I have studied preaching, done a little bit of it, and listened to a lot of it, and I have never figured out why Billy Graham was so popular. His preaching was always mediocre at best. For my money, the best in recent memory have been Fred Craddock, Barbara Brown Taylor, and James Forbes.
Reverend Graham has reached his 95th birthday, and his son Franklin hosted a big birthday bash for him.
Jump the orange nimbus for some reflections.
Graham's milestone provides occasion for some thinking about where American religion has been, is , and seems to be going. Nobody does that better than church historian and Wake Forest Divinity school professor, Bill Leonard. Leonard's column on Thursday offered some insight through the lens of Graham's career.
His later sense of the “wideness in God’s mercy” appears in an interview with none other than Robert Schuller when Graham stated: “Everybody who loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, are members of the Body of Christ. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their heart that they need something ... and they turn to the only light that they have and I think that they are saved and ... they are going to be with us in heaven.”The movements of America and Graham toward a more generous sense of pluralism diverge in his legacy as the character of the 95th birthday celebration illustrates. There is a picture you must see that goes along with this blog post by Fred Clark. The photo has Graham at the center of a group including Rupert Murdoch, Sarah and Todd Palin, and Donald Trump. This is what Graham's legacy has become in the hands of his son, as Clark writes
He once told British interviewer David Frost that, “We [Christians] are closer to Islam than we think we are,” and praised Muslims for their religious discipline and appreciation for the person of Jesus Christ.
In 1957, as one of the architects of the Neo-Evangelical movement, he called conservative Christians to move away from the “Big Stink” of fundamentalism to the “Big Love” of Christ. Graham’s early decision to integrate his crusades, even in the South, was not lost on Martin Luther King, who urged him to continue such integrated events rather than join King “in the streets.”
At 95, Graham is frail and in ill health. His image and his legacy have been usurped as political tools used by his son Franklin Graham, who seems desperate to be a political player and kingmaker. Not content with living off the interest of his father’s legacy, Franklin has been burning through the capital..
Just look at how Franklin has exploited his father here. The famous preacher is silent now, a voiceless prop called upon to lend a sheen of respectability to the likes of Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News lackeys.
To his credit, Billy Graham looks uncomfortable being dragged out to offer his apparent blessing to a gaggle of dishonest strangers and charlatans that includes two racist billionaires.
That crowd represents a dwindling and dying segment of American life, and Graham's legacy will die with it. Like I said at the beginning, I have never been a Graham fan, but I would hardly have wished this on him.