A great example of warm, evangelistic conversation:
Tag Archives: billy graham
Many young people today do not know the name of “Billy Graham.” But those of us who grew up in the 20th century knew of Billy Graham as probably the greatest evangelist who ever lived. He was easily the most influential Protestant evangelical leader in the 20th century. ChristianityToday, the magazine that Billy Graham helped to found, has an extensive tribute to his remarkable legacy. Last year, I read historian Grant Wacker’s biography of Graham, so I offer my review and personal reflections below. Losing Billy Graham is like losing your pastor. Billy Graham was America’s Pastor.
I was 21 years old, walking towards the main arena in Champaign/Urbana, at the tri-annual Urbana missions conference, then held at the University of Illinois. This would be the highlight evening for some 18,000 college students, where we had the opportunity to listen to the world famous evangelist, Billy Graham. By this time in Graham’s ministry in the 1980s, he had shared the Gospel before millions of people around the world, having an impact on world evangelization, far greater than any other human in history.
Not only that, but Billy Graham had managed to forge a remarkable alliance of like-minded believers, all united around a common cause of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others, calling these people to have a living, vital relationship with the Lord, and upholding the Bible as God’s Word of Truth to humankind. What made this so remarkable is that this alliance spanned across multiple denominations, race barriers, nation borders … you name it, Billy Graham transcended them all. Every church and ministry I had been affiliated with looked up to him as a grandfatherly type of figure.
As an aside, a few years after this Urbana missions conference, I would attend a seminary that Reverend Graham helped to found. Furthermore, for nearly the past twenty years, being involved in my church’s music ministry, I have enjoyed a warm friendship with Ted Cornell, who himself was involved in the music ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, traveling with the Graham team for crusade meetings all over the world.
I had been truly impressed with Billy Graham. Now, at this Urbana conference, it would be my first time to see the man preach, in person, aside from watching him on television.
But I soon experienced a moment of anxiety, on that December evening.
As I was crossing the sidewalk by the arena, packed with other college students, an older gentleman approached and stopped me earnestly, “Please take this and read it.” It was a small pamphlet, and the message was direct and to the point: Billy Graham was a “false teacher.” Graham did not insist, that all inquirers for the Gospel, who came forward to give their lives to Jesus at Graham’s crusades, receive water baptism as adults. Graham had substituted baptism, as taught in the Bible, with “coming forward” to the front of the preacher’s podium. This was a grave theological error, according to the pamphlet.
I was puzzled, having grown up in liberal Protestantism, with very little exposure to so-called “fundamentalism,” prior to my years in college. I had dedicated my life to Christ, a few years earlier in high school, and all of my spiritual mentors spoke highly of Billy Graham. Graham taught of having a personal relationship with Jesus, in a manner that eluded my experience in mainline, liberal Christianity.
Most of my mainline Protestant friends still liked Billy Graham. They just did not care that much for his “evangelical” message.
Now, as a college student, I was confronted with a jarring claim that this well-respected man, perhaps the most well-respected man in all of evangelical Christianity, was really a “compromiser” in disguise. Having defended Graham in front of my mainline church peers, and alternatively resisting ridicule from my atheist acquaintances, I felt angry, and a bit confused, by this pamphlet. I promptly dumped the pamphlet in the trash, and proceeded into the arena to hear the popular evangelist speak to a captivated crowd.
Did this man with his pamphlets not have anything better to do?
Listening to Billy Graham preach that evening was incredibly inspiring. He represented what “real Christianity” was all about, from what I knew… at least the “evangelical” kind of faith that I had experienced. Graham either directly spoke of or alluded to the central tenets, or fundamentals, of Christian faith as I understood them. They included having confidence in the Bible as the very Word of God; a belief in the Virgin Birth, signifying the incarnation of the Son of God; a belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and His atoning work on the Cross to deal with sin; a trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, to give new life to the believer; and an expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. I left the arena that night invigorated and emboldened in my faith.
There were no protestors out on the street, as students poured out from the arena, after the event. The man who gave me the pamphlet had disappeared. But I kept thinking about him. As I went to bed that night, I wondered. Could I have misjudged the “pamphlet man?” Was he trying to “save” me from some errors of Graham’s preaching, that I knew nothing about, or was this merely the Evil One’s subtle attempt to try to confuse me? What was that episode with the “pamphlet man” all about? Continue reading
There is quite a bit of chatter in social media recently about Vice President Mike Pence’s adherence to the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.” Many have mocked Pence’s statement that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.” Briefly, the “Billy Graham Rule” was an unwritten pact between the early members of Billy Graham’s evangelistic team, that they would avoid even the appearance of infidelity. These men pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with any woman alone, except their wives. This rule, which covered more than just the issue of sexual infidelity, served to protect this ministry from the allegations of impropriety, for a long string of decades, that many Christians have admired as basic, common sense.
Surprisingly, the criticism of this rule has come, not simply from secular sources, but from Christians as well. Much of the furor concerns the endless egalitarian versus complementarian debates that consume the energies of many of today’s Christians (I tell some of my story here). Progressive Christian blogger, Rachel Held Evans, tweeted that “Jesus scandalized the disciples by meeting with a woman for a drink,” a reference to Jesus’ meeting of the Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4.
The critics have a point. The “Billy Graham rule” arose during a time when it was relatively uncommon to find women in the work force, in the late 1940s. When I began my career in engineering in 1980s, things had drastically changed in society. For about five years, I shared a large office with three other women engineers. There were times when I was alone with one of these women in the office, and neither of us thought anything about it. It was just part of our jobs to work together. So I get it.
But such critics have obscured something essential, in their defense of seeing women fully integrated in the workplace. The “Billy Graham rule” should not be lost as some legalistic concept, to be discarded as being sexist. Rather, we must be mindful of the principle that undergirds the rule, namely, that all people, men and women, who wish to honor their Lord, should not put themselves in compromising situations.
Fundamentally, people like Pence and Graham have been simply protecting their marriages, protecting themselves, and protecting those who have come under their familiar influence. As followers of Jesus, we should all do the same. The human tendency towards sin is much stronger than we are willing to admit to ourselves and realize. What often starts off as legitimate and harmless in our interpersonal relationships, business or otherwise, can easily slip into something completely inappropriate, over a period of time. The principle behind the Graham rule is that we should have those checks and balances in place that will keep us honest. All of us need healthy boundaries, to keep us from crossing lines of behavior, that we would soon regret. Just ask those former pastors and ministry leaders who failed to keep an appropriate version of the “Billy Graham rule,” starting counseling relationships privately, with those of the opposing gender, who after a small indiscretion here and there, eventually lost their jobs, scandalized their ministries, and destroyed their families.
The drawings of those specific boundaries will change as cultural conditions change, and such “rules” may still look strange to outsiders. Jesus met with the woman at a public well, not a dimly lit, secluded room. Yet the concept of a public well, in first century Palestine, seems strange, when contrasted with the contemporary American workplace or ministry setting. We will need to tweak certain applications of the principle behind the “Billy Graham rule,” in a culturally contextual manner. But the principle of avoiding compromising situations is a good thing to keep. Let us not mock that.
Ferguson, Missouri. Baltimore. Minneapolis. Baton Rouge. Dallas. Black Lives Matter.
America is caught in the middle of racial conflict, as tensions between law enforcement and African American communities have erupted in violence. However, the problem has deep roots in history. An understanding of these roots will go a long way towards healing and reconciliation. Some of these roots go back to misinterpretation of the Bible.
In June, 2016, the Mississippi attorney general officially closed a 52-year old case involving the murders of three civil rights workers, in the summer of 1964. Members of the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County had killed two white men and one African American who had traveled to Mississippi to help segregated African Americans register to vote. The Klansmen feared that the efforts of these three men would lead to the “mixing of the races,” so they sought to teach the civil rights workers “a lesson.”
The Klansmen were aided by one of their number, a local deputy sheriff, Cecil Price, who arranged for the abduction of the three men after a supposed traffic stop and afternoon in jail. The three were taken to an earthen dam, where they were shot and buried, one of them still breathing as the bulldozer shoveled the dirt over them.
Deputy Cecil Price was never convicted of murder, but he was tried and sentenced to six years in prison on civil rights violations, in 1967. The ringleader of the Klan group, Edgar Ray Killen, was finally convicted of manslaughter and put in jail thirty-six years later in 2005, as part of this infamous “Mississippi Burning” case.1
Edgar Ray Killen was a part-time Baptist preacher. Killen had been put on trial back in the 1960s, but he escaped conviction back then due to a hung jury. One of the jurors in that early case claimed that they could have never convicted a preacher.
Price was the “law man,” and Killen had the Bible. Thankfully, men like Price and Killen are an exception, and do not represent in any way all law enforcement authorities or Christian preachers. Yet I sincerely doubt that Price would have been able to self-justify his actions if Killen, the preacher, had not somehow signaled that the terrible actions they ended up all taking were somehow, “Okay with God.”
So, what goes through the mind of someone, like “Preacher” Killen, who can justify such brutality, a man who claims to be guided by the Word of God? How can a law enforcement official, like Cecil Price, go along with such actions? Where do people get the idea, that the “mixing of the races” is something contrary to the Bible, to begin with? Continue reading
It was 1949 in Los Angeles. The conservative Christian community had pulled together to put on a multi-week revival under a big tent, featuring a then relatively-unknown Billy Graham. By the end of week three, the organizers were unsure if the revival meetings were to continue. Despite a massive publicity campaign with flyers and newspaper ads, attendance had been rather so-so. Graham and the leadership team decided to pray, asking for God’s guidance on what to do. After much prayer, they decided to go ahead and extend the meetings a few more weeks. But had they done the right thing?
Several weeks later, on week five, a well-known celebrity made his way into the revival tent. Louis Zamperini grew up a restless teenager and became a juvenile delinquent. To give his life some focus and meaning, Zamperini took up running. Eventually, he earned a spot on the United States Olympic team in 1936 in Berlin. World War II dramatically changed his life, where he was shot down over the Pacific and suffered terribly as a Japanese prisoner of war. When Zamperini came back home after the war, his life kept falling apart. After struggling with marriage problems, alcohol abuse, and horrific post-traumatic stress, he entered that revival tent that one evening. He gave his life over to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he spent the rest of his life serving Him.
Zamperini’s conversion to Christ had helped to give Billy Graham and his team a sense of confirmation that extending the revival a few more weeks was the right thing to do. For Graham, the Los Angeles revival gave him international exposure and influence that has continued to last today into Graham’s twilight years.
Louis Zamperini died in 2014, but his story lives on. Laura Hillendbrand’s bestselling book Unbroken is an enthralling story, from friends of mine who have read the book. From what I have been told, even if you are not a Christian, you will be spellbound by Hillendbrand’s telling of the story. Also, according to his son, Luke Zamperini, the 2014 movie Unbroken by Angelina Jolie tells the story of his dad’s life well, particularly with respect to how Jolie presents Louis Zamperini’s Christian faith, though some say that the faith element is downplayed too much.
But what I find even more fascinating is how Zamperini’s story also helps to tell the story of Billy Graham and the generations of believers who have come under his influence. The intersection of Zamperini with Billy Graham was a critical watershed moment for American evangelicalism in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Here is a summary of some correspondence between Graham and Zamperini before Zamperini’s death.
I would be curious to know from other Veracity readers what you have thought of the book and the movie.
HT: John Paine, for the Luke Zamperini story about the Christian faith element in the movie.