Billy Graham’s library opening and Jerry Falwell’s funeral provide massive insights into the power of Jesus’s Gospel and its impact on politics.
At Rev. Falwell’s funeral this week none of the important political people he spent his life trying to influence showed up. There were no presidents and no current Members of Congress. No presidential candidates. No Supreme Court justices. The White House sent only a mid-level aide who told the gathering, “I have to say that in all my time in the White House, I have never met a man who loved God and country more than Jerry Falwell.”
This coming week in North Carolina, in a tribute to another Reverend three former presidents will be in attendance as will a horde of other current and former office holders. In terms of sheer political tribute, Billy Graham’s library dedication will overwhelm Jerry Falwell’s funeral.
For Christians there is a life-changing lesson to be learned here – to minister Jesus’ Gospel in love and humility, unadulterated by politics is to change the world; to manipulate Jesus’ Gospel for political ends is to do enormous damage to the Gospel and, ironically, to have little lasting power at all.
Rev. Falwell’s bet in the mid-1970s was to go against his beliefs – to turn on what he had said by bringing his pulpit into politics. Rev. Graham’s bet in the mid-1970s was to repent for his lust for political power – he had been one of President Nixon’s cronies, was used for political ends, saw it and said he would never distort Jesus’ message again for politics. Two men, two bets, two very different results.
Billy Graham is honored as one of the most beloved Americans, has preached the Gospel to more than anyone in human history, has changed the world for good even among those who don’t share his faith in Jesus. Why? Because he tried his best to live out the gospel. He put himself on a strict annual income overseen by others. He lived very humbly. He gave to people, he never gave the impression he was out for himself. People saw that – they still see it. And what they saw was a shining example of Jesus. They were drawn to it.
Therein is the challenge. To live as Jesus is to have the chance to change the world, to impact the wealthiest and the most powerful as well as the lowest and least powerful. But it is oh so hard. Jesus demands all of a life on his terms and his terms are not easy. Politics demands so much less – money, persuasion, votes. Politics is important, very important. Politics can help bring social change that matters much. But, for Christians, politics must always kneel before Jesus. Billy realized that. It is a lesson we still need to learn.