The Billy Graham I know – and why he matters

grahamBy Ken Garfield – 

Billy Graham turned 95 on Nov. 7, a tender reason to affirm the life of modern Christendom’s most influential figure.

I come to the celebration from a special vantage point after covering Graham for more than a dozen years as religion editor for his hometown newspaper, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. I witnessed his impact on millions the world over, felt his warmth one on one and came to admire a somewhat underappreciated dimension of his legacy: In Billy Graham’s world, hope comes from Jesus, not necessarily from Methodism or any other denomination. Those of us facing increasingly empty pews on Sunday mornings ought to pay special attention to that last point.

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As communications director at Myers Park United Methodist Church, I appreciate the need to learn another part of the Graham story: Throughout his ministry, he played down denominationalism by stressing the broader theme of salvation through Jesus. He grew up in an Associate Reformed Presbyterian church and became Southern Baptist. But that didn’t matter to most of the people drawn to his side, nor to him. He was trying to wrest people from the clutches of the culture, not from the competing church down the street. Not once during the dozen years I covered Graham all over the world do I remember him holding up one strain of Christianity over another.

We know this in the Methodist trenches: Most newcomers are coming to us in the hope that we can help them find their way and find meaning along life’s twisting path. The fact that we are Methodist, and that we stand on the foundation of John Wesley, matters not to the searchers. Same goes for those drawn to the church down the street, whatever the denomination.

Billy Graham understood that many of the 215 million people who came to the stadiums to hear him preach during his lifetime were looking for something beyond the emotion and the spectacle. They were looking for the meaning of life. Those of us preaching the same message, we need to understand that, too.

To read the entire commentary from Ken Garfield, click HERE.

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