Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Remembering Billy Graham

Human memory is a funny thing. It is notoriously unreliable. The more we think about our past memories, the more we will overlay them with our current values and thinking.

1. I have a generally positive view of Billy Graham, who died today at 99. I believe there are a lot of people who will be in the kingdom of God as a direct result of his rallies and ministry. Seems like some of my family was even involved with his 1998 rally in Tampa, Florida.

I like other things I've heard about Graham. Although I have no doubt of his core evangelical beliefs, he played nice with others. He was ecumenical in his relationships even if he did not waver in his beliefs. I believe he met every president from Truman to Obama at least once.

2. I was remembering today though that I did not necessarily grow up with such a glowing review. I remember grumbling about how he "stacked" the audience with people who went up first to prime the pump. (Grumbling is my word for what we often do in the face of stuff that makes us uncomfortable, jealous, convicted, etc) Maybe as much as 60% of those who went forward were already believers. As a older student of humanity now, I have fewer problems with priming the pump. Hey, Finney did it. Besides, most of these were counselors.

Of course Graham was a Baptist. Growing up hyper-Wesleyan, that was a matter of a little grumbling. On the other hand, George Beverly Shea sang for him. Shea was a Houghton grad, so that was a plus.

Still yet, fundamentalists didn't like it in the 50s when Graham started talking to "liberals." Bob Jones Sr. broke with him. So was Billy Graham liberal? Then that's a grumble. Then later I learned to think of Bob Jones negatively, so then that's a plus. Graham kicked out of Bob Jones and then goes on to become, well, Billy Graham. You go Graham! Take that Jones! So that's a plus.

3. Graham started out pretty fundamentalist. He supported Chiang kai Shek, who of course was a mass murderer. He supported McCarthy, which was not just paranoia but grandstanding out of his own ambition. Like pretty much all dispensationalist teaching in the early twentieth century, his predictions in the early 50s didn't happen.

In this light Franklin Graham's support of Trump is not so surprising. It fits his father's early politics. I suspect that Graham's views were always fundamentalist. He just learned to keep it to himself. Grumble but way to go with the self-discipline!

On the other hand, he seemed to genuinely engage MLK and do as much as he thought he could to advance integration. Plus. But he certainly didn't stick his neck out much at all for the cause of civil rights. Grumble.

4. He didn't make money off of his ministry. Super-plus. He sure seems to have enjoyed hanging around powerful important people... a lot... maybe too much? Mini-grumble.

He was probably the most important force behind the founding of Christianity Today (plus). He had the insight to give it out free for two years to every pastor in America to get it going (clever! like). One of its purposes was to solidify conservative Calvinism around the country (grumble).

5. I like Billy Graham. I'm glad he didn't talk much this last decade. I'm afraid I wouldn't like him as much. He wasn't perfect, but he looms like a colossus across the pages of American church history in the twentieth century. He was an overwhelming force for good in the world.

"Call no one blessed until death, for by how one dies a person is known" (Sirach 11:28). Billy Graham is a blessed man.

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