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Over the last few weeks, Mara Vanderslice and Amy Sullivan and others have drawn needed attention to some more and less subliminal messages coming from the McCain campaign. These TV ads, they explain, seem to target Evangelical Christians in profoundly disturbing ways, using language and imagery that would have a special effect on Evangelicals (especially devotees of “left-behind” eschatology), inspiring anxiety of the most primal spiritual form: fear of the Anti-christ.
My friend Steve Knight saw another similar message making its way virally around the internet, this one appealing to a prime Evangelical icon, Billy Graham, while simultaneously evoking the Anti-christ’s partner in absolute evil: Adolf Hitler. The viral message (complete with the predictable “If you agree this is important, pass it on. The mainstream media will not do it for you!”) was a critique of Barack Obama – in complete harmony with the McCain-approved TV ads. It claimed to be written by “Bill Brown, a highly respected retired member of the Billy Graham team.”
Some skeptical readers assumed that Bill Brown was a fictitious name, but Steve, who also formerly worked for the Billy Graham team, knew that Bill Brown was a real person who had in fact worked for the Graham organization. So Steve took the initiative to contact Brown, a cancer patient who had just been released from the hospital.* Steve contacted Brown by email and a few days later received this response.
From: William Brown
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2008 12:31 AM
To: Steve Knight
Subject: Re: A message from Bill Brown Sr
Steve…I neither wrote the letter or the reference of Billy Graham. Some one else did that, I don’t know who…and the[n] added a reference to Billy Graham. So, please ignore it. Thanks BB
Evangelical Christians have been considered in recent elections to be securely in the pocket of the Republican Party. But Evangelicals are in play in a surprising way this year. Many of us, as members of the Matthew 25 Network, have gone public with our support for Senator Obama. That support does not imply the same kind of naive, uncritical support for Democrats that many of our friends have given Republicans … as a recent dialogue at the Sojourners’ blog made clear.
All of us “people of faith,” whatever our voting plans this year, had better be careful of being manipulated by unscrupulous political operatives who have studied us carefully and are willing to push any button – not just the old abortion and gay marriage buttons, but now even the Anti-christ and Hitler buttons – to instill fear and so secure our vote. What the Apostle Paul wrote in the 1st century – about smooth-talkers who “deceive the minds of naïve people” (Romans 16:17-29) – is no less applicable in the 21st.