February 22, 2018
I woke up this morning to a world without Billy Graham. It felt strange, because throughout my 64 years on this earth—including over four decades serving in the gospel ministry—Rev. William Franklin Graham has been a dependable constant for me in an all-too-often chaotic world.
Long before I was born on December 29, 1953, Billy Graham was already a national phenomenon who had preached to hundreds of thousands. But before my first birthday, his fame became global. For it was in 1954 that Billy Graham took London by storm when he held a three month long crusade during which over two million Londoners attended the services and some 40,000 made professions of faith in Christ.
The news this week is filled with the many other mind-boggling statistics about the ministry of this remarkable man and I need not repeat them here. A quick Google search will provide a menu of stories about how Billy Graham touched and sometimes dramatically changed the lives of many famous people, from Johnny Cash, to Pastor Rick Warren, to George W. Bush. But most of the 100 million people who saw him preach in person and the uncounted billions who watched him on TV were not famous, but the impact that he made on their lives was no less significant. This story is about how Billy Graham affected me.
Mine was the first “TV Generation,” and television was a major factor in Graham’s impact on the world—and on me. I grew up watching Billy Graham crusades. It is hard to communicate the impact of those broadcasts to those of you born after the advent of cable television. For most of my childhood St. Louis had three network TV stations plus a PBS channel with a weak signal. So when a crusade broadcast secured one hour of prime time, it effectively tied up one third of the TV viewing options during that time, giving Billy something of a captive audience. No evangelist today, no matter how effective, could hope to capture such an audience. For me and millions like me, the impact of Cliff Barrows leading those massive crusade choirs, George Beverly Shea’s powerful bass voice singing We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder and How Great Thou Art, celebrity testimonies from people like Johnny Cash, Graham’s clear and convicting sermons, and the image of multitudes of people responding to the invitation as the crowd sang Just As I Am made a deep and lasting impression.
I was only twelve years old when I first began to sense God leading me into the ministry. By fifteen I preached my first sermon. As God’s Spirit was working on my heart, Billy Graham was my much admired role model. The longer I was in the ministry, the more I learned about Graham’s life and approach to ministry, the stronger that role model became. For as I came to better appreciate the challenges of serving in the ministry, and the temptations that come with the calling, the better I appreciated the steadfast consistency of Billy Graham and the wisdom he demonstrated in handling those challenges in his own life. Vice President Pence was in the news last year because of his longstanding commitment to follow the so-called “Billy Graham Rule”—a policy of never allowing himself to be alone with a woman not his wife. Actually, this is only one aspect of a far broader set of principles that came to be known as the Modesto Manifesto:
During his meetings in Modesto, California, in November 1948, Graham met with his co-workers and friends George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows (at the motel on South Ninth Street where they were staying) to determine what were the most common criticisms of evangelists and how they should organize their own meetings so that they would be above reproach. Among the points they agreed on was that the Graham team would avoid even any appearance of financial abuse, exercise extreme care to avoid even the appearance of any sexual impropriety (from that point on, Graham made it a point not to travel, meet or eat alone with any woman other than his wife Ruth), to cooperate with any local churches that were willing to participate in united evangelism effort, and to be honest and reliable in their publicity and reporting of results. The so-called Modesto Manifesto was the name they gave among themselves to the principles they decided on and applied in Graham's ministry from that point on. (http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/faq/4.htm)
Graham’s example helped me to craft my own set of guiding principles to protect my own ministry from any hint of scandal.
Some years ago I put down on paper my longstanding guideline for avoiding sexual sin in my ministry, Glen Land’s 10 Rules for Avoiding Personal Disaster in Pastoral Relations with the Opposite Sex (https://glenlandsblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/glen-lands-10-rules-for-avoiding.html).
Years ago I determined to stay well clear of the money handling aspects of parish ministry. In any of the churches that I served I made certain that I had no role whatsoever in the process of collecting and depositing offerings. Nor would I have access to the giving records of members lest an accusation of favoritism toward large donors be leveled against me.
Finally, again learning from Billy Graham’s example, I have consistently steered clear of politics in my ministry. The pulpit is not a political stump. My calling is not to promote a political party or a candidate for public office. It is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world in desperate need of his saving grace.
I regret that I never had the chance to personally meet and shake the hand of Billy Graham. Less than three months after we got married, Joyce and I attended nearly all of the services of Graham’s St. Louis crusade in November 1973. Twice I heard him address meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I was never closer than one more face in a sea of faces. Nonetheless I feel like I know him well.
The world is an emptier place without Billy Graham’s presence. Still, grief is not what I am feeling today. Rather, I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of having lived so much of my life at a time when this great man of God was in the full flower of his ministry.