“I had the lingo of grace and mercy down but not the understanding.” – Ned Graham, youngest son of Billy Graham
On October 15, 1972, Charlotte, NC celebrated “Billy Graham Day” with the help of then President Richard Nixon in the Charlotte Coliseum. Some where in the crowd above is the 11-year-old me wearing my blue suit from Sears and a clip on tie.
I don’t remember much about that day other than my mom and dad let their three kids skip school. I do remember it was very crowded, hot and smoky. In those days, 45 years ago, the Coliseum didn’t have air conditioning, it had “ventilation handlers” which basically just recirculated air-filled with smoke from Winston cigarettes. The Coliseum was the same venue that hosted the circus and hockey games and this crowd, on that October day was neither.
Billy Graham died today at the ripe old age of 99. Graham who grew up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Charlotte was the city’s favored son. He began his ministry in 1947 and held more than 400 crusades in 185 countries on six different continents. For decades, Graham was not only the voice of American Christianity but the face of it as well. And through it all Graham held this prominent spot on the world stage with grace, compassion and empathy, sadly principles today’s Evangelicals Christians have abandoned.
Growing-up it seemed, at least to me, that Graham was on television every night. My grandmother loved Billy and if he was on we were watching him. I am not entirely sure her “love” was just spiritual and not physical too. At six-foot two, and with his squeaky clean good looks, Graham oozed charisma, charm, and masculinity. He was made for television at a time when television stations were starving for programming particularly programming someone was willing to pay them to broadcast.
I liken Graham to being the moral compass for a generation of Americans. That isn’t to say he wasn’t human and made mistakes. But what I always appreciated about Billy Graham was this, if he was wrong he typically owned up to it. When asked late in his life if he had any regrets he noted; “I would give more attention to fellowship with other Christians, who could teach me and encourage me and even rebuke me when necessary.”
“Rebuke me when necessary.” Maybe you haven’t noticed but today’s Evangelical Christians take great acceptation to being rebuked, reprimanded or even criticized. In their minds they have reached the pinnacle, the mountain top of having all the answers no matter what the questions are. Their path is the true path, the only way anyone and everyone can be in a relationship with Jesus Christ and reap the rewards and benefits of Eternal life. But as Ned Graham stated above what they are operating with is simply “the lingo of grace and mercy down but not the understanding”. They refuse to see or accept any possibility that they could be wrong.
Sadly over the last 20 years Franklin Graham has bastardized his father’s message to fit a movement he wishes to reign over. Unfortunately he has been somewhat effective by narrowing the scope of the theology which has, in turn, also narrowed the make-up and complexion (skin tone) of those who accept and follow his prescribed path. Billy Graham appealed to a much broader audience, Franklin does not and has no interest too. His path is narrow with room for only a select few and I am not one of his chosen few.
Over the coming days, weeks and months we will hear tribute upon tribute about the life and works of Billy Graham. What we will also discover and I am sure hear, now that the large shadow cast by his father is gone, is how much further right Franklin will swing. I imagine his message has been tempered somewhat by the life and legacy of Billy but I would suspect now, all bets are off with his death.
“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” – Billy Graham