My first experience with the Billy Graham Crusades came when the First Alliance had a youth event in the early 90’s and my best friend Ron, his stepbrother Burton, & I sat in the balcony seats while taking in the speakers, theatrics, and bands of the revival. Truth be told, we had only gone to hear the rock band ‘White Heart’ who would be playing there that evening and I really was not looking for a faith awakening. Still, the call came and while I was intrigued by the thought of joining the crowd in front of the stage for prayer, I remained in my seat. It seems my spiritual rebirth would come later in life.
I grew up in an Anglican Church. The idea of being "born again" was maybe not foreign to me (I had heard televangelist before) but just not emphasized in my religious traditions. We believed in the practices of repentance and renewal, but it was held in a liturgical and relational balance to the Trinity - Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Emphasizing a "spiritual" rebirth seemed redundant and perhaps in my parents eyes, a little "radical". Faith and our spirituality was more solemn and expressed through the traditions of liturgy.
Still, my mom was a musician & artist and the freedom of personal spiritual expression was always around me and nurtured as part of my growing up years. We always participated in Anglican traditions but we still watched 100 Huntley Street at home and I was shown to look up to the examples of people like Billy Graham.
Billy Graham... A moral pillar of integrity. I never read Billy Graham's biography that sat prominently on our bookshelf in the living room; but I knew that he was a model for living a morally centred life on Jesus. It wasn't just that he hadn't been caught up in all the corruption scandals that so many other evangelists had been in. He just seemed to truly seek to model the very message he spoke; dedicated to God through prayer, remaining faithful to his family & wife, while seeking to make the world better through preaching about a kingdom of love for all humanity.
What couldn't the church learn today from Graham's modelling call to integrity? I mean, it is so easy for us to simply give up on the pursuit of moral and personal transformation into the likeness of Jesus saying, "Perfection just isn't possible!" But didn't even Jesus call us to it's pursuit when he said, "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) I admit, it is a daunting epic battle fulfilled only through Christ's graces itself but, shouldn't we at least have enough faith to seek after it with everything we have and not become lukewarm in our temperament?!
The gospel message Graham offered was for humanity to find it's freedom through the act of repentance & commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. I'm reminded of a quote I heard years ago that, "Freedom is not the ability to do what I want to do. Freedom is not the ability, the right to do what you want to do. It is the power to do what we should do!" Graham's legacy shows us that we cannot compromise our pursuit of integrity to the gospel & Christlikeness for the sake of human impossibility; for what is impossible for humanity is fulfilled in the amazing eternal works of God.
It needs to be said too, that Graham's presence learned to stand in the outlying margins of world powers and authority. In an interview with New York Times Writer, Jonathan Merritt, Billy Graham gave the advice that, "Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left." I think it shows a willingness to remain nonjudgmental, an openness to give hospitality to any and all regardless of there beliefs, struggles, or convictions.
It seems so easy to get caught up in the polarizing worlds of today's Rights & Lefts thinking there is no other choice but to side one way or the other, exclude this person or the apposing character, run from the perceived threat or confront it through a "shoot first" mentality. But perhaps there is another way. Perhaps Graham's advice gives a light to a position that stands apart from the worlds polarities of authority & power; a place where love becomes a force greater then that of dominance and overcoming differences through shared reconciliational living spaces is a strength greater then the conquering forces of victory & defeat.
Repentance & reconciliation... perhaps the two heart valves of Billy Graham's gospel message. While he shined a light on a Kingdom and third place of authority & power that stands apart from this world, it was a vision wrought with years of self practice, personal failures, & a lifetime of experiences. The quote I shared above itself, came from Billy Graham's experiences of personal friendship with Richard Nixon, who abused that friendship to leverage his political standing and personal character facade. The hurt Graham must have felt as the truths of Watergate and Nixon's freud was revealed.
Recently, a friend of mine posted his thoughts of respect for Graham on Facebook and a disgruntled connection commented on some of Graham's failures in past years, calling him a racist and a bigot while using some of his older pieced together quotes. Truth is, we could look back on just about everybody and find moral and character failure; even Martin Luther King had his vices. The question of personal integrity and redemptive legacy is not based on the events of character failure or moral flaw, but upon the responding act of personal repentance and social redemption. Graham's modelling of his very gospel message through the course of history becomes the life giving power to his eternal legacy. We cannot dismiss the amazing power of witnessing a person's, including Graham's, authentic turn in repentance & reconciliational transformation to the heart of God.
I'll conclude this post with the words I shared in social media the day of Billy Graham's passing. Billy Graham’s legacy is not one to simply remain in the past, but must speak to our need for humble repentance & renewing our integrity to the gospel at all times; fostering a spirit of non-judgment & openness to hearing and accepting all others despite our differences; & the personal pursuit for individual & social reform for the betterment of humanity in the future.