d r a f t

Nixon at Billy Graham Crusade, UT-Knoxville, 1970 (Wikimedia Commons)

“[Roger Williams] described the true church as a magnificent garden, unsullied and pure, resonant of Eden. The world he described as “the Wilderness,” a word with personal resonance for him. Then he used for the first time a phrase he would use again, a phrase that although not commonly attributed to him has echoed through American history. “[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world,” he warned, “God hathe ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, &c. and made his Garden a Wildernesse.”

He was saying that mixing church and state corrupted the church, that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics.” — John M. Barry, “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea,”Smithsonian, January 2012.

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A number of the protesters carried signs that read “THOU SHALT NOT KILL.” Knoxville police confiscated many of the signs. 

Billy Graham introduced President Nixon, calling the recent invasion of Cambodia “a courageous act,” and the overwhelming majority of the crowd gave him a warm and prolonged ovation. But many of the protesters chanted “Peace!” Others simply stood in silence. The crowd booed the protesters and Ethel Waters lectured them. 

The evening ended with an altar call as hundreds walked to the end zone as the choir sang the hymn “Just As I Am,” to accept Dr. Graham’s invitation to make a profession of faith. 

The president flew back to Washington D.C. on Air Force One. The protesters quietly left the stadium. 

In the days that followed, 47 of the protesters were served with warrants charging them with either disorderly conduct or disrupting a religious service, a rarely prosecuted misdemeanor under Tennessee law. Knoxville police had taken photographs of the protesters and then somehow identified them leading to the arrests. 

Bill Haltom, “The crusade: When Billy Graham brought Richard Nixon to Knoxville,” The Tennessean, Nashville, June 2, 2020 https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2020/06/02/when-billy-graham-brought-richard-nixon-knoxville/5312372002/.

[Revised and uplinked, Sept. 10, 2022]

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