Billy Graham bows out with a message of hope - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
June 25, 2005

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Billy Graham bows out with a message of hope

-25/06/05

International Protestant evangelist Billy Graham, who is 86 years old and in increasingly poor health, has addressed 60,000 people at New Yorkís Flushing Meadow as part of what will almost certainly be his last preaching tour ñ though he has still to decide whether to accept one final invitation to Britain.

Grahamís message was simple and hopeful. Eschewing the public controversies that have plagued American Christianity in recent years, he called on people to put their faith in Jesus Christ and to practice a way of life based on love rather than hate. He also said that poverty was the biggest problem facing humankind.

Billy Graham, perhaps the best known popular preacher of the twentieth century, has mellowed considerably in tone and approach over the years. He has acted as pastor and counsellor to ten US presidents, and has toured some 185 countries to preach before an estimated 210 million people.

Compromised by his earlier dalliance with the disgraced Richard Nixon, Graham, who is seen as a key figure in the worldwide evangelical movement, has subsequently distanced himself from the religious right and hard-line fundamentalism in the United States.

Though he has always denied a link between faith and politics, Billy Grahamís conservative opinions soon found favour with establishment figures. But in the 1980s he surprised progressive critics by signing a petition calling for a nuclear freeze promoted by Sojourners magazine.

He also endured criticism from fellow evangelicals for visiting the Soviet Union, meeting the Pope, seeking dialogue with Jewish leaders, and declining to endorse President Bushís presidential campaign.

Graham took an early stand against racism, acknowledging the importance of Dr Martin Luther King and refusing to preach at segregated events in the 1950s and 1960s. The principal organizers of this weekend's rally included black pastors from New York.

More recently he publicly rebuked his own son, Franklin Graham, who seeks to follow in his footsteps, after Graham Jr called Islam ìa wicked religionî following the 9/11 twin towers attacks.

However the Billy Graham Organisation has resisted criticism for insensitivity and inappropriateness in still using the term ìcrusadeî to describe its preaching rallies. ìThere is a fantastic insularity and naivete about this,î a commentator told Ekklesia.

On BBC Radio 4 this morning Vicky Bateson from the Greenbelt Christian Festival acknowledged that large rallies still have an appeal for some, but suggested that a more open, questioning and celebratory approach to presenting the Christian faith was what most people wanted today, especially in Britain.

Greenbelt, which has been praised by those outside the church like Anita Roddick, presented ìfaith as an exploration and a journeyî, explained Ms Bateson. It sought points of positive contact between Christianity and contemporary culture. Issues of justice and peace were also to the fore.

President George W. Bush has this week sent a message of greeting to Billy Graham on his retirement, saying that the evangelist ìchanged his lifeî.

But back in December 2002 Christian leaders from across the US placed adverts in newspapers saying that the US invasion of Iraq violated the teachings of Christ, and declaring: ìMr President: Jesus changed your heart, now let him change your mind.î

Find books now:

Billy Graham bows out with a message of hope

-25/06/05

International Protestant evangelist Billy Graham, who is 86 years old and in increasingly poor health, has addressed 60,000 people at New York's Flushing Meadow as part of what will almost certainly be his last preaching tour - though he has still to decide whether to accept one final invitation to Britain.

Graham's message was simple and hopeful. Eschewing the public controversies that have plagued American Christianity in recent years, he called on people to put their faith in Jesus Christ and to practice a way of life based on love rather than hate. He also said that poverty was the biggest problem facing humankind.

Billy Graham, perhaps the best known popular preacher of the twentieth century, has mellowed considerably in tone and approach over the years. He has acted as pastor and counsellor to ten US presidents, and has toured some 185 countries to preach before an estimated 210 million people.

Compromised by his earlier dalliance with the disgraced Richard Nixon, Graham, who is seen as a key figure in the worldwide evangelical movement, has subsequently distanced himself from the religious right and hard-line fundamentalism in the United States.

Though he has always denied a link between faith and politics, Billy Graham's conservative opinions soon found favour with establishment figures. But in the 1980s he surprised progressive critics by signing a petition calling for a nuclear freeze promoted by Sojourners magazine.

He also endured criticism from fellow evangelicals for visiting the Soviet Union, meeting the Pope, seeking dialogue with Jewish leaders, and declining to endorse President Bush's presidential campaign.

Graham took an early stand against racism, acknowledging the importance of Dr Martin Luther King and refusing to preach at segregated events in the 1950s and 1960s. The principal organizers of this weekend's rally included black pastors from New York.

More recently he publicly rebuked his own son, Franklin Graham, who seeks to follow in his footsteps, after Graham Jr called Islam 'a wicked religion' following the 9/11 twin towers attacks.

However the Billy Graham Organisation has resisted criticism for insensitivity and inappropriateness in still using the term 'crusade' to describe its preaching rallies. 'There is a fantastic insularity and naivete about this,' a commentator told Ekklesia.

On BBC Radio 4 this morning Vicky Bateson from the Greenbelt Christian Festival acknowledged that large rallies still have an appeal for some, but suggested that a more open, questioning and celebratory approach to presenting the Christian faith was what most people wanted today, especially in Britain.

Greenbelt, which has been praised by those outside the church like Anita Roddick, presented 'faith as an exploration and a journey', explained Ms Bateson. It sought points of positive contact between Christianity and contemporary culture. Issues of justice and peace were also to the fore.

President George W. Bush has this week sent a message of greeting to Billy Graham on his retirement, saying that the evangelist 'changed his life'.

But back in December 2002 Christian leaders from across the US placed adverts in newspapers saying that the US invasion of Iraq violated the teachings of Christ, and declaring: 'Mr President: Jesus changed your heart, now let him change your mind.'

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.