I was saddened to hear on the radio Thursday night that Ruth Bell Graham had died. Earlier in the week, the news of the serious complications to Ruth’s health had me reflecting on the importance of love and leadership. A lot has been written on leadership in the last several years, but not as much about how loving relationships anchor many of our leaders. Leadership, like the one Jesus modeled, is founded on love: a love of neighbor, friend, child, spouse, and enemy. The love between Billy and Ruth is just one example of how love drives and sustains leadership.
Before I was married, my wife Jeanette and I read biographies about Ruth and Billy. Ruth is an extraordinary woman, the daughter of missionaries to Asia and a committed disciple of Christ. Moreover, the extent of the sacrifices she has made both as missionary and as the spouse to one of Christ’s most well-known ambassadors will never be truly known. What is known is that the Ruth and Billy story is one that I can look up to as a young pastor and disciple of Christ. Jeanette often reminds me that what frees many of us to impact and transform the world is the love and safety of home. (Granted, many people who have changed the world did not grow up in this type of environment and have given incredible contributions to the world.)
Nevertheless, it is refreshing to know of a love story that lasted these many decades. Ruth’s commitment to Christ, her quiet strength, and her partnership with Billy made her a model worthy of admiration (though of course there are other models). Whether it is the female, the male, or both, who serve as public figures this idea of mutuality and respect for each other is at the very core of what commitment should be. In the midst of so much attention to broken marriages, scandal, and failure, it is also healthy that we give honor to a lifetime of loyalty, dedication, and grace. Undoubtedly, such a public marriage was challenged by time away from the kids and each other. Moreover, early on in his public ministry, Billy speaks of economic challenges. Despite these many challenges Ruth and Billy were able to stay together.
Just a couple weeks ago the Rev. Billy Graham was honored with the opening of the Billy Graham Library, and in true Graham fashion and humility he’s been quoted as saying, “Too much Billy Graham.” Well, one thing I am grateful for is a lot of Billy and Ruth, and the love, commitment, and dedication they showed an entire generation of emerging leaders. The words of Jesus are fitting here: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So here’s to you, Ruth, a virtuous woman. Thank you for leading through love.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a board member for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.