Confronting Graham's Demons

This episode reminds us that Billy Graham is a great man, but he is not perfect.

When the news broke that Billy Graham,

the

Protestant preacher of America's last half century, made what can only be fairly described as anti-Semitic remarks to President Nixon 30 years ago in conversations captured on Nixon's now infamous, then secret, Oval Office recording system, I was stunned. Like tens of millions of my fellow Americans, I could scarcely comprehend that Billy Graham would say or think such things at any period of his life.

What did Billy Graham say to Nixon? The tapes reveal that Rev. Graham complained about Jewish domination of the media, an assessment with which, disturbingly, Nixon concurred. Graham then said, "If you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something." Later in the conversation, when Nixon brought up the subject again, Graham replied that he had many Jewish friends. "They swarm around me and are friendly to me," Graham said, "because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country..."

If Billy Graham's words weren't captured on tape saying those things, I simply wouldn't have believed he had said them. Why? Since my earliest memories as a small child in the early 1950s, I have looked upon Billy Graham as a beloved and greatly admired figure--one of the greatest Christian leaders of this or any other century. Very early in his ministry, Billy Graham confronted the demons of racial prejudice and segregation, refusing to allow segregated seating at his evangelistic crusades from the late 1940s onward.

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In the middle decades of this century, the only integrated worship experiences many black and white Southerners ever experienced were attending Billy Graham crusades together. This courageous early stand by Billy Graham earned him the undying devotion of those seeking to rid our society of the plague of racial prejudice, as well as the unrelenting hostility of the staunch segregationists.

What do you do when you find out something about an admired and heroic figure that is so jarringly out of character with everything you have believed him to stand for and to be? Rev. Graham has apologized for his comments of 30 years ago, stating that they do not reflect his views and that he will continue to try "to build bridges between Jews and Christians." Still, he said what he said, even if it was 30 years ago.

As I have grappled with this personally, I have come to several conclusions. First, I still love and respect Billy Graham as one of the greatest preachers and leaders in all of Christian history. He is a devout Christian and a remarkable man who has been mightily used by God for more than one-half century. He has remained, despite his worldwide fame and adulation, a humble man who often has said that the first question he is going to ask God when he gets to heaven is why God chose him to be the famous preacher, Billy Graham.

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