When I received the news today of Billy Graham’s death, my mind returned to my childhood, as it does more and more frequently these days
It seemed that every summer when I was visiting my grandmother, there just happened to be a Billy Graham Crusade on television during that visit. Those are happy memories…my grandmother, whose prohibition against ANY eating in the living room was enforced with a fearsome consistency, would cook supper on nights when the crusade would be broadcast and serve it on aluminum tv trays in front of the massive console tv. We would watch and eat and let the supper dishes sit while we enjoyed the entire broadcast from opening prayer to closing hymn.
It’s difficult to be objective about one’s self, but I don’t remember being anywhere near as cynical and jaded as today’s children, and I don’t remember ever rolling my eyes or feeling tortured during the hour-long broadcast. I actually enjoyed the sermon, and George Beverly Shea’s rich singing voice made the preparatory minutes quite lively. During those years I was just coming into my interest in the American War Between the States, and I was mesmerized by Reverend Graham’s riveting blue eyes and shock of thick, undulating hair, set off by his distinctive rebel accent. I imagined him with those long fingers wrapped around a musket, his cheeks hidden by an unkempt beard as he trudged along in a column behind the Stonewall Brigade.
I remember talking to a good friend of mine at a funeral some time ago, and he told me that he had “accepted Christ” and “gotten saved” numerous times over the years during these summertime televised crusades. I would wager that there are legions of baby boomers who could make similar confessions.
I also remember being at a social gathering a couple of decades ago and being introduced to a young economics professor, a man to whom I took an intense and immediate dislike. For one thing, he had one of those slack, insipid Lindsay Graham faces that just begs to be shoved into a toilet. And held there for, oh, a half-hour or so, until the bubbles and the struggles stop. Anyway, this pallid young professor and his singularly unpleasant young wife (whose sour and pinched face, I must say, looked like a rectum with eyeglasses) latched onto me and bored me for several minutes with their clinch-jawed, high-toned way of speaking.
At some point in the chat, a mutual friend joined our group and mentioned that the young economics professor was soon to become a presbyterian elder. I smelled blood and decided to jab the professor a bit. I said, “It’s my understanding that your denomination considers Arminianism [the standard Baptist soteriology] to be a ‘serious heresy.’ Would you say that you distance yourself from people like Billy Graham, who is of course the most famous Arminian alive?”
Erudite fellow that he was, the young professor saw the trap into which I was trying to lead him, and he gave me one of the most serpentine responses I had heard up to that point in my life. He talked for a good ten minutes, and to this day, I still have no blasted idea what he actually ended up saying.
Anyway, all that to say that I learned early on that certain sects of Protestantism loooooooove to argue theology. Not discuss. Argue. And these sects loved to hate on Reverend Graham, because he was never ____________enough for them. Fill in your own mental blank.
In the vast scheme of this whirling life, I imagine that all of the argumentative nancyboys in churchianity’s greasy halls put together wouldn’t equal one-millionth of the good deeds done by Graham or the good will he inspired in people with his gentle, folksy manner.
Plus, he apparently agreed with President Nixon that the Jews were less than stellar creatures, so there’s that.
So when I heard of Reverend Graham’s death, not too shy of 100 years old, I honestly felt a lump in my throat. A sizable tree in the forest of my life had fallen, and I felt diminished.
I guess Vox Day summed it up best. He noted, “Now, I can’t prove that is what happened with science, but all I can say with absolute certainty is that whatever it is that made Billy Graham such an astonishingly powerful preacher of the Gospel, it wasn’t his eloquence, his rhetoric, or his logic. But he was a true servant of God and follower of Jesus Christ. May his reward be great indeed. “
Agreed, Vox. May Reverend Graham’s reward be great indeed. My intuition tells me that he’s already begun his celebration.