Devon Dick | Billy Graham just as I am
Will Billy Graham, world-renowned United States evangelist, make it to heaven? Last Saturday, this was the question posed to me by a friend of mature age with whom I play football. He cited allegations that were new to me.
It is reported that as an evangelist, Graham, before the successful civil rights movement, preached to segregated audiences in stadiums in which blacks and whites did not sit together. This was a throwback to slavery days in British West Indies. In addition, it is said that Graham never spoke out against racism. Racism is a sin because it is prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's race is superior. In addition, Graham probably never spoke or protested the unjust Vietnam War like Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr or Muslim Muhammad Ali, the greatest heavyweight boxer. Those are failures.
It is possible that Graham was like another US evangelist, Argentinian- born Luis Palau, who argued on his first visit to Jamaica that challenging structural sin was the purview of journalists while evangelists' role was to encourage persons to become Christian. In other words, the role of journalists was to be like the prophets of old while evangelists had a priestly remit. That is a neat compartmentalisation but those roles are not mutually exclusive because faith without works is dead.
But it is a mistake to believe that to be a minister of the gospel one has to be perfect even after conversion. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All have feet of clay. All make mistakes. Only politicians do not make mistakes. What does it really mean to be a Christian? It is saying to God that we need His help to live this life. It is to have a new beginning; to have a different purpose in life. It is to admit that without God we are hopeless, hapless and helpless. It is being someone who has experienced forgiveness of sin and pledge to be more like God and do God's will in the world. It is a commitment to work towards the transformation of society.
HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLOUR
So a glaring weakness does not necessarily disqualify someone as a Christian minister. However, if it is brazen and presumptuous sinning, then that is a horse of a different colour. If Graham was confronted with his failures on racism and war and he refused to repent, then he would be in danger of being a castaway.
The most popular hymn used by Graham was Just as I am, which states:
"Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot ..."
So if Graham expressed true repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus, he was a Christian. With his transition, he is on his way to heaven.
We need to recognise also that God could use Graham in spite of his weaknesses and limitations. Graham was a Baptist and preached at every Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Congress between 1950 and 1990. Denton Lotz, former general secretary of BWA, said it was an honour to accompany Graham on his many trips to Eastern Europe 'where thousands suffering under communism were encouraged. Many gave their hearts to Christ'. He also preached to millions in capitalist countries, including Jamaica. Graham is said to have prayed with all US former presidents up to Barack Obama during his ministry, and some wonder what difference it has made to US life and its foreign policy.
The same grace extended to Billy Graham is extended to everyone and God calls us with 'warts and all'.