A giant of the faith has left us. Billy Graham is now in the presence of our Lord.
The most important thing to say about Billy Graham is that he loved his Lord with all his heart and lived a life of faithfulness and integrity. Nothing mattered as much to him as preaching the Gospel and inviting people to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. And literally, millions did. For decade after decade after decade, when scandal and sinful failure disgraced so many Christian leaders, Graham lived a life of impeccable integrity.
The most important thing to say about Billy Graham is that he loved his Lord with all his heart and lived a life of faithfulness and integrity.
Billy Graham was not perfect. Earlier in his life, American presidents occasionally used him. But Graham learned from his mistakes and became increasingly careful not to use his enormous prestige for narrow, politically partisan purposes. As a young preacher, Graham had a rather one-sided personal understanding of sin, the Gospel and Christian discipleship. But increasingly, he called on Christians to be engaged with promoting justice for the poor and peace in the world. I remember listening to a sermon of his, probably about 1990, where his discussion of sin included both personal and social sins.
I wish Billy Graham had been more public with his friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But in 1953, two years before the Montgomery bus boycott launched Dr. King’s public civil rights leadership, Graham insisted—in spite of vigorous opposition—that his evangelistic crusades be integrated.
Graham’s accomplishments have been vast. He preached the Gospel to more than 100 million people in live audiences all around the world, and that does not even count the untold millions who listened to him via radio, television, and film. He played the pivotal role in enabling twentieth century evangelicalism to coalesce as a widely influential movement—being centrally involved in establishing numerous widely influential evangelical institutions including Christianity Today, The Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization, Youth for Christ, and more. He was a friend and personal counselor of every American president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
The Rev. Billy Graham was undoubtedly the most famous Christian for many decades. And he was certainly the most influential evangelical leader in the last 100 years. His continuing humility, enduring integrity and consistent faithfulness attracted millions to the Lord he loved and invited so many to embrace. One can only weep that so many more recent evangelical leaders have not followed his example.
Ron Sider is the Founder and President Emeritus of Christians for Social Action.