s than their own. But that doesn’t matter. Just like Satan, Trump knows just where to touch them. Trump knows full well many exurban and rural church-goers are uncomfortable socializing with black Americans, sending their kids to school with black kids and, much less, supporting a health care law that supports black people too. Face it, a vast amount of support for Trump is rooted in prejudice toward African-Americans. Trump’s presidency, as was his campaign, is a hate-thy-neighbor enterprise. He knows they understand why David Duke, formerly a KKK Imperial Wizard, and still an extreme white nationalist, supports him.
I Can Smell Something Cooking … Yet the notion of some Christians proclaiming a love-centered faith while supporting a political movement attracting Neo-Nazis and Klansmen ultimately offends leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a denomination founded for the convenience of slaveholders. Over the last quarter century, Southern Baptist leaders have at last gained a sense of decency regarding race relations. The SBC was compelled to speak out on what was happening in the homeland. At their annual meeting in Phoenix June 2017, wording for a resolution condemning white supremacy and the alt-right was proffered by Dwight McKissick, a Texas pastor who happens to be black. McKissick’s verbiage was tough, but right on the money:
“there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classicism, and ethnic cleansing.”
McKissick’s resolution went on to denounce the “toxic menace” that is white nationalism, the alt-right and their “totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples.” It all sounded reasonable enough but it had to get through a committee hesitant to offend any Southern Baptists who might share the alt-right’s worldview. After all, 81% of white evangelicals, a good share of them Southern Baptists, voted for Trump. Not wanting to create a schism within the Church, especially among politically conservative white members, the resolution failed to get through the committee. Those white conservatives didn’t want their church knocking even the most vile Trumpers — and besides, the denomination, in their opinion, had done enough placating to the liberal crowd. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) finally apologized for its advocacy of slavery (remorse coming a century and a half too late). Then in 2015, the SBC called for racial reconciliation, and the next year called on “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters.”
Perhaps the words solidarity and reconciliation weighed heavily on the hearts of many SBC leaders and church messengers as they gave more thought to McKissick’s resolution against white supremacy. So later the same day, the resolution was reconsidered and affirmed by the committee. Approval by the SBC, unanimous even, came the next day.
The Tender Touch Of The Beast … Even while SBC members can feel proud of what would have been truly courageous — or in some Baptist circles as truly blasphemous — three and four decades earlier, they still have renegade reverends like Franklin Graham, hustling the Word in his Man of Peace disguise. All the while, Graham blames Satan for the confusion he himself creates. Consider the explanation of Trump’s election victory he offered to Emma Green of The Atlantic:
“He did everything wrong, politically,” Graham told me. “He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that.” Now, there’s “no question” that God is supporting Trump, Graham said. “No president in my lifetime — I’m 64 years old — can I remember … speaking about God as much as Donald Trump does.”
So there you have it, Franklin Graham knows that God supports the Trump administration. Did God tell him that or did Trump tell Graham of a conversation he had with God? Whatever, knowing that God is on Trump’s side, Graham, on August 13, 2017, posted a defense of Trump on Facebook, without mentioning the death of Heather Heyer, run down by a white supremacist at the Charlottesville protest. Why grieve for an innocent woman when Trump’s legacy is at risk? And Franklin vented even more:
“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in Charlottesville, VA. That’s absurd. What about the politicians such as the city council who voted to remove a memorial that had been in place since 1924, regardless of the possible repercussions? How about the city politicians who issued the permit for the lawful demonstration to defend the statue? And why didn’t the mayor or the governor see that a powder keg was about to explode and stop it before it got started? Instead they want to blame President Donald Trump for everything. Really, this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred. He’s the enemy of peace and unity. I denounce bigotry and racism of every form, be it black, white or any other. My prayer is that our nation will come together. We are stronger together, and our answers lie in turning to God. It was good to hear that several Virginia and Charlottesville leaders attended church today at Mt. Zion. CNN said, The racial divides that fueled Saturday’s violence were replaced by unity Sunday…’ Continue to pray for peace and for all those impacted by Saturday’s tragedies.”
Graham puts the blame on Satan, but comes to the defense of President Trump, whose verbal tirades seem influenced by the Man of Peace. Guided by hubris, Graham conveniently overlooks the entanglements his father, the great evangelist Billy Graham, created by getting too cozy with President Nixon, especially in the wake of Watergate. Basking in the glow as friend and adviser in the Oval Office, he wallowed in Nixonian depths, hooked by the president’s obsession over Jewish domination of the media. The reverend jumped right in, telling Nixon, “This stranglehold’s got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” Graham went from Nixon’s spiritual adviser and friend to sycophant, allowing the president to vent his paranoia and bigotry. Serving Nixon proved a disservice to Graham’s ministry and to his own image, so carefully crafted. The fallout from the Graham-Nixon relationship would last for decades, peaking in 2002 when the Nixon White House tape of his shameful comments was released by the National Archives.
Stung by Watergate and sordid revelations of Nixon’s character, Billy finally learned his lesson and from then on served as “Pastor to the Presidents” more privately. The humble approach better served his ministry. But a new wave of Bible-thumping, politically-minded, and acquisitive preachers, like the televangelists, took a different approach. Humility was for losers. They would serve the Lord wearing the finest clothes and jewelry while driving their luxurious cars to and from their sprawling homes. They’d connect with their followers by offering a dash of Jesus, some right-wing politics, and a story of starving souls in Third World countries that viewers could help by sending contributions to their TV ministries.
As Dylan points out:
Good intentions can be evil
Both hands can be full of grease
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace
Franklin Graham works the good-intentions circuit. In the mid-70s, he joined the world relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. Founded by Bob Pierce, who also founded World Vision in 1950, Samaritan’s Purse has done laudable work providing humanitarian aid to people in over 100 countries. In 2017, they did yeoman work in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean after the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. As the organization’s website declares, “Whether in the United States or abroad, we come alongside hurting people to bring emergency relief and practical help in the Name of Jesus Christ.” Nothing wrong with that. But Franklin Graham, who as president and C.E.O. of Samaritan’s Purse since 1979, has not only “come alongside hurting people,” he’s also made time to hurt people. People like the members of the Islamic faith. In 2010, he was quoted in Time magazine as calling Islam “a religion of hatred. It’s a religion of war.” The next year, in comments to CNN‘s John King, he seemed to cast doubts on President Barack Obama’s Christian faith: “Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed, and he has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That’s what he says he has done. So I just have to believe the president is what he has said.”
Playing to the Psycho-Baptist wing of American Evangelicalism, Graham knows his audience well. They’re the type of people who root against the Trapp Family when watching The Sound of Music. Graham, so unlike his father, who worked to build bridges with those of other faiths, attacks the other — whatever the other may be at the time, like Hinduism. He wows the Psycho-Baptists, observing that “no elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.”
There’s Going To Be A Feast … Graham is certain of his salvation and he’s certain of colossal paydays. As CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, his earnings from 2009 through 2013 totaled $2,599,658.00. As CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), his other full-time gig, his earnings from the same period exceeded $500,000.00. There was also another $97,000.00 he made with BGEA and related organizations. Nice work if you can get it. That is if you can get away with convincing two major employers you’re a fully-engaged full-time CEO. The Charlotte Observer reported Graham’s 2013 compensation from Samaritan’s Purse alone made him the highest-paid CEO of any international relief agency based in the U.S. The Observer went on to report Graham made more with Samaritan’s Purse in the fiscal year ending in June 2014 than the $597,000 earned by Gail McGovern, CEO of the American Red Cross, even though its budget was seven times larger than Samaritan’s Purse’s.
While preaching for the BGEA, Franklin Graham appears genuine as he describes the suffering of those living in poverty-stricken countries. Obviously, he’s moved by the starvation and lack of hope. That’s to his credit. He decries the human-trafficking and its attendant exploitation by rich businessmen, but to retain the interest and cash donations of his fawning fundamentalists, he delivers fire and brimstone against secularism in the USA. Graham and his bitter zealots long for the days in which Christians could dominate public school classrooms: Make the kid participate in prayer and Bible study or send him out in the hall with the other heathens. Secularism and Communism are the same thing,” Graham bellows from the pulpit, setting aside his TV anchorman bearing as he calls on Christians to become politically-involved.
The Psycho-Baptists, dreaming the United States will become a theocracy, abandon the spirit of love and mercy Jesus shared in his three-year ministry some 2,000 years ago. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”* is so old hat when it’s deemed imperative to keep Muslims out of the country. Or when putting the clamp down on Mexicans and Central Americans, be they striving to work on America’s farms, or children escaping violence in their own nations. They disregard Jesus’s admonition that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”** The Psycho-Baptists instead support taking their guns to church and stockpiling the ammo. They shuck off their vestiges of decency in public discourse and social interaction to support a presidential candidate whose meetings with women could easily turn into a fondling festival. That candidate becomes president and their support of one Donald Trump calls for embracing lies while easily forgetting “the truth shall set you free.”***
The debauchery Travis Bickle lamented in Taxi Driver is a Sunday School picnic compared to the low ebb that Trump, Graham and the Psycho-Baptists have delivered to our country.
The seventh verse of “Man of Peace” captures the fear, the loathing, and the downright insecurities of the Trump era:
Well, the howling wolf will howl tonight, the king snake will crawl,
Trees that stood for a thousand years suddenly will fall.
Wanna get married? Do it now.
Tomorrow all activity will cease
You know, that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
With guitarists Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor joining in, “Man of Peace” swings. It’s a straight-ahead, mid-tempo rocker that keeps chugging along. “Man of Peace” was the first studio recording by Dylan to feature four instrumental breaks. Knopfler takes a guitar solo, Taylor takes a couple, then Dylan comes in with a harmonica solo. One comes away from listening to the song noting that Dylan’s message is serious but that doesn’t keep him from making the music lively and entertaining. After all, Dylan says Satan is in the background first and “then he’s in the front,” with “both eyes looking like they’re on a rabbit hunt.” So you better stay lively.
The Man of Peace is far slicker than any televangelist and most convincing to those who want their own biases confirmed. That’s where a guy like Franklin Graham slips in, as with his support of defeated Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore, an alleged child-molester. The Roy Moore who scouted young talent in shopping malls when he was in his 30s. Think of Jethro Bodine stalking the Brady Bunch girls. It’s the same Roy Moore who voiced support for a constitutional amendment voiding constitutional amendments 11 through 27. That would mean no voting rights for women, black Americans, or citizens of 18 years old. And oh yes, Moore’s constitutional designs could legally entail the return of slavery. The pistol-packin’ “Ayatollah of Alabama” argues that God is the “sovereign source of our law.” But that’s all Ten Commandments law; forget the Beatitudes. One would think this might concern the son of Billy Graham, but no…..
Franklin Graham also looks askance at even the slightest type of gun control laws, such as keeping it difficult to purchase silencers. That — in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. Or, as covered earlier, when he showed his support for the policies of President Trump after the violence in Charlottesville, even as the alt-right’s enmity and violence that invaded the town walked hand-in-hand with the Trump philosophy.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Derek Penwell called Franklin Graham “the worst thing to happen to God in a while.” No kidding. Graham, by association, has God’s Son on the side of gun-totin’ bigots who revere Jefferson Davis and accept even the most ludicrous lies about Barack Obama. Satan can take it easy for awhile. The Man of Peace is getting plenty of help from Franklin Graham.