Billy Graham: Not a saint to be sanitized

Posted: February 23, 2018 by Ty in Current Events, Spirituality
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Billy Graham can be seen as a polarizing figure, sadly some it is due to confusion with his son, other due to his non-wavering on his conservative Christian beliefs. He was a well travelled evangelist, who built quite a para-church ministry out of simple messages. The first being the very modernistic Roman Roads understanding that God demanded blood for Original Sin, and Jesus died for that ransom. Yes, this filled stadiums, many were already churched when they went, others were brought with friends. When I read Johnny Cash’s memoir, few may not know that he was the worship leader of these grand crusades (renaming of the tent revival). Yes, Rev. Graham had what is known as a fundamental understanding of theology, and held to traditional literalism. Which is why I can understand the opposing view presented by Michael Coren’s Otherside of Billy Graham in response to the “Saint” articles remembering the man. Let us remember it was Dorothy Day who said she never wanted to be a saint as to sink into irrelevance, and by creating a sanitized Saint story of Billy Graham I believe we do that.

It is okay to show the scars and all depending on your theological point of view of anyone. In Calgary, Licia Corbella wrote a great editorial in the Calgary Herald from the perspective of an attendee (1 of 215 million if I remember correctly). I pulled the quote of President Obama and Carter on who they knew Rev. Graham to be, as a counter point to Coren’s, so 3 “left” perspectives can be put forward of one person.

Former president Barack Obama called him “a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”

Former president Jimmy Carter said: “Broad-minded, forgiving and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve.” (From Licia Corbella’s editorial on Billy Graham’s passing).

What is that? A person is complex? Why does this matter to me who regular readers probably even question if I belong under the tent of “Christianity” (definitely many would say heretic would fit, and I know there’s a quarum that would not speak kindly upon my passing). It is because I attended a Crusade, sadly if was Franklin (who yes equated even the obese as hell bound) and not his father, but Rev. Graham aside from his writing, and providing spiritual direction to one of my favourite singer’s (Johnny Cash) and inspiration to a theologian I enjoy and draw inspiration from (Jimmy Carter) …he was someone my Mum and Nan respected.

No, it was not the bathed in the blood died for our sins thing either. Both these matriarchs that guided me in the faith took another touchstone message that Graham stayed on target with. Do not judge, live out of love.

                I understand the complexity of the man. I understand the conservatism of his beliefs. I understand the harm some of the messengers inspired by him have caused. I have seen the good works from others in building a better world inspired by the same words. I know, there is an afterlife, none of us know what it is, but he is there in that holy love.

But I do know…those that hear the message have something that needs to be taken into their heart: We cannot remain static. As we grow, our experience shapes our heart, and we must allow that experience to build on the simple cornerstone messages that charted our course on the journey.

Do not make any saint or hero irrelevant through sanitizing their life.

Make them relevant by showing who they were, how they struggled. More importantly though the complexity of the legacy left in how they loved…and for us here it is about using our hearts and minds to understand what it means for the next step forward.


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