The Rev. Billy Graham was a native Charlottean. That is one of the things we had in common. Like Rev. Graham, I was called to the ministry, and we shared a love for the North Carolina Mountains. He will be missed by many, especially in the South.
Rev. Graham (“Billy”) was instrumental in my return to the church as an adult. His simple message of “God loves you and He has a plan for you” resonated with me. It was a message I needed to hear at the right time, for the right reasons. If he moved beyond that message, however, as he had in earlier years, that’s when I cringed and retreated. I’ve never been one for compulsory faith. The “You must make a decision!” theology can be a dangerous one.
Consistently, conservatives could never get enough of Billy, and liberals had little, if any, empathy. When Billy and President Kennedy met, it must have been one interesting conversation! When he was young, Billy was not a fan of Catholics (or Jews, for that matter) and he made his views known. Later, Billy came to see people of other traditions and faiths as trying to do what most of us try to do—to live in concert with the God of our understanding. His message, generally, became more about God’s grace than human transgression. He was resolute in his stance that the ultimate path to God was through Jesus only, but his willingness to reach out to persons of other faiths increased with age, something a lot of Christians could learn from.
Though worlds apart in our respective theologies and social philosophies (I don’t believe that my gay brothers and sisters are sinful by virtue of following their hearts, for example), Billy and I were probably more alike than different. Regarding the pureness of his heart, I have no doubt. I thought Billy’s address to the nation at the National Cathedral the Friday following the September 11, 2001 attacks was hopeful and relevant.
Billy’s resolution to live a modest life as he comprehended it was admirable. I remember reading in his autobiography that although the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was doing well, he refused the adoption of an airplane on moral grounds. He didn’t think it was right for the ministry to spend money on something like that, which is more than can be said for some of the televangelists of today.
The Rev. Billy Graham grew up about 10 miles away from where I did. He was ordained to the Gospel Ministry, as was I. He had a great love for the Blue Ridge Mountains, as do I. He was conservative in his theological and social stance, whereas I fall in that grey area of “moderate” that irritates so many from the extreme ends of the liberal and conservative spectrum.
More important than all of that, though, is that he was Billy. Like him or not, you knew where he stood. He was a true and faithful rider of the horse that rode hard for the Jesus of Billy’s understanding. He had an enormous impact, preaching to as many or more people than the apostle Paul, and for that alone, he deserves our respect.
Thank you, Billy, for your service.