In 1993 the Billy Graham Crusade came to Columbus, Ohio, for a series of revivals.Churches and others in the community ballyhooed the event, and the establishment media followed along like sheep. Graham was virtually idolized with extensive favorable publicity.
By gushing all over this famous evangelist, the media neglected to do their job of presenting both sides of the story. For the health of the community, they should have told the public about research showing the harms caused by Graham’s message.
Some of the research is discussed in psychiatrist Wendell Watters’ book Deadly Doctrine. A professor emeritus at McMaster University in Ontario, Watters reports that the teachings of Graham and other evangelists can cause significant health problems.
Graham urges people to view themselves as sinners and feel guilty because they deserve eternal punishment in hell. Watters says the development of strong self-esteem, which is essential to mental health, is hindered by telling people they are inherently evil and deserve severe punishment. A lack of adequate self-esteem is at the root of many emotional problems.
Watters gives additional reasons for rejecting Graham’s belief about the inherent depravity of human nature. The belief may lead some to behave in accordance with it. And it can produce a negative attitude toward others. Further, the doctrine is totally inconsistent with modern psychiatry’s view that people must love themselves to be capable of loving others.
Graham also encourages people to turn to the Lord for solutions to mental and emotional problems. In fact, one of the children’s programs at the Columbus crusade parodied Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, as “Sigmund Fraud.”
Watters says this emphasis on seeking other-worldly solutions to psychiatric problems – in place of searching for human solutions – can be harmful. It discourages the development of self-understanding, human-to-human communication skills, and human support groups. All of these promote health, and their absence can contribute to psychological and physical illness.
Graham proclaims there will be a judgment day when not only physical sins but also “sins of the mind” will be revealed. He lists the mental sins as including “jealousies, greed, and lust.”
Watters maintains that teachings about “mental sins” can cause some to live in constant warfare with their own thoughts and emotions. This psychological torment is contrary to psychotherapy’s goals of getting people to accept their feelings as natural, to feel at home with themselves, and to draw a distinction between feelings and actions.
Graham teaches that sexual expression is acceptable only “within the bounds of matrimony.” He thus apparently condemns homosexuality, masturbation, and even sex between an unmarried man and woman who are in a loving and monogamous relationship. Watters echoes many other medical experts by labeling this repressive sexual attitude as a cause of neurosis and sexual dysfunction.
Overall, the scientific evidence reveals a clear correlation between Graham’s teachings and the development of serious health problems. As Watters concludes: “Not to state the case too strongly, indoctrination with the core doctrine and other teachings of the Christian Church constitutes a form of mental and emotional abuse.”
In order for the public to decide intelligently about the doctrines of Graham and other evangelists, the media should report on the research showing the harms those doctrines cause.