On New Year's Eve 50 years ago, Billy Graham launched a week-long campaign in Boston. His sermon topic at that opening rally in 1949--"Will God Spare America?"--is as appropriate as ever.
"My message never changes," says Graham, who, at age 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 to the millions of believers who, over the years, have jammed stadiums around the world to hear him. "I don't think that God looks on the millennium as we do," he says. "That's our term. God is from everlasting to everlasting."
What has changed since the Boston crusade so long ago is his perspective on the future. "I doubt that mankind will ever see the year 2000," the Boston Globe quoted him as saying before the 1949 campaign. He cited the "wild, sinful way of living in this country" as the reason for his dire prediction.
Today, his outlook is considerably brighter--in fact, downright hopeful. He speaks of the "tremendous leadership in this country, in both the Democrat and Republican parties," although, he adds, as voters "we don't always choose the right candidates."
In the wake of the Columbine High School tragedy, he sees positive indications of revival, particularly among teenagers.
"I think that throughout the country there is definitely a spiritual renewal among youth," he says. "We have so many top athletes today who are not embarrassed to tell people they believe in God and to give God thanks for their abilities. There isn't a single professional football team that doesn't have a prayer group or a Bible study group. Many of the teams have chaplains. All across America, young people are meeting in homes for prayer and celebration. Organizations such as Youth for Christ and Campus Crusade are present on university campuses and are putting great emphasis on personal spiritual faith."
High-profile national figures also are going public with their religion. "Many of our political leaders are beginning to realize that they have an important part to play in supporting the spiritual renewal," he says.
Still, much work remains to be done. "The coming generation is searching for something to believe in, something to help them know what is right and what is wrong. We've taken the 10 Commandments away from them. We've said that we can't talk about God in public schools or on government property. I think the Supreme Court needs to reevaluate that. I believe that if a vote were taken nationally, the people would say that we should allow the teaching of God and the saying of prayers in our schools."
He recommends searching for common ground within the diverse religions practiced in the world. "Any discussion of God can revolve around the Commandments, rather than getting into the differences in faith."
As examples of "common ground," he points to the Golden Rule and an emphasis on loving each other and working together as neighbors and friends. "We need to realize that people of different ethnic backgrounds are the same as we are; we share the same problems and the same difficulties."
As a student of current events as well as Biblical history, Graham bridges the gap from one to the other.
"Every problem that an individual or a family or a community faces is in the Bible," he says. "If we only study and read the Bible, we'll find that nothing is happening today that hasn't happened before. The Bible is the rulebook of life."