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O Me of Little Faith

My brother-in-law sent me the photo below. It’s a screen capture from the Billy Graham Christmas special (with Franklin Graham), which aired on local stations somewhere between Dec. 6 and Dec 14 this year. I didn’t watch the show — thanks, but I’ve been evangelized plenty in my lifetime — but it’s likely I would have been equally amused and annoyed by the graphic at the bottom right of the screen:

I know there are few evangelicals more respected than Billy Graham and his son, Franklin. Despite some well-documented rebellious years (and despite having suspicious hair) Franklin has largely followed in his dad’s evangelical footsteps — only with less interest in befriending presidents and more interest in social justice. His Samaritan’s Purse, for example, is an excellent relief organization working on behalf of children and fighting poverty and AIDS. Good job.

And I know that Franklin’s (and Billy’s) “thing” is large-scale evangelism. Big events. Stadiums and arenas and thousands of decisions “to follow Jesus.” While I’m not in the theological place where I think salvation is necessarily the oversimplified pray-this-prayer-and-now-you’re-saved approach the Grahams have made popular, I can’t deny that many, many people have taken their first steps toward God through their evangelistic campaigns.

But surely somebody on Graham’s team saw the unintentional hilarity and/or ridiculousness and/or cheapening of the Gospel that comes from putting this phrase on the television screen:

For a relationship with Jesus Christ: 1-800-631-7141

As if they had whole pallets of relationships with Jesus stored in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association warehouse, and they’d drop one in the mail to you immediately.

As if you should act now — don’t wait — because if you call within the next ten minutes, not only will you get a relationship with Jesus Christ but we’ll throw in a commemorative plate of the Last Supper, too!

As if they also had Jesus on the phone, standing by, and as soon as they determined you weren’t a crazy person and gave you security clearance, they’d transfer you over to his line and the two of you could chat for a bit and start building that relationship.

As if operators were ready to transform the condition of your eternal soul over the U.S. telecommunications grid.

Billy Graham and Franklin Graham are good guys and have done lots of good things. Evangelical Christians are mostly good people and have done lots of good things. But TV graphics like this one help explain why people think we’re weird.

Anyway, phone lines are open. Call now.

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