I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Billy Graham preach about twenty years ago in Cincinnati. At the time, Dr. Graham was around eighty years old and clearly in frail health. He came to the podium and commenced to speak, but the crowd of young people, stirred up by the Christian rock bands who had performed earlier, was restive and inattentive. Graham paused, folded his hands, and quietly said, “Let us pray.” With that, a stadium of fifty thousand people fell silent. Once a spirit of reverence held sway, the preacher resumed. I remember thinking, “What an old pro!”
That old pro, arguably the greatest Christian evangelist of the past hundred years, died this week at ninety-nine, and it’s difficult to overstate his impact and importance. It is said that he directly addressed 215 million people in 185 countries in the course of his ministry. No other preacher, in the entire history of Christianity, has had such a range. At the height of his powers, he filled arenas and stadiums, for weeks at at time, in some of the most jaded, materialistic, and skeptical cities in the world. And when preachers and other religious celebrities all around him were falling into scandal and corruption, Billy Graham stood tall, a man of integrity. His moral heroism was on particularly clear display in the early years of the civil rights movement. Especially in his native South, it was the unquestioned practice to seat black people in segregated sections of churches and arenas. Though it cost him quite a few of his traditional supporters, Graham insisted that his crusades should be racially integrated. Impressed by this show of courage, Martin Luther King Jr. became a friend and appeared with Graham at a crusade in 1957.
Read more at Word on Fire.