Billy Graham has met with every single president since Harry Truman to George Bush. No single churchman compares to Graham’s impact on the nation in recent history. His life and legacy will never be matched in the United States. Why care about him and his influence? There is one single fact alone: There will never be another Pastor of America.
When televisions were showing up in the majority of homes, Billy Graham was marching up the charts to being the most visible pastor in America.
Graham had an innate ability to adopt the trends of the culture and use them in his outreach. Close friends of his say that he was quick witted and did best when he didn’t have much time to think about things. He was quick on the draw. Many were attracted to him because of his ability to be funny, give a serious message, and sit down and have a conversation. He was likeable to the average person and was a role model, especially to men. He was a man’s man. He had broad shoulders and a thin waist. He had a deep baritone voice, a voice which spoke the truth with clarity. His humility is one of his most defining character traits, especially since he was in the lime light the majority of his life. In his home, he has on his wall a verse: Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” If anyone had an excuse to be proud, it was Graham, yet by God’s grace he strove to be humble.
Graham’s remarkable influence can be traced to a specific and rare ability: an ability to unite the divided. After the election and inauguration of John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, Graham united evangelicals in an unprecedented. During this time, evangelicals and Roman Catholics mixed like oil and water. Graham used his influence to rally support for the new president. He called on Roman Catholics and Evangelicals alike to stand together for the nations president. It worked due to Graham being the unofficial Pastor of America. Even though he was strongly ‘evangelical’, his presence and message made it to millions worldwide.
Graham made being a Christian look good. He had the looks of a Hollywood celebrity, the physique of a high school jock, and a message that radiated the heart. Graham spoke to the people at that particular time in the nation’s history and made himself seem like he identified with his listeners. His message spoke to everyone: If you aren’t a believer, you need Christ. If you a back-slidden believer, rededicate your life to the Lord. If you are strong in your faith, go out and be bold to share the Gospel. He preached to the lowest common denominator of the evangelical faith and kept it right there–pretty much throughout his entire ministry.
Remember the days of snail mail? I remember having a pen pal in 4th grade. What a highlight when I got letters from my friend. Back when snail mail was the common option for communicating other than phone, Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, received a letter from Billy when he was off on one of his crusades. In it, he explained to Ruth that he would consider someone a Christian if they believed in the deity of Christ and if they were living for Him. Later, he would add the atoning work of Christ. This inclusiveness allowed most evangelicals to fall under his umbrella. On one hand, this is the reason he had such a wide audience and following. On the other hand, this is why he did not get along well with other conservative protestants. Graham said that between love and orthodoxy, love takes priority as spelled out in the Bible. The ‘Badge of Christian Discipleship” is love, said Graham.
Graham strove to preach in an effective way. He went along in order to get along with everyone, and people loved it. He was peaceful, yet not timid. People are drawn to men who stand firm on convictions without backing away. His confessions seemed genuine and people brushed his failings off saying that he was human.
I admire many things of Billy Graham’s ministry, but the act that causes me to respect him the most is when he took down a barrier at one of his crusades, blocking non-whites from whites. Graham had a tremendous influence during the civil rights era. Amidst death threats, major supporters backing away, and bad publicity, Graham put his foot down to racial segregation in his crusades. He insisted, as a genuine conviction, that the Gospel does not segregate. He supported Martin Luther King Jr. and helped further the reality that Christianity is not just for white people.
Because of Graham’s life, protestantism was put back into the public light. He was extremely well known, respected, and genuine. Due to his longevity, lack of scandal, and inclusive boundary markers, Graham will be the last Pastor of America. Although he was never formally labeled this, he was the spokesman for the American Christian. He was the man people went to for answers and guidance. There is no one like Billy Graham anymore. This is what makes him so special. This is why we should study him: He was the last Pastor of Americans.
For Further Discussion:
Thinking in Public discusses Billy Graham
The Gospel Coalition article: The Next Billy Graham