Billy Graham’s Last Crusade: America Actually 58th Country To Host ‘My Hope’
Highlights from new crusade format that focuses on filling living rooms worldwide instead of stadiums.
Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday this Thursday in appropriate fashion, launching his largest-ever and likely last crusade.
More than 28,000 churches have pledged their involvement in “My Hope America with Billy Graham,” an event which pivots from the evangelist’s famous stadium-filling events to living rooms nationwide.
Based on Matthew 9:9-10, “My Hope” encourages Christians to invite non-Christian friends into their homes to watch a TV program featuring Graham. The video will feature clips of past sermons as well as a new message Graham has prepared—possibly his last.
However, this is not the first time the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has held the “My Hope” campaign. In fact, America is one of the last places to host the program.
The televised campaign—instituted through churches—has reached 57 countries since 2002, with more than 298,000 churches participating and more than 4.4 million Christians.
The Evangelist of Our Time
For Billy Graham, to live was to preach Christ.
This editorial originally appeared in the November 18, 1988 issue of Christianity Today.
History will remember Billy Graham as the world’s greatest missionary-evangelist. No other person has preached the gospel face-to-face to so many—over 100 million. No other person has led so many to make explicit spiritual decisions, usually to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—over two million. And no other person has traveled to so many countries to preach the gospel—more than 65.
How could it ever have happened? How could a shy country boy from the foothills of North Carolina sway millions and stand before kings?
Some have suggested that, at root, Billy Graham is a supreme opportunist. At a crucial point in Los Angeles in his early ministry, media tycoon William Randolph Hearst ordered his chain of newspapers to “Puff Graham.” The media took over and created Billy Graham, his evangelistic career, and its worldwide success—or so the story goes.
However, Billy Graham’s own answer to this puzzle is “the hand of God.” The Spirit of God fell on this unpromising material and called him to be an evangelist. And who can deny the evangelist is right? From the very first, Graham’s unswerving purpose has been to carry the message of the gospel to all the world-to everyone everywhere by whatever means—so that some might be saved from the guilt and burden of their sins and others aroused and strengthened to live obedient and useful lives for the glory of God. From that goal, he has never deviated.
In his early mission, no doubt the heavy hand of William Randolph Hearst was laid upon him and gave him welcome advertising in his attempts to reach a wider public hearing.
Is Billy Graham an Evangelical?
Grant Wacker’s comprehensive portrait displays the tension between ‘America’s pastor’ and ‘evangelicalism’s architect.’
Writing about Grant Wacker’s America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation as a managing editor of Christianity Today is at once a daunting and complicated task. Graham founded this magazine. His portrait greets me every time I come in the building. I have on my wall a 1956 copy of his “Christianity Today Statement of Policy and Purpose.” On my desktop is a special 128-page issue on Graham’s life and legacy I put together years ago, ready to publish “at some point in the future,” as we euphemistically told our writers (several of whom Graham has now outlived).
So if Wacker calls himself “a partisan of the same evangelical tradition Graham represented,” I don’t quite know what that makes me—a fanatic of that tradition?
Wacker, who is about to retire from his position at Duke Divinity School as one of the preeminent historians of American religion, begins his book by warning that it’s “not a conventional biography. Numerous studies of Graham’s life or aspects of it already grace the shelves of public libraries, and many of them are excellent. My aim is different. I try to step back and ask another question: Why does Graham matter?”
Likewise, I won’t offer a conventional review, except to say that it is required reading for anyone seriously interested in evangelicalism, 20th-century American history, or the sociology of religion. If you want Graham’s life story, you may be better off with William Martin’s 1991 authorized (but honest) biography, Prophet with Honor. That volume is twice as long, and an updated version is due out “at some point in the future.”
Has Billy Graham Suddenly Turned Political?
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) launched a major ad campaign last week encouraging Americans to “vote for biblical values” this November.
The ads convey one of two messages from evangelist Billy Graham:
The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.
On November 6, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.
The ad campaign is the latest in a series of public statements this year that have prompted questions on whether they truly reflect Billy Graham’s concerns or whether they were initiated by his son Franklin Graham, who has been more outspoken than his father on political matters in recent years.
Earlier in the week, the BGEA removed an articlelisting Mormonism as a “cult” from its website.
A Greater Vision
Billy Graham’s bottom line never changes: ‘Are we really being used to change people?’
Harold Myra| October 24, 2006
More than 50 years ago—it was in 1953—Billy Graham awoke at 2 A.M. with dreams for a magazine. “Trying not to disturb Ruth,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I slipped out of bed and into my study upstairs to write. A couple of hours later, the concept for a new magazine was complete. I thought its name should be Christianity Today.” Billy used that document to recruit board members and staff and to raise the necessary resources. The first issue was distributed in October 1956 to more than 200,000 pastors and church leaders.
Twenty-five years ago, we published CT’s 25th anniversary issue, with Billy on the cover. Our founder responded to questions with lively, incisive insights.
This summer, in CT’s 50th anniversary year, we were to meet with Billy again. We anticipated less lively repartee on evangelical currents and world events this time. On the plane to North Carolina, Christianity Today International (CTI) president Paul Robbins and I read Newsweek‘s August 14 cover story, “Billy Graham in Twilight.” Yet he had preached earlier in the summer in Baltimore and, before that, in his “final” New York City crusade.
Our car climbed up a steep, narrow road over the multiple folds of rugged Blue Ridge woodlands to his mountaintop home. As we pulled up, three dogs gazed lazily at us. Inside the modest log home, we soon saw Billy’s tall, lanky form moving slowly toward us down a long hall. His warm welcome matched his sunny smile.
The day before, Billy told us, he’d felt a great deal of pain, but today he was much better. “Everything is nostalgia now,” he said, explaining that he is largely isolated.
Grace Under Fire
The Billy Graham model for handling conflicts and controversies.
Garth M. Rosell| June 21, 2007
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
-Colossians 4:6 (NIV)
For as long as I can remember, Billy Graham has been part of our family. Not in a literal sense, of course, since my father grew up in Minnesota while Billy Graham was raised in the South. Yet, God chose to weave their lives together—calling both to the work of evangelism, giving both the privilege of introducing tens of thousands of men and women to Jesus Christ, and planting in both an enduring friendship. Drawn together during the 1940s through the ministry of Youth for Christ, Billy Graham, Merv Rosell, and a small cadre of gifted young evangelists—sharing not only sermons and songleaders but also long seasons of prayer and a growing sense of awe at what God was doing through them—became the surprising leaders of what the editor of United Evangelical Action would by 1952 be calling “one of the greatest outpourings of the Spirit in the nation’s history.”
Those powerful midcentury revivals, marked by the large evangelistic crusades that swept through scores of American cities during the late 1940s and early 1950s, not only swelled the ranks of a resurgent evangelical movement, but they also helped to make Billy Graham the best known and most respected leader of our century. With Billy Graham’s new prominence, however, came increasing criticism. Old friends as well as new enemies began to voice concerns about everything from his theology to his style of preaching.
AMERICA may be a nation of believers, but when it comes to this country’s identity as a “Christian nation,” our beliefs are all over the map.
Just a few weeks ago, Public Policy Polling reported that 57 percent of Republicans favored officially making the United States a Christian nation. But in 2007, a survey by the First Amendment Center showed that 55 percent of Americans believed it already was one.
The confusion is understandable. For all our talk about separation of church and state, religious language has been written into our political culture in countless ways. It is inscribed in our pledge of patriotism, marked on our money, carved into the walls of our courts and our Capitol. Perhaps because it is everywhere, we assume it has been from the beginning.
But the founding fathers didn’t create the ceremonies and slogans that come to mind when we consider whether this is a Christian nation. Our grandfathers did.
Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.
The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the “creeping socialism” of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans’ thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.
Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.
In a shrewd decision, these executives made clergymen their spokesmen. As Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew noted, polls proved that ministers could mold public opinion more than any other profession. And so these businessmen worked to recruit clergy through private meetings and public appeals. Many answered the call, but three deserve special attention.
The Rev. James W. Fifield — known as “the 13th Apostle of Big Business” and “Saint Paul of the Prosperous” — emerged as an early evangelist for the cause. Preaching to pews of millionaires at the elite First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, Mr. Fifield said reading the Bible was “like eating fish — we take the bones out to enjoy the meat. All parts are not of equal value.” He dismissed New Testament warnings about the corrupting nature of wealth. Instead, he paired Christianity and capitalism against the New Deal’s “pagan statism.”
Through his national organization, Spiritual Mobilization, founded in 1935, Mr. Fifield promoted “freedom under God.” By the late 1940s, his group was spreading the gospel of faith and free enterprise in a mass-circulated monthly magazine and a weekly radio program that eventually aired on more than 800 stations nationwide. It even encouraged ministers to preach sermons on its themes in competitions for cash prizes. Liberals howled at the group’s conflation of God and greed; in 1948, the radical journalist Carey McWilliams denounced it in a withering exposé. But Mr. Fifield exploited such criticism to raise more funds and redouble his efforts.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Abraham Vereide advanced the Christian libertarian cause with a national network of prayer groups. After ministering to industrialists facing huge labor strikes in Seattle and San Francisco in the mid-1930s, Mr. Vereide began building prayer breakfast groups in cities across America to bring business and political elites together in common cause. “The big men and the real leaders in New York and Chicago,” he wrote his wife, “look up to me in an embarrassing way.” In Manhattan alone, James Cash Penney, I.B.M.’s Thomas Watson, Norman Vincent Peale and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia all sought audiences with him.
America A Christian Nation? Since When?
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In 1942, Mr. Vereide’s influence spread to Washington. He persuaded the House and Senate to start weekly prayer meetings “in order that we might be a God-directed and God-controlled nation.” Mr. Vereide opened headquarters in Washington — “God’s Embassy,” he called it — and became a powerful force in its previously secular institutions. Among other activities, he held “dedication ceremonies” for several justices of the Supreme Court. “No country or civilization can last,” Justice Tom C. Clark announced at his 1949 consecration, “unless it is founded on Christian values.”
The most important clergyman for Christian libertarianism, though, was the Rev. Billy Graham. In his initial ministry, in the early 1950s, Mr. Graham supported corporate interests so zealously that a London paper called him “the Big Business evangelist.” The Garden of Eden, he informed revival attendees, was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.” In the same spirit, he denounced all “government restrictions” in economic affairs, which he invariably attacked as “socialism.”
In 1952, Mr. Graham went to Washington and made Congress his congregation. He recruited representatives to serve as ushers at packed revival meetings and staged the first formal religious service held on the Capitol steps. That year, at his urging, Congress established an annual National Day of Prayer. “If I would run for president of the United States today on a platform of calling people back to God, back to Christ, back to the Bible,” he predicted, “I’d be elected.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower fulfilled that prediction. With Mr. Graham offering Scripture for Ike’s speeches, the Republican nominee campaigned in what he called a “great crusade for freedom.” His military record made the general a formidable candidate, but on the trail he emphasized spiritual issues over worldly concerns. As the journalist John Temple Graves observed: “America isn’t just a land of the free in Eisenhower’s conception. It is a land of freedom under God.” Elected in a landslide, Eisenhower told Mr. Graham that he had a mandate for a “spiritual renewal.”
Although Eisenhower relied on Christian libertarian groups in the campaign, he parted ways with their agenda once elected. The movement’s corporate sponsors had seen religious rhetoric as a way to dismantle the New Deal state. But the newly elected president thought that a fool’s errand. “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs,” he noted privately, “you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” Unlike those who held public spirituality as a means to an end, Eisenhower embraced it as an end unto itself.
Uncoupling the language of “freedom under God” from its Christian libertarian roots, Eisenhower erected a bigger revival tent, welcoming Jews and Catholics alongside Protestants, and Democrats as well as Republicans. Rallying the country, he advanced a revolutionary array of new religious ceremonies and slogans.
The first week of February 1953 set the dizzying pace: On Sunday morning, he was baptized; that night, he broadcast an Oval Office address for the American Legion’s “Back to God” campaign; on Thursday, he appeared with Mr. Vereide at the inaugural National Prayer Breakfast; on Friday, he instituted the first opening prayers at a cabinet meeting.
The rest of Washington consecrated itself, too. The Pentagon, State Department and other executive agencies quickly instituted prayer services of their own. In 1954, Congress added “under God” to the previously secular Pledge of Allegiance. It placed a similar slogan, “In God We Trust,” on postage that year and voted the following year to add it to paper money; in 1956, it became the nation’s official motto.
During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God.” They’ve believed it ever since.