This morning, we awoke to the news that evangelist Rev. Billy Graham passed away. He was 99.
Graham leaves behind a ministry legacy that will stand, perhaps, in the United States along with Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther King, Jr., as a transcendent leader of the faith who influenced more than just the church. In time, his legacy will also stand with the likes of John Wesley, John Calvin, and others for making a contribution to the faith that will go beyond their time and place to benefit of the global movement of the church.
What was Graham’s legacy? He leaves no system of theology nor did he provide a different or needed perspective on the church’s orthodoxy (right beliefs). What he did, instead, offer was a reach that is beyond comparison and a message of grace that was received by millions.
According to The Associated Press, Graham reached more than 210 million people during his ministry with his last revival coming in 2005. That is the equivalent of just a little bit more than the entire population of Brazil (207 million). Thanks to modern technology and means of transportation, no other pastor has had that kind of ministry influence.
Graham was known as America’s pastor, but I remember him most living out this role as the pastor to presidents. He had interactions with every president from Truman to Obama. He counseled and prayed for them. Sometimes these interactions would catch Graham in trouble, as was the case in 2002 when comments he made about the Jewish community to President Nixon were released when all of the Nixon tapes were made public.
That moment allowed the world to see another side of Graham. His humility. Graham quickly apologized for the comment and asked the Jewish community to consider his relationships with them and not his misguided comments. His humility was also on display, later in life, as he reflected on his involvement in the civil rights movement. While Graham eliminated segregation from his revivals prior to Brown v. Board of Education ended a practice that was truly wrong, Graham did not use his voice and platform as strongly as others in his time would have liked. Graham once told The Associated Press that he should have gone to Selma.
Another side I appreciate about Graham was his willingness to work across denominational lines. Too often we can get caught up in the Protestant or Catholic, Baptist or Methodist, divisions and only stick with those “who believe like me.” Graham was willing to go and share with people from across the globe and denominational alliances recognizing that God is in more places than we often give the Lord credit.
One of the great attributes we all long to hear is the words of Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We often wonder and assume people will hear those long-desired words. I don’t think we have to assume about Graham.
Truly, well done … good and faithful servant.