How would Billy Graham respond to all the publicity surrounding his death? I suspect he would do what he routinely did – he was, after all, no stranger to publicity. He would ask himself and his team: “How can we use this to further the cause of Jesus Christ?” Not the cause of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The cause of Jesus.
Christianity Today reports that a Scottish minister once made this observation about Graham: “My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own ‘committedness’ to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do.”
The range of Graham’s accomplishments was extraordinary. He was instrumental in launching Campus Crusade for Christ, was a college president for a few years in the forties, helped establish Christianity Today in 1956, was an ambassador for Christ in the Soviet Bloc and visited Russia to preach the gospel before the fall of communism. But he did these various things with a unifying purpose: to tell the world what God has done through Jesus. That was his assignment.
I was listening to Catholic talk radio in the car the day Rev. Graham died. The host, after pointing out dissimilarities between Billy Graham and Catholic teaching, went on to say repeatedly that he loved Billy Graham. He recognized the hand of God in Graham’s life and ministry.
But not everyone loved Billy Graham. When he invited Doctor Martin Luther King to join him on the platform in New York, segregationists were outraged. Civil rights leaders were also angry and accused Graham of being a coward because he did not take part in the marches.
When Graham went to the Soviet Union, he was called a traitor. Students at his own alma mater, Wheaton College, carried placards announcing, “Billy Graham Has Been Duped by the Soviets.” Others, including members of the U.S. State Department, were harsh in their criticism.
When Graham went to London in 1954 for a three-month long crusade, he spoke to more than two million people. Over 40,000 responded to his invitation to “accept Jesus into your heart.” And yet, fundamentalists at home were furious with Graham for working on the crusade with liberal Christians. Many questioned the genuineness of his faith.
The same thing happened when Billy met with Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. He spent two hours with John Paul and before he left the pope grabbed Graham’s lapels, pulled him forward within inches of his face, and said: “Listen, Graham, we are brothers.” That meeting set Graham’s critics raving, but it is hard for me to believe it did not set heaven singing.
Criticism did not stop Graham from fulfilling his assignment, nor did praise. Queen Elizabeth II sought him out. Presidents, from Truman to Obama, met with him. He was awarded a spot on the Gallop Organization’s most admired people more times than any other American. The Ladies Home journal once ranked Graham second in the category of “achievements in religion.” Who was ranked first? God.
But Graham was careful not to let fame keep him from what he had been called to do. Dr. William Shoemaker, who worked closely with the evangelist as the first Director the Graham Center at Wheaton, said that Graham once told him: “If I don’t give all the credit to the Lord, I feel He would remove my effectiveness – just like what happened to Sampson when his hair was cut.”
In the light of his death, many people are praising Graham now, but some are as critical as ever. What would Graham say? We don’t have to wonder: he told us. Borrowing from the words of his great predecessor D. L. Moody, Graham said: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address.”
Congratulations, Billy, on your new home.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/24/2018