Billy Graham Library, A Mechanical Cow, and what unintentional prejudice looks like

Army, Chaplaincy, Two Pastor Family

Facepalm.

It was a total facepalm moment.

There I was, staring at the silly mechanical talking cow that was introducing me to the farming history of Billy Graham. It was a protestant chaplain field trip to the Billy Graham Museum, Charlotte NC. The opening exhibit is a full size talking cow that praises God and Billy Graham. Its four minutes of “halleluah-indnt-God-great-praise-Jesus-this-is-where-Billy-was-born” talk.

In the best stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” black woman voice I’ve heard… ever…

It’s the only distinctively black voice in the entire museum. The only one. Every other voice I heard was distinctively Caucasian. Mostly, who you hear speak are narrators and Billy Graham but they are all serious and they are all white.

The only levity in the whole place is the silly praising talking cow, in the barn, behind the fence. It’s meant to be funny, bring a smile, and appeal to the kiddos.

And it’s the only black voice.

In 2014.

Celebrating a man who worked diligently (at least that is certainly what the museum said in its various exhibits) at working toward reconciliation and bringing diversity to the world.

For what it’s worth, I seek to understand Billy Graham in the world in which he was raised, I give him great credit as a person who worked for and actually achieved reconciliation and diversity across the American religious landscape.

It’s what makes the decision to make the only person of color voice the silly, talking cow even worse.

And then there was the prayer.

Before we went in, an older man who works for the library wanted to pray for the large group of Army chaplains who was about the tour the museum. In his prayer, he passionately prayed for male chaplains who bring the gospel to male Soldiers. I know he didn’t mean to exclude the female chaplain who was there, I’m certain that he didn’t intend to exclude all the female Soldiers in the US Army – but he did.

This is why we, as Christians and certainly as chaplains have GOT to be more intentional about inclusive language. We need to name everyone.

I’m certain that the library didn’t intend to be prejudicial when they chose the black voice for the talking cow, I’m sure that when they respond to the letter I’m sending them, that they’ll talk about Billy’s dedication to diversity and reconciliation.

It just highlights how blind we white men tend to be when it comes to minorities. We are just unaware of who we leave out and what prejudice looks like.

We’re better than this.

One thought on “Billy Graham Library, A Mechanical Cow, and what unintentional prejudice looks like

  1. Yes We Are Better That: Chaplain Jonathan Fisher, Thank you for your direct and compassionate response to the awkward moments only our faith group tradition on unfortunate display could provide. Besides wishing the tour kick-off cow in the barn exhibit had a Chick-fil-A sign on it, just to make it seem like it had nothing to do with the Library experience, I found myself weakly trying to explain to my Chaplain Brother from Ghana, the American culture’s affinity for the warm hearty African American Female Voice. I was left wanting for an explanation of why that voice was matched with the cow. When there is no defense we are better off not attempting to provide one. The opportunity the museum guide provided that he was unaware of in his non-inclusivity, was the opportunity for my chaplain brothers to enthusiastically counter –and which many graciously and immediately did. Your thoughtful reflection here is an exclamation mark to those collective actions and reinforces my belief –We Will Be Better Than That!

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