When the Rev. Billy Graham died on Wednesday, the news received comparatively little coverage compared to the impact he made on millions of lives. I was disappointed with that, but not really surprised. The news cycle moves at a feverish pace these days, and the passing of a Christian evangelist — even one so singularly significant as Rev. Graham — is easily dismissed in a culture determined to push Christianity to the fringes.
Instead of pausing to remember this legendary man of God, our media remained fixated on gun laws in the wake of still another mass shooting. We continue to recycle the same responses to these tragedies — that we must have stricter gun laws, and that we have neglected our mentally ill for far too long. On the day Mr. Graham died, I wished he could have been able to speak on the issue.
I believe he might have said that too many “experts” are ignoring the deeper answer. I believe he might have counseled our nation to look inward on itself and to ponder the contributions of our culture toward this madness. Is it not a culture that glorifies the self? Do we not raise our kids on violent and destructive movies, and television shows with insipid themes devoid of meaning? Have we not taken morality out of the schools? Have not the institutions that we once respected gone haywire? What must it be like to be a young person in this climate, where spiritual truths are trampled upon and persons who still believe in biblical values are told to shut up and join the revolution?
This morning as I listened to a podcast from Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a world-traveled Christian apologist, he recalled the great Russian novelist and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who said that when he was very young, he often heard his father comment on why the world had gone so mad. His father, he said, always had one answer: “It’s because we have forgotten God.”
Solzhenitsyn said he didn’t think much about his father’s theory until he was older. But as he matured, he began to give the very same answer to those who asked.
Billy Graham was America’s best-known and most respected evangelist for more than 60 years. He greatly influenced not just America, but the world. He packed stadiums in the world’s largest cities. In his “global crusade” in Puerto Rico in 1995, his sermons were translated into 48 languages and transmitted by satellite to 185 countries.
I was born into a family of Baptists in Allendorf, Iowa, (Graham was also a Baptist) and we watched the famous evangelist on television on numerous occasions. Each time he spoke, he asked listeners who considered making a decision for Jesus Christ to make a public confession of faith by walking down the stadium aisles to where he stood. His message was to repent and be born again. During his life, millions were moved.
He was called “America’s Pastor” and he counseled many U.S. presidents. Respected all around the world for his eloquent message and his unswerving devotion to his faith, he was even welcomed by Kim Il-sung of North Korea.
Mr. Graham, of course, had his detractors. It was often said that his message was too simplistic; that he too often ignored the complex societal issues of the day.
Perhaps they had a point. But perhaps not so much. I, and I believe millions of others, will remember Billy Graham admiringly as a man who, throughout his public career, never wavered from a life devoted to preaching the biblical Christian message — as he saw it — with conviction and power. In a world today where all too many people are living as though all truth is relative, it can be said that Billy Graham adhered to the truth, as he believed it, without wavering.