America lost an revered icon this week. The passing of The Reverend Billy Graham and the end of his earthly life concluded a chapter of American history.
Billy Graham was on our planet for nearly a century. He was beloved by millions and was referred to both as “America’s Pastor” and “The Protestant Pope.” He turned up more times in various Gallup “Most Admired”lists than any other American.
His ministry touched the lives of millions, not only here but throughout the world. He preached to more than 200 million souls, delivering the message of the Gospel to more people than any other human being.
Tributes to the life and work of the Rev. Graham have poured in from around the world. So revered was he among his countrymen that he will lie in honor in the Untied States Capitol, the first private citizen to do so since Rosa Parks and the first religious leader to be so honored. He had already received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honors bestowed upon American citizens.
In an interesting twist, Billy Graham’s likeness will grace the Capitol for generations to come. Several years ago North Carolina decided to replace the statue of their former governor, a segregationist, in Statuary Hall where each state is permitted to erect two monuments. Rules require that it be done posthumously, so the time has now arrived.
He rarely ventured directly into the realm of politics, but was unabashed in voicing what he believed was the correct path to take in solving the issues of his day. He personally ministered to every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
Rev. Graham was first and foremost a Christian. He was unapologetic about his understanding of the scriptures in a world and at a time when many of his colleagues in the cloth were much more reticent.
He wasn’t perfect, but sought to live by the values he espoused. When he failed he was humble in acknowledging his shortcomings and sincere in his apology and request for forgiveness.
He was a truly great man.
His message transcended today’s partisan political divide. For in the message of Jesus Christ, through his humble servant, there is a bond that unites.
At a time when some would like to see religion removed from the public square, Graham was ever present.
Sadly, those whose central focus is on faith, cannot escape the often harsh criticisms of those whose main focus is political.
It’s been that way throughout our history. Yet, the faith community has led by example and moral suasion since the earliest days of our Republic.
Clergy were among the leaders in the fight for American independence. Their division with England was largely their revulsion against British moral corruption and their fear for threats to religious freedom.
The abolitionist movement was driven primarily by faith leaders who viewed slavery not through an economic lens, but saw it as repugnant to God’s will.
A century later, Billy Graham was among the clergy who worked for civil rights and an end to segregation. He formed a close friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther king at a time when other southern white protestants were afraid to be associated.
Graham’s message endures. The basic tenet that God loves us is a prescription for healing a nation.
At a time of divide and discord, there’s little doubt that the world could use a few more Billy Grahams.