Tuesday, October 02, 2001

billy graham

Someone explain to me why Billy Graham is held up as par examplar of American Christianity. You can disagree with Falwell, deflate Swaggart and poke fun at Pat Robertson, but if you criticize Billy Graham, an unearthly quiet falls over the room and everyone looks at you in disdain.

No one's allowed to disapprove of Billy Graham.

And to large extent, he's earned it. Billy Graham has served in ministry longer than most of the rest of us have been alive. He's been an adviser to presidents, he leads those massive crusades that are major events in their own right, and he's done all this with no missteps serious enough to be reckoned as a scandal. He's reserved his influence for the church, and he's been a guidepost for many of us. Back when Time was looking for the Person of the 20th Century, there was a big e-mail campaign to have him named.

And yet, for all his reputation, I don't think his influence has been all that great. Everyone's heard of Billy Graham, and has respect for him, but for all the numbers he draws to his crusades, I really have to wonder at the supposed conversion rates attributed to his ministry. From what I've seen, the people who attend his crusades either already are Christians or belong very much to the churched crowd.

In other words, as with most Christian ministry in the United States, he's preaching to the proper and upright people rather than the ones who aren't likely to hear it elsewhere. Compare that to the words of Christ, who said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

Billy Graham's ministry has followed a pattern set at least a century ago and that had held for a generation or two, but is no longer valid for much of the United States.

How many crack addicts and teen prostitutes are going to attend a big revival meeting?

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