Billy Graham: Compromiser or Visionary?

“At a time when religion seems so often to get in the way of God’s work, with its shopping mall sales pitch and its bumper sticker reductionism—I give thanks just for the sanity of Billy Graham, for that clear, empathetic voice of his and that southern accent, and part poet, part preacher, the singer of the human spirit I’d say. Yeah, I give thanks to Billy Graham. Thank you, Billy Graham.” Bono



A couple of years ago, I was having a rather heated discussion on creation with a deacon at my former church. He was an ardent young earth proponent and was unable to see any other viewpoint within Christendom as being valid. Attempting to persuade him to consider another viewpoint, I stated many Christians believe in an old earth. Appealing to his Southern Baptist roots, I mentioned that Billy Graham held to such a view. His response flabbergasted me. He stated, “I never trusted Billy Graham anyway!” Your humble, albeit glamorous, blog queen was once again broadsided by another form of culturally biased Christianity.


This deacon had grown up in the South with a restricted Christian worldview as espoused by his small Southern Baptist church. He had been taught that becoming a Christian meant far more than salvation by Jesus through faith alone. It also meant a strict literalist viewpoint of Scripture with an emphasis on secondary issues. I, on the other hand, had grown up in the liberal north where rules and beliefs were routinely challenged. Christianity, unless it was a lightly held Catholicism, was viewed with great suspicion.

Surprised by the vehemence of his response, I consulted Google and found a myriad of articles, which claimed that Billy Graham was either not a Christian or a heretic. Some even accuse him as being the forerunner of the antichrist! Great Scott!


For some of these, Billy had compromised the Gospel. For others, he consorted with all sorts of people and countries that were not Christian and this proved he was going “off reservation.” The supposed proof of these accusations ran the gamut from his friendship with Bill Clinton, the Soviet Union, to various movies stars. Some accuse him of being a closet “Catholic”, which I have learned that here, in the South, is about the most damning thing a Baptist can say about another person. (Although “Democrat” currently appears to be running a close second; with “Yankee” coming in third. A Catholic Democrat Yankee is definitely going to hell)!


Many Southerners have little idea how foreign the concept of evangelical Christianity is in the north as well as in most of the world. As a child growing up in a non Christian home in Massachusetts, I had never heard the terms “born again”, “walk the aisle,” “tithe”, ”getting saved”, etc. 



I grew up in a Russian/Polish subculture in which the eating of traditional foods, drinking and dancing (especially the polka) are considered the spice of life. Some of my earliest memories are of my father letting me stand on his feet and flying off in an exuberant polka.


To further educate my Southern friends in the finer art of Russian/Polish festival music, I have provided a link to a great performance of “In Heaven There Is No Beer” by Moostash Joe’s Polka Band. I could sing and dance to this song when I was a little girl. I provide the lyrics for thoughtful analysis.

“In heaven there is no beer
That’s why we drink it here
And when we’re gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all the beer”. (Then start singing la la la la la laaaaaaa….whilst dancing in circles).


As our alert readers will note, this song combines elements of the afterlife, death and a theological discourse as to the potential lack of beer in heaven. These polka festivals were always held at the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic church halls where priests also enjoyed said dancing and imbibing. Religious faith was invariable tied up in the church community, which also involved lots of eating of traditional foods such as pierogi, cabbage and kielbasa.


Now, imagine a poufy haired, old timey, Southern Baptist preacher hitting the circuits up north, inveighing against the evils of hooch and dancing? It would seem ludicrous to those who found joy and camaraderie in such occasions. If that was what it took to be a Christian, most of my family’s friends would have rejected the faith.


However, there is a man who was respected by my parents and others. His name is Billy Graham. The crowds who would come to see him astonished my father so he took my mother to see him in Madison Square Garden. Although he would not make a declaration of faith until his deathbed, he would always speak highly of him and would never miss an occasion to watch him on television. My dad would say that Billy was a “good” man, which, in itself, was an amazing thing because my father was a most cynical man.


I first heard Graham on television at the age of 16. I remember crying as I watched the crowds come forward to “receive Jesus” although I didn’t fully understand what was going on. Yet, in some strange way, it attracted me. Approximately one year later I would make a profession of faith in the privacy of my home. When that happened, I immediately went to the library to find any books written by Graham and I would watch his crusades regularly.


At first, my parents expressed concerns about this new faith. I must admit that I was a bit vocal about this.  I knew few Christians and, I believe, I was the only Christian my parents had met, up close and personal. When I explained to them that I believed exactly what Billy Graham believed, my parents were relieved because, as my dad said, at least it wasn’t some cult.


Last week I visited the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC. It was during that visit that I began to realize, in greater depth, the enormity of Billy Graham’s legacy. I saw pictures of him with every President, with world leaders from most every country along with famous people such as Muhammad Ali and Johnny Cash. I saw videos of him proclaiming the faith to Woody Allen and to enormous crowds in Europe.


One of the most astonishing videos was of the Russian Red Army Chorus singing “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” during Billy’s crusade in Russia. Do Graham’s detractors know how absolutely incredible that was? Imagine, the former atheistic Red Army singing about God! And even more touching were videos of little Russian babushkas (grandmothers in kerchiefs) crying and praying. And here I was, the Christian granddaughter of a Russian babushka, watching this in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a profoundly moving moment for me.


Billy Graham did it right by keeping the main thing, the main thing. He believed that he was called to share the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ and that he did. He shared this Gospel with over 200 million people!! Did you get that? 200 million!!!!! . It wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t about personal fame. He used his fame to gain access to closed countries and curious people.


And to those, like my parents, who were wary of religious hucksters, they found a trustworthy Christian who was wholly dedicated to bringing the message of Christ wherever and whenever he could. If it meant making nice to a Communist leader, he would do so while sharing the Gospel with him at the same time. Graham looked neither to the left or the right, choosing to keep his eyes fixed firmly on his calling.


His message made sense to those who were not acculturated in the niceties of Southern style Christianity. He eschewed cultural faith and secondary issues and boldly proclaimed mere Christianity.


Graham never insulted those from other faiths. He didn’t pontificate political mandates. His only purpose was to find a way to preach the Gospel to those who needed to hear it. He made it a point to never embarrass the leaders of other countries. Leaders of all faiths and all political persuasions trusted him and he was allowed unprecedented access to people all over the world. And those people heard the unadulterated Gospel message.


I believe that those who would detract from Graham’s historical legacy are nearsighted fools! How many of those people sitting in their perfect little churches, proclaiming legalistic doctrine, have even see one person come to Christ?


There are quite a few pastors today who want to proclaim their “authority” over the believers who attend their churches. However, if they must proclaim it, they don’t, and won’t, have it. True authority is found in those who are passionately pursuing God’s will in their lives. Billy Graham never had to proclaim that he was “in authority.” Yet, when he spoke, the world listened and millions came forward to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. You want to see someone who was anointed? You need look no further than Graham.


So, I have a request. If you know someone who knows someone who is a friend or family member of Billy Graham, could you ask him/her to give him a message? Tell him that there is a woman, no one special, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, who grew up in a non Christian environment who is profoundly grateful for his ministry. Thank him for never losing sight of his calling and tell him I shall pray for God’s continued favor on his life.



Billy Graham: Compromiser or Visionary? — 2 Comments

  1. I am going to have to disagree with you on this one.

    There are many things I have a problem with when it comes to BG but the main one is the lie about walking the ailse and how many people leave that Crusade thinking they are saved but are not. BG knew this back in the late 50’s and big meetings were held about this very thing. They knew a very small percentage of those walking the ailse, who claimed not to be saved, went on to get involved with other believers. The figure was less than 5%, If I remember correctly.

    A book that mentions what happened with Evangelicalism in the 20th Century is Evangelicalism Divided. There was a lot of strange stuff coming out of Fuller and other big wig Christian areas that have to do with what happened. Graham was faced with a serious choice. And I think he made the wrong one.

    Graham was always able to surround himself with serious money makers and politicians. I recommend this book for another view. Does not mean I agree with everything in the book but it does lay out some interesting history of the evangelical movement in America in the 20th century. The sadness comes because some chose the fame route over the hard truth route. There are people in this country who went forward at a Graham Crusade 20 years ago, born NO fruit of sanctification since, and still believe they are saved because of walking the ailse that ONE night at a Crusade. I do not think that is a great legacy. He kept telling them to come forward when he should have told tham that walking up there does NOT save. But everyone was there for the big finale. No one wanted there NOT to be a big finale…that was part of the problem, too.

    Also, in the past 20 years or so, Graham made some shocking declarations both on TV with Robert Schuller in 1997, and in an interview with Newsweek a few years back, declaring that someone could be saved and not know Jesus. He was asked to clarify and he said the same thing again.

    When asked to reply to this, his family said he was an old man.

    I do NOT think Graham is the anti Christ! I think he was much like Charles Finney. His entire ministry was about decisionism. To the point that it became a numbers ministry.

    I also believe that some people were really saved from his preaching! I have met Graham several times YEARS ago at the COVE, functions where my mom played and I now have a relative who works for Franklin.

    Personally, I think Ann Lotz is much deeper than her dad when it comes to teaching.

    BTW: I totally agree with you on Southern religious subculture. I was raised on the fringes of it but because we had so many missionary’s in our family all over the world in some very remote places, it was impossible to take it seriously. It is simply tradition. And that can stand in the way of knowing truth or become a works religion real quick.

  2. Billy Graham was an evangelist, not a teacher. Billy Graham made mistakes and errors as we all have. He was very high profile. But, Billy Graham was no Charles Finney. I bore fruit from Grahams ministry, not because of tactis but because I was chosen by God and Dr. Graham was simply the vehicle God used.