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Ethics & Religion
March 1, 2018
Column #1,906
Billy Graham: The Greatest Evangelist
By Mike McManus

Billy Graham, who died last week at age 99, conducted his first city-wide crusade in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1947. He held more than 400 crusades in 185 countries, speaking in person to 215 million people! Ten times as many - 2.2 billion people heard him on radio or TV. No one in history brought the Christian message to so many.

This week, he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and Thursday. The U.S. House and Senate closed down in his honor. House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "If there is anyone whose life deserves to be honored by lying in the U.S. Capitol, it's Billy Graham." Thousands of people - some who had driven for hours - filed past the man who changed their lives.

On his 95th birthday in 2013 he delivered his last sermon, expressing concern about America: "Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I've wept as I've gone from city to city and I've seen how far people have wandered from God...

"I know many people will react to this message, but it is the truth. And with all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth. God loves you, and He's willing to forgive you of all your sins. The cross is offensive because it confronts people. Even so, it is a confrontation that all of us must face."

One of the hundreds of guests was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She told USA Today that Billy's message years earlier "transformed my mother's life. In the 70s, she would tune into the Billy Graham Crusades, televised. My mom was raised Catholic, and she...was yearning for something more," Palin said. "His invitation for people to know they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - my mom understood that from the way that he could articulate it

"She became a Christian, led the rest us the family to Christ, and that, I believe, transformed our family."

Millions of individuals experienced a similar life-changing experience. One was George W. Bush when he was in his 20's - and was drunk. His father, George H.W. Bush, had invited the preacher to the family's compound in Maine, who spoke with the errant son.

That conversation led Bush to quit drinking altogether - and put him on the path to the presidency.

President Truman was the first of 12 Presidents who invited Graham to the White House. After meeting with Truman, the press asked him to recount some of their conversation. At the press' urging, Graham and his colleagues knelt on the White House lawn for prayer.

"It dawned on me a few days later that we had abused the privilege of seeing the President," Graham wrote. "National press coverage of our visit was definitely not to our advantage. The President was offended that I had quoted him without authorization," (for which he later apologized.)

Graham went to great lengths to avoid moral failure. He never had a meal with a woman other than his wife. He required his hotel room be searched before he retired.

He handled money ethically. The Billy Graham Association handled over $100 million a year and never once had a financial malfeasance allegation.

Chuck Colson, who served prison time for Watergate crimes, credited Graham as a mentor who helped him shape his Prison Fellowship ministry. Colson recalled seeing Rev. Graham, the celebrity evangelist to millions, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a maximum security prison, sharing Christ's love with a single prisoner. Colson later wrote, "He was as comfortable in that prison as he was in a palace."

Graham helped create Christianity Today, the definitive magazine of evangelical Christianity. The magazine reported that Graham persuaded more than 3 million people to commit their lives to Christ.

One of those people was Don Wildmon, who created the American Family Association, which owns 184 Christian radio stations and publishes the AFA Journal, a monthly Christian magazine with twice the circulation of Christianity Today. The magazine opposed a 1980s film by Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ, which Wildmon called "blasphemous."

In interviews with Ted Koppel on Nightline, The McNeal-Lehrer Report on PBS and by NBC's Meet the Press - Wildmon urged Christians to sign a petition to theaters not to show the movie.

It worked. The film made it into only 1% of the nation's theaters and was a flop.

Billy Graham has inspired millions of Don Wildmons to come to faith and live it for others.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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