Billy Graham makes faith attractive by way he lives
A fellow who met Billy Graham more than 30 years ago remarked that the evangelist was the most serene person he'd ever encountered. "Serene" is still a good word to describe Mr. Graham as he appears in television and newspaper interviews preceding this weekend's crusade in New York City — which he says may be the last one that he will personally hold.
Mr. Graham, 86, exudes what Mark Twain called "the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces." His faith in God gives him personal peace even while his health fails, and he's as certain as ever that faith is the solution to people's problems.
But he is nonjudgmental and disinclined to give peripheral advice. He has befriended presidents of both parties since Harry Truman, but he told The New York Times that he won't preach on politics.
"I'm just going to preach the gospel and not going to get off on all these hot button issues," he said. "... If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience ... And if they come to Christ, they hopefully come to a church where they will learn more about their responsibility in society."
Pressed to comment on homosexuality, for example, he says it's a sin, but so are a lot of other things. He continues to stress love and forgiveness (themes that you can see in his column that appears in THE DAILY).
Mr. Graham's greatest influence may be his example. He doesn't hold himself to be a great theologian (he says he wishes he'd gotten more education), and his preaching style and message are not complicated. But the sex and money scandals that brought down other evangelists have raised his stature by comparison. He is open about his organization's finances and doesn't live in grand style off the offerings; he has carefully avoided compromising situations with women.
His son, Franklin Graham, told a crusade audience in Nashville a few years ago that there are not two Billy Grahams — the one you see on stage is the same one he sees at home. Billy Graham takes the blame for his own flaws and shifts credit for his accomplishments to other people and God.
"What worries you the most?" talk-show host Larry King asked him Thursday night.
"Poverty in the world" was Mr. Graham's quick reply.
Christianity and other religions could use a few more leaders like Billy Graham — positive, loving and helpful, concerned about people's needs, while aversive to trouble and conflict.