Billy Graham

| March 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

By
George Mitrovich

Billy Graham by Russ Busby.

Upon the passing of Billy Graham, I posted a tribute to him on Facebook and shared my tribute with close friends I frequently email on issues important to me.

First, here is my tribute:

The passing of Billy Graham ends an era, not alone for American Christianity, but in the world.

In his 60-years of ministry, Dr. Graham’s estimated lifetime worldwide audience, including television and radio, was 2.2 billion people. The question of how many lives did his preaching effect or how many people decided to become followers of Christ from his preaching, is unquantifiable — this side of heaven — but know it is a great number.

For six decades he was listed the “most admired American,” and why not? He was such a good man, who spent a lifetime honoring his faith and his Lord, to “walking the walk,” as they say, and while many attempts were made to sully his name, his name remains unsullied.

As Christianity Today wrote, “Graham was a model of integrity. Despite scandals and missteps that toppled other leaders and ministers, including Graham’s friend Richard Nixon and a succession of televangelists, in six decades of ministry, no one ever leveled a serious accusation of misconduct against him.”

Growing up in San Diego, active in the Church of the Nazarene and in Youth For Christ (YFC), listening to Dr. Graham preached on his “Hour of Decision,” was a Sunday ritual for me, and my high school pals.

He impacted my life, strengthening the most important values I had been taught by my parents and by the Church of the Nazarene, and subsequently the Methodist Church, to honor every life, to treat everyone with dignity and respect, independent of color, class or creed. As God is my witness, and He is, those values transcend all others — and remain fixed in my life.

It is somewhat odd, I think, given how significant a figure Dr. Graham was for me growing up, and continued to be through my adult years, I had never met him, until, as press secretary to Senator Harold Hughes, Democrat of Iowa, then running for President of the United States, the Senator introduced us before a private lunch in the U.S. Capitol.

Dr. Graham was tall, handsome, and possessed the most penetrating blue eyes of anyone I had ever met. When we shook hands, he looked deep into my eyes, as I was the center of his attention, seeming oblivious to all the U.S. Senators who had gathered round. It was a moment in time — but I remember the moment.

I had mistakenly thought the quote, “The most segregated hour in America is eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings,” was said by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But he didn’t say that, although he quoted it often. It was first said by Billy Graham.

My liberal friends, politically and religiously (if religious), are sometimes confused by my regard for Dr. Graham. They shouldn’t be.

My politics as a liberal Kennedy, Dukakis, Democrat, my fundamental believe in social justice, of the obligation of every person to be civically engaged, to love our brothers and sisters as ourselves, is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 25 in the Christian New Testament.) Whatever else I may be, however often my failings, often, it is the essence of me.

Am I saying that my liberal politics have been informed by a conservative evangelical Christian leader like Billy Graham?

Yes.

In the long history of American revivalism and its evangelists, from Jonathan Edwards to George Whitfield, from Dwight L. Moody to R.A. Torrey, from Charles G. Finney to Billy Sunday, no one stands equal to William Franklin Graham.

We have lost a Great Man.

I was lucky to have lived in his time.

One of those who responded to my tribute was Lawrence Hess, a major donor to charitable causes and Democratic Party candidates.

He said he was not aware of Billy Graham in my life, but he was impressed by what I wrote.

I responded:
“Growing up in SD in the early 50s the most exciting place to be on Saturday nights, if you were in high school, was the First Baptist Church downtown, at 10th & E (later converted to condominiums). ??First Baptist was a big church and its sanctuary seated 1,500, and on Saturday nights it was filled, as kid came from all over San Diego County came to attend Youth For Christ (YFC). The music was great. The preaching, by some of the country’s top young evangelists, was also great. Meaning, they made us laugh a lot, before they got serious.

“The rallies began at 7:30 and ended about 9:30, which left time to drive over to Carnation’s on El Cajon Blvd at 30th, to have hamburgers and milk shakes (Carnation’s hamburgers were the best). The guys who hung out with me, Frank Morgan and Jerry Rhodes, were Helix High baseball teammates and student government leaders, plus Frank’s girl friend, Jerelyn Taylor (who he would later married), stayed around until midnight and after, and then went home. There was never an issue with our parents, because they knew we were good kids and possessed good values.

“One of those years I won the YFC Preacher Boy contest, which meant I won a set of bible commentaries and a trip to Sacramento to compete for the California Preacher Boy title.

“Alas, I lost to a kid who had Billy Graham down to a tee. No, really. Had he have been preaching from behind a curtain, you would have thought it was Graham himself. As the winner he won a trip to Winona Lake, Indiana, to compete for the national YFC Preacher Boy Championship.

“But in those years and after, I followed Billy Graham, and did indeed listened to him preach every Sunday afternoon on the radio, often while riding around East County in Jerry Rhodes’ convertible.

“Billy Graham is a huge figure in American Christian history, but as my politics grew liberal and enlightened, I moved away from Graham’s political conservatism, but never, ever, lost my regard from him as a person or of his great contribution to our world.”

My Facebook posting on Graham drew this response from Jamie Reno, the former Newsweek correspondent and now free-lance writer (Jamie’s good):

“My take on Billy is that while he seemed generally to be a man with love in his heart, like most ambitious televangelists, he had delusions of grandeur. He also refused to participate in the 1963 March on Washington and often denigrated Dr. King’s statements, and said some truly horrible things about gay Americans, who are loved by God just as much as Billy was…”

I responded:

“I am aware of Dr. Graham’s defects, which, later in his life, he acknowledged.

“He came to regret his endorsement of Nixon, but only after the tapes revealed a Nixon he did not know.

“On the March on Washington, his absence is more than offset by his refusal, in his Southern crusades, to segregate people because of color. And, as it relates to the March, many Democrats were wary of Dr. King, and stayed away.

“As to ‘gay Americans,’ there is no defending Dr. Graham’s views on this, but to understand it, you must remember Dr. Graham was a Southern Baptist, and, therefore a fundamentalist. Meaning, he believed Scripture without error. So when St. Paul writes about homosexuality being an ‘abomination,’ Biblical literalists believe similarly.

“Three verses of Scripture condemn homosexuality. More than 2,000 condemn poverty. So why do we only hear about the three?

“The damage done to the witness of the Christian faith in our country by fundamentalists is huge. It is as if they have crucified Christ a second time.

“My non-fundamentalist friends in the Christian ministry, many, are concerned about the damage being done to the church’s reputation.

“Finally, the world’s a better place for Dr. Graham’s life and ministry, as there are millions around the globe who became confessing Christians because of Dr. Graham, and have, from that moment on, sought to be better people, loving people, caring people.

“That’s redemptive, not destructive.”

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com.

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