With his public speaking skills, he led the second wave of crusades in America. Medieval crusaders fought with swords, but he fought with his arguments and preaching skills. It was not just his preaching that took him to unprecedented heights of popularity; he was also a crowd puller. He effectively used television and radio to broadcast the gospel to several hundreds and thousands of people across the globe, breaking all the barriers of geography and polities. Indeed, he single-handedly created the new way of evangelization: tele-evangelization. He counseled and advised all US presidents since his meeting with Harry S. Truman in 1950. Apparently, in several instances his popularity surged way beyond the sitting Presidents; he could have been a President, like many believed, but chose to preach presidents. As Billy Graham passes away at the age of 99, what he leaves behind is a legacy that no one in the modern-day American society can offer.
Billy Graham was an American Evangelical Christian evangelist, who rose in popularity in the early 1950s. He is considered as one of the most influential, most popular preacher of the 20th century. His popularity further expanded with the effective use of television programmes and radio podcasts. He loaned the football stadiums and baseball arenas and thousands flocked in there to listen to the ‘great shepherd’. According to the estimates available at billygraham.org, more than 3.2 million people ‘embraced Christ.’ Throughout his career, more than 2.1 billion people have listened to his speeches. He was also a close aide to several US presidents.
Much of his popularity came out of his spectacular skills in persuasion and conveying the gospel to people from different walks of life. Men, women, middle class, blue collar workers, truck drivers, farmers, and many more– all listened to his words eagerly. He never had a great background in education like any of his contemporaries, who had received formal college instructions and expertise in theology. Graham only knew — and knew very well — what the crowd was looking for.
During his initial days as a preacher, back in the early 1950s, the American society was undergoing a rapid transition; from a predominantly agrarian society to an industrialised one and soon into a heavily militarised super power. American society was trapped between these transitions and wanted someone like Graham. Billy Graham very well knew that what the homeless, poor and the middle class wanted; not just smokes or colourful lights or heavy music but a real saviour who can navigate them through the turbulent times. What they needed was the gospel explained in layman’s language and that was exactly what Graham offered. It was not just the common man who approached him for emotional and spiritual support. Many of the American Presidents since Truman till Obama took his counselling. This political adventure, however, also put him in hot water as he had to take the role of the ‘White House Pastor’ by displeasing those in opposition realm. However, it must be also noted that he was a role model and a man of integrity for several thousands of faithful. Even in the troubled times when White House was hit with several scandals, from Watergate to Monicagate, he stood free from any such accusations and criticisms throughout his life.
Perhaps, the greatest ability of Graham was to present the complicated theology to the masses through the idioms of culture. Till his emergence, the theology and bible studies were largely confined to the monopoly of pastor, priests and theologians who had years of study and experience. Graham took the bible and literally, walked into the common man’s mind without compromising the effectiveness. He spoke to them like any other ordinary American; for him, the dream of heaven was nothing but another American dream.
Once when asked about death, he famously said, “My home is heaven; I am just traveling through this world.” Indeed, that journey was quite adventurous. It was through the heart of several thousands of Americans and many more evangelicals across the globe. Often termed as the “Evangelical Pope”, the vacuum that he leaves behind will probably never be filled by someone else; he was one of a kind. As Graham walks into his eternal home, what he leaves behind is a legacy: the legacy of televangelism, one that withstood all the challenges that it faced from the 1960s and 70s liberal revolution and pop culture.
– Contributed by Jiss
Picture: Graham with former U.S. Presidents (Credits – USA Today)