In a MeToo world where our leaders routinely betray and disappoint the trust given them — Billy Graham stood apart.
The friendships he formed in the early days of his ministry became lifelong relationships.
Long before Pence made headlines for not being alone with a woman besides his wife, that was a standard ministry practice of Billy Graham’s. And it served him well.
He was a man of singular purpose. To tell everyone, everywhere, about the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He was intentional in remaining non-partisan. He wanted to avoid any artificial barriers that would keep an audience from hearing the one message he cared about bringing to people of ‘every tribe and tongue and nation’.
And in that, he was very effective. That gave him access to audiences no preacher may have otherwise have been able to reach.
Graham’s reach was staggering. He preached to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, according to figures compiled by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn., and was heard and seen by hundreds of millions more through television and radio, newspaper columns and the Internet. Graham wrote more than two dozen books, including a 1997 bestselling autobiography, “Just As I Am.” He counseled nearly every American president since Harry Truman, most recently meeting and praying with Barack Obama.
Before the Cold War ended, he talked his way behind the Iron Curtain to preach to millions throughout the communist world.
“From an almost hardscrabble early life in North Carolina, the precincts of small Bible colleges and Los Angeles tent revivals, he has come to be, with the pope, one of the two best-known figures in the Christian world,” said Martin E. Marty, a Lutheran pastor and divinity scholar.
Billy Graham took the Biblical imperative to be an ambassador of God’s word seriously. From 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5:20,21 (ESV):
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t take controversial stands when his faith called him to do so:
Describing how he met Dr. King during a 1957 Crusade meeting in New York City, Mr. Graham writes in his autobiography, “One night civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom I was pleased to count a friend, gave an eloquent opening prayer at the service; he also came at my invitation to one of our Team retreats during the Crusade to help us understand the racial situation in America more fully.”
Dr. King credited Mr. Graham with having a significant part in reducing the tension between whites and blacks in the South. In 1965, Mr. Graham canceled a tour of Europe to preach a series of Crusades in Alabama, praying that the Gospel would tear down walls of division between the races and seeing the importance of his work alongside Dr. King’s.
Dr. King later said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been.” [emphasis added]
During the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Graham preached: “Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.”
Graham’s relationships with those in the Oval Office often helped him spread his message around the world in places such as South Africa, where he held integrated rallies, in the Soviet Union and in isolated North Korea, as Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy noted in their 2007 book, “The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House.”
“If I had not been a friend of the presidents,” Graham told Gibbs and Duffy, “in most of those places, they wouldn’t have invited me to see them. The reason [Boris] Yeltsin invited me [to Russia in 1992] was because he knew I knew the president.”
Of course, in this polarized world, even a life lived without the barest hint of any scandal, of any sexual indiscretion, of any financial misdeeds, or any other serious scandal can still acquire enemies.
And judging by the vitriol spewed on Twitter, he’s acquired quite a few.
Here is a sampling taken just from Jake Tapper’s Twitter followers.
That’s quite a lot of ignorant hate. And unjustified slander. Especially the racist ones.
One commenter went so far as to say that his bucket list includes taking [an expletive] on Trump’s grave. And now he’ll add Graham’s name to that list.
As someone among the millions living who have had the privilege of hearing him speak, I have a pretty good idea what he would say to his critics.
He would have little concern, if any, for what his critics thought about him personally.
But he would ask them to consider things beyond this present life. To think about what comes after. To realize that we all, each for our own reasons stand guilty before a Holy God, but that same God loves us enough that he sent his only Son, Jesus — the only name under heaven by which men must be saved — to redeem us from our sins, and return us to that relationship with God that our sins have fractured.
Eternal life doesn’t begin the moment our body dies. It begins the moment we first put our Trust in Jesus Christ.
And he would invite us all to come to God ‘Just As I Am’… and take hold of that same eternal life for ourselves.