On New Year's Eve 50 years ago, Billy Graham launched aweek-long campaign in Boston. His sermon topic at that opening rally in1949--"Will God Spare America?"--is as appropriate as ever.
"My message never changes," says Graham, who, atage 81, has been slowed but not sidelined.
If his gospel message hasn't change in five decades,neither has the public's hunger to hear it.His "millennium message" will come as no surprise tothe millions of believers who, over the years, havejammed stadiums around the world to hear him. "I don't think thatGod looks on the millennium as we do," he says. "That'sour term. God is from everlasting to everlasting."
What has changed since the Boston crusade so long agois his perspective on the future. "I doubt that mankindwill ever see the year 2000," the Boston Globe quotedhim as saying before the 1949 campaign. He cited the"wild, sinful way of living in this country" as thereason for his dire prediction.
Today, his outlook is considerably brighter--in fact, downright hopeful. Hespeaks of the "tremendous leadership in this country, in both the Democratand Republican parties," although, he adds, as voters "we don't alwayschoose the rightcandidates."
In the wake of the Columbine High Schooltragedy, he sees positive indications of revival,particularly among teenagers.
"I think that throughout the country there is definitelya spiritual renewal among youth," he says. "We have somany top athletes today who are not embarrassed to tellpeople they believe in God and to give God thanks fortheir abilities. There isn't a single professionalfootball team that doesn't have a prayer group or aBible study group. Many of the teams have chaplains.All across America, young people are meeting in homesfor prayer and celebration. Organizations such as Youthfor Christ and Campus Crusade are present on universitycampuses and are putting great emphasis on personalspiritual faith."
High-profile national figures also are going public withtheir religion. "Many of our political leaders arebeginning to realize that they have an important part toplay in supporting the spiritual renewal," he says.
Still, much work remains to be done. "The cominggeneration is searching for something to believe in,something to help them know what is right and what iswrong. We've taken the 10 Commandments away fromthem. We've said that we can't talk about God in publicschools or on government property. I think the SupremeCourt needs to reevaluate that. I believe that if avote were taken nationally, the people would say that weshould allow the teaching of God and the saying ofprayers in our schools."
He recommends searching forcommon ground within the diverse religions practiced inthe world. "Any discussion of God can revolve aroundthe Commandments, rather than getting into thedifferences in faith."
As examples of "common ground,"he points to the Golden Rule and an emphasis on lovingeach other and working together as neighbors andfriends. "We need to realize that people of differentethnic backgrounds are the same as we are; we share thesame problems and the same difficulties."
As a studentof current events as well as Biblical history, Grahambridges the gap from one to the other.
"Every problem that an individual or a family or a community faces isin the Bible," he says. "If we only study and read theBible, we'll find that nothing is happening today thathasn't happened before. The Bible is the rulebook oflife."