I’m a Catholic priest, but Billy Graham is one of my heroes.
Why is that? Because I was brought up in a strict Evangelical home where we were used to Billy Graham’s kind of old time religion.
We memorized Bible verses and believed that you had to “get saved.” Our heroes were the missionaries and traveling evangelists and we heard them when they came to our church, preached the gospel and called for people to “bow their heads and close their eyes with no one looking around.”
We raised our hands and went forward and accepted Jesus into our lives as our personal Lord and Savior, and I’m not ashamed of it.
In fact, my own first commitment to Christ was as a child of five. After church one Sunday night I knelt by my bedside with my mother and told Jesus I was sorry for my sins and accepted him as my Lord.
But as I grew older I started to see the dark side of American fundamentalist Christianity. I noticed the loud mouthed, weeping and sweating hustlers for the Lord on TV. I noticed the extra marital affairs of the pastors. I noticed the money grubbing con men and the hypocritical, self righteous, angry right wingers.
As I became more educated I couldn’t help noticing the bigotry and deliberate stupidity of many in that world. They were anti intellectual on purpose. They excluded more people than they included and were prone to make little cult like sects of their churches and schools. They clung to young earth creationism and other literalist fantasies about the Bible. They condemned practically every other Christian group as apostate and liberal and heretical.
But then I went to Oxford to study to become an Anglican priest, and it was there that I met Billy Graham. He had been invited to Oxford to conduct a mission, and those of us who were theological students–as well as the clergy and theologians were invited to a special meeting with him.
He was surrounded by a group that was not exactly hostile, but certainly dubious, and he was the perfect Southern gentleman and charmed us all.
I don’t remember his exact words but it was something like, “My friends, I come here feeling a little bit like Paul preaching in Athens. He was surrounded by the greatest minds and philosophers of his day, and he stood up and presented the simple, life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what I feel like. Here you are as the greatest writers and thinkers of our age, and I’m just a poor country preacher. Nevertheless, it is my prayer that you will join me in witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ to this needy world.”
That was it basically, and who but the hardest of hearts could resist it?
During all his years Billy Graham maintained complete integrity in his relationships, his finances and his witness. He put safeguards in place financially so that he received a simple salary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. That’s it. When he travelled he was never in a room with a woman alone. Although he was friends with politicians he kept to what he did–praying with people and preaching the gospel.
Therefore, apart from being the most famous evangelist of our age, he was also a model of Christian ministry. As such he is a model for all priests, pastors, popes and bishops.
I went on to become first an Anglican minister, and then a Catholic priest, but in that journey I have never turned my back on my good Evangelical upbringing. I have not denied all the good things from that Christian heritage–I have just added to them, and if I take any label at all it is that of an “Evangelical Catholic.”
Billy Graham was part of that foundation and he was a true Man of God
May flights of angels wing him to his rest and may perpetual light shine upon him.
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