“You are in a year of greatness. You are in a year of restoration,” White preached to a group of some 100 worshippers, almost all of them African-Americans. They had gathered in a large, windowless room at Faith Assembly Christian Center, a simple building in a predominantly black neighborhood of Durham.
Asked afterward about her ties with the president-elect, she declined to be interviewed “out of respect for the church.”
IN 1978, a Sojourners subscriber sent me this quote from a European newspaper reporting on Billy Graham’s visit to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland: “The present insanity of the global arms race,” Graham said, “if continued, will lead inevitably to a conflagration so great that Auschwitz will seem like a minor rehearsal.” The U.S. media had not reported on Graham’s statement.
I wrote to Billy Graham and asked if what he said, after visiting Auschwitz for the first time, indicated a change of heart for him on nuclear weapons. Billy wrote back to say it did. He agreed to an interview with Sojourners to explain how his thinking had changed about the nuclear arms race, saying that it felt to him like a moral and spiritual question and not just a political issue.
August marks the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. When President Obama visited Hiroshima earlier this year, he encouraged leaders to “pursue a world without nuclear weapons” (which is sadly and dangerously ironic coming from a president who is overseeing a 30-year, $1 trillion upgrade of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal).
Billy Graham, in that 1979 interview with Sojourners, was clear in his view of the threat posed by nuclear weapons:
Is a nuclear holocaust inevitable if the arms race is not stopped? Frankly, the answer is almost certainly yes. Now I know that some people feel human beings are so terrified of a nuclear war that no one would dare start one. I wish I could accept that. But neither history nor the Bible gives much reason for optimism. What guarantee is there that the world will never produce another maniacal dictator like Hitler or Amin? As a Christian I take sin seriously, and the Christian should be the first to know that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, as Jeremiah says. We can be capable of unspeakable horror, no matter how educated or technically sophisticated we are. Auschwitz is a compelling witness to this.
Author and speaker Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, has been named chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The announcement on May 5 means that three of the most well-known evangelical women will have led the organization, which promotes the annual event.
Lotz, 67, author of the new book, The Daniel Prayer, talked with Religion News Service about her faith and her family, including the recent loss of her husband of almost 50 years.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Franklin Graham’s Facebook fulminations last week about plans to issue the Muslim call to prayer from the bell tower of Duke Chapel transformed what could have been a nuanced campus debate about religious establishment, sacred space, and pluralism into a countrywide fracas that calls to mind 1980s culture wars.
He helped generate enough publicity to ultimately lead a school better known for porn stars than piety to reclaim its chapel for Christianity.
Why did Franklin Graham’s Facebook post carry this much power? Two reasons. One, some people simply love his narrative about Islam. Recent polling shows that a significant number of Americans believe that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and voice substantial support for police profiling of Muslims. Graham’s narrative builds off these suspicions that go far beyond his conservative evangelical constituency.
But more important, he’s a Graham. He carries the power of his father’s name and his legendary evangelistic ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, or BGEA. According to Grant Wacker’s new biography, Billy Graham is the closest thing America has had to a pope, beloved by many for his ability to channel the ideals of middle America as much as a convicting gospel. The fact that, despite his retirement in 2005, the BGEA continues to use his likeness in promotional materials and that political candidates left and right still clamor for photo ops with Billy Graham are testaments to his enduring status as “America’s Pastor.”
I went to the mecca of evangelicalism for college — beautiful campus in the suburbs of Chicago, where I received a scholarship from none other than the Pope of Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, for my work in street evangelism. As in, speaking to random strangers on the street in order to convert them to Christianity. Post graduation, I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.
I look back on that girl on fire and marvel at her earnest faith. If I could, I would reach back and massage the tense knots out of her high-strung shoulders, weary from carrying the weight of her neighbors’ eternal destinies. I would wistfully explain to her that the first person she tried to witness to, that gentle, drunken, homeless woman named Kathy, needed more than my rehearsed Roman Road to salvation. Then I would break the Temporal Prime Directive and reveal to her that one day she would become more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing.
The truth is, I’m just better at being evangelized. It’s probably how I was so easily converted at the tender age of 12. The young Christian is expected to learn how to share their testimony: their story of how God changes your life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had given my testimony a bajillion times.
But my own story often bored me.
Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.
The Russian law came under heavy criticism from gay rights activists, and from Obama, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In response, Obama included openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham writes. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
Pope Francis on Tuesday released his first apostolic exhortation since his election in March. The message, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), challenges Catholics — both laity and clergy — to pay more attention to evangelizing the world.
While most American evangelicals do not usually read papal pronouncements, it would be a shame if we did not familiarize ourselves with Francis’ newest document, for there is much in it that evangelicals could embrace:
An organization of nonbelievers is threatening legal action against public schools that participate in an evangelical Christian charity that delivers Christmas toys to poor children.
The American Humanist Association, a national advocacy organization with 20,000 members nationwide, sent letters this week to two public elementary schools after parents complained their children were being asked to collect toys and money for Operation Christmas Child.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical relief organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. Its stated mission is “to follow the example of Christ by helping those in need and proclaiming the hope of the Gospel.”
The toys collected by Operation Christmas Child come with an invitation for recipients to accept Christianity. Since its founding in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has sent 100 million boxes of toys to poor children.
We gathered at Billy Graham’s alma mater over three days to explore his ministry’s place in American history and chronicle its meaning for the future. It was a fascinating conversation, and poignant, too, as Graham struggles with poor health at home in Montreat, N.C., far from the limelight he once commanded.
But as scholars and admirers here in suburban Chicago added to the growing conversation on Graham’s legacy, a question hovers: How many people younger than, say, 60 are listening?
George Beverly Shea, whose signature baritone voice was a standard feature of Billy Graham crusades for more than half a century, died Tuesday at age 104.
He died after a brief illness, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced.
Shea, who was 10 years older than Graham, met the famous evangelist seven decades ago when he was working at Chicago’s WMBI, a Moody Bible Institute radio station. The evangelist heard him singing on the program “Hymns from the Chapel” and asked Shea to sing on his new radio program.
“I’ve been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 70 years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know,” the ailing Graham said in a statement. “I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had, but he and I look forward to seeing each other in Heaven relatively soon.”
Shea, who lived about a mile from Graham in Montreat, N.C., sang before Graham preached as they traveled the globe, often “I’d Rather Have Jesus” or “Victory in Jesus.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed language labeling Mormonism a “cult” from its website after the famed preacher met with Republican nominee Mitt Romney last week and pledged to help his presidential campaign.
The removal came after a gay rights group reported that the “cult” reference remained online even after Graham all but endorsed Romney, a Mormon, on Oct. 11.
Ken Barun, the BGEA’s chief of staff, confirmed the removal on Tuesday.
“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Barun said in a statement. “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”
The host city for the Democratic National Convention is not a particularly political place. Charlotte, N.C., is known for three things: banking, NASCAR, and religion.
And when it comes to religion, Billy Graham’s spirit looms large.
America’s most famous evangelist of the 20th century was born on a dairy farm just outside of town and was raised in Charlotte, home of his ministry.
For the Democrats – labeled disparagingly by some Republicans as the party of secular humanism – Charlotte is not a bad place to try and raise their religious profile.
Evangelist Billy Graham, 93, was admitted to a North Carolina hospital after he developed a fever on Saturday and is now being treated for bronchitis, said his longtime spokesman, A. Larry Ross.
“Mr. Graham continues to do well and the infection is responding well to treatment,” said Dr. David Pucci, the pulmonologist who is treating Graham at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., on Monday. Graham is in stable condition.
Graham spent Sunday watching the Olympics and the broadcast of the worship services at First Baptist Spartanburg, where the guest preacher this week was his grandson, third-generation evangelist William Graham IV, Ross said.
Let me tell you about Billy Graham, just as he is, because based on what I experienced working for the man for six years, two statements issued under his name last week (and one earlier this year) significantly collide with the well-established values of this great humble faith leader.
The first statement I am referring to is the fundraising letter for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) that quoted Billy's late wife Ruth as saying, "If God doesn't punish America, He'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." The letter goes on, in Billy's alleged words, "My heart aches for America and its deceived people."
The second statement is Billy's statement of support for "my good friends [Chick-fil-A founder] Truett Cathy and his son Dan Cathy ... for their strong stand for the Christian faith." The statement actually continues, in Billy's voice, to say, "As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to 'Eat Mor Chikin' and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday." (Update: BGEA issued a revised statement clarifying that Billy now "plans to enjoy his chicken at home.")
The earlier statement was a full-page ad for Amendment One and the North Carolina state constitutional amendment stating the only valid and recognized domestic legal union to be "marriage between one man and one woman." The ad was emblazoned with Mr. Graham's distinguished elderly visage, and appeared in 14 North Carolina newspapers in advance of the May 8 vote that established the amendment as N.C. state law.
At the time of the Amendment One ad, official Billy biographer William Martin told the Associated Press that he believed the words were not those of Billy's son and current BGEA President Franklin Graham: "Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will."
I believe Martin was wrong then, and I'm even more convinced now. Mr. Graham had never made political statements like this in the 62-year history of the ministry, and BGEA's evangelistic crusades have never partnered with corporations like Chick-fil-A, although they easily could have. (Evangelist Luis Palau, a disciple of Billy's, uses corporate sponsors for all of his city-wide events these days.) Now, to have three of these statements come out in the past three months — and a very obvious commercial for a fast-food chain — causes me to wonder if this trickle will turn into a flood, right at the end of Billy's life.
The following is from a letter by Billy Graham posted recently on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website:
"Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
She was probably thinking of a passage in Ezekiel where God tells why He brought those cities to ruin. “Now this was the sin of … Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49–50, NIV).
I wonder what Ruth would think of America if she were alive today. In the years since she made that remark, millions of babies have been aborted and our nation seems largely unconcerned. Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle."
Yes, there are plenty of examples to support the case Graham is making, but is it fair or accurate to suggest that all points indicate a fundamental moral decay?