The Rev. Billy Graham worked hard to avoid political questions, at least in public.
But there was one fact about his life that, for decades, he didn't hide. Graham was a registered Democrat.
In other words, the world's most famous evangelist grew up in the old South, pre-Roe vs. Wade, and he didn't grow up rich. Thus, he was a Southern Democrat. Most evangelicals were. Culturally conservative Democrats didn't become an endangered species until quite late in Billy Graham's adult life.
I thought of that fact the day Graham died. I sat down early that morning with an "On Religion" column already finished. All I had left to do was a quick edit and then ship it in. But first, I opened Twitter and there was the news that many religion writers had been expecting for years.
I knew what I was going to write when Graham died, as a sidebar to the major coverage across mainstream media. But I hadn't written it. Thus, I was on a hard deadline for the first time in many years. That column focused on Graham's sermon at civic memorial service for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (click here to read it).
It was hard not to think about the current state of American politics, and evangelicalism, while writing that column.
But what about the column that I had already written? It ran this week and, amazingly enough, it focuses on some very similar themes -- looking back to the crucial years when the Democratic Party began cutting it's ties to traditional religious groups.
The key figure in this column was Jeffrey Bell, a political strategist who died on Feb. 10. Bell was a Republican, but he also was known for his work to create a presidential campaign for the late Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, an old-school Catholic Democrat who was also vocally pro-life and pro-religious liberty.
Why did Bell think that conservative evangelicals and Catholics needed the option of backing a Democrat? That question is at the heart of this "think piece" collection for this weekend.