Highs & Lows of America’s Pastor
Who knew Billy Graham would become America’s pastor with his humble beginnings on a dairy farm in North Carolina. Who knew Billy Graham would provide prayer and council to 12 presidents beginning with Truman. His advisor at Bob Jones University told Billy Graham he wouldn’t amount to anything.
Yet Billy Graham persisted. He changed colleges attending Florida Bible Institute where he enjoyed open discussions of theology. He continued his education at Wheaton college where he met his wife Ruth Bell daughter of Chinese medical missionaries.
Beginning in Chicago at Wheaton college, exposed Billy Graham to new people and opportunities. As Graham finished college, he was asked to preach for Youth for Christ. This began his traveling ministry. He held 417 crusades in 185 countries and territories.
It was on a crusade in Germany, that the Kennedy family saw Billy Graham preaching. After Kennedy became president, he reached out to Billy Graham. This began the bridge building between Protestants and Catholics in the U.S. Billy Graham also built bridges among the churches in communities, calling on their help with crusades. He was an ecumenical preacher.
Politics and The Press
Billy Graham learned the hard way not to enter the political arena. His Crusades had received excellent coverage by William Randolph Hurst’s newspapers and Time Magazine. He was not prepared for the press’s ambush after visiting Truman’s White House. The press asked questions about their discussion and if they prayed for the president. The press had Billy Graham ‘pose’ in prayer for pictures. Front page news was not very flattering to Truman or Billy Graham.
Billy Graham strived to be apolitical being better able to serve the nation as needed. Joining Bill Clinton in Oklahoma City after the bombing. Being invited by Bush to preach at the National Cathedral after 9/11 to give solace to a grieving nation.
Fighting the Segregation Battle
However, Billy Graham did not see segregation as a political issue. He felt hatred and racism was a moral and spiritual issue. While raised in a Jim Crow state, he searched the scriptures for truth.
Billy Graham developed a relationship with Martin Luther King. He desired to know more about the issues colored people were facing. When asked how he could help the cause, Marin Luther King opened doors for Billy Graham to preach at black churches.
Martin Luther King said he would take the fight to the streets with marches. Billy Graham could fight from the pulpit – preaching to white and black. Billy Graham removed segregation from his crusades in 1953 before Brown vs. Wade decision. He received death threats for this action. Yet he continued to proclaim that Christ belonged to ALL people.
As Billy Graham traveled the world, he saw vast poverty and travesty of floods & earthquakes. He began humanitarian efforts under Samaritan’s Purse; putting hands and feet to the message of God’s Love. Billy Graham’s service has been honored with a Congressional medal, receiving a unanimous vote from the senate. He is also one of few citizens that has laid in state in the capital rotunda.
Even with such honors, meeting dignitaries, impacting millions of people worldwide, Billy Graham still had regrets.
Graham had moments he wasn’t neutral on policies. He learned quickly if he was going to be a trusted pastor & counsel to leaders of nations, he needed to restrict conversations publicly and privately to spiritual concerns.
Perhaps the biggest regret is all the traveling. He spent months on end away from the family. His children’s childhoods can’t be recaptured. He missed many significant events in their lives.
Billy Graham was a humble man. He knew his success was because of a dedicated team – many that were with him for 3 decades. Graham was only the face of the ministry.
Billy Graham encouraged other with words like:
“True greatness is not measured by the headlines a person commands or the wealth he or she accumulates. Inner character of a person, the under girdings of moral and spiritual values and commitments is the true measure of lasting greatness.”
By this definition – greatness is within reach for all of us.