Unless you’ve been cloistered in a convent or a medeval monistery, you will no doubt have heard of the passing of world evangelist and “Pastor to Presidents” Billy Graham in his home in North Carolina at the ripe old age of 99.
There have already been some news reports with glowing and positive retrospectives, and a couple less than kind, on the life of the man who travelled around the globe giving empassioned messages and pleas for millions of people, ordinary and everyday people, presidents, prime ministers, Parliaments and congresses, kings and queens, to “Repent and be Born Again”.
In his earlier years he was a Firebrand preacher warning of the flames of hell and bidding all comes to “Come to Christ” for salvation, healing, hope and eternal life”. As Billy got into his later years though, the Message of the Cross didn’t change, but it seemed that he had. No longer willing, on several occasions on public interviews and interfaith forums, to condemn people of other faiths to the flames that the Bible consigned them to outside of Christ, he seemed to embrace a type of compassionate stance that among friends in the church was still exclusive, yet among those outside the doors of the church… was a bit less so.
When I was a Christian this was big news.
It was a reason many people, myself included, no longer considered Billy Orthodox and some even thought he was Antichrist.
I may be wrong, but I think Billy saw the futility of assigning others to a Hell he had no actual evidence for, yet still fully believed was there. And I think Rev Graham began to question the wisdom and propriety of denying people access to the Heaven that he fully believed in, yet had no actual evidence that others of different Faith Traditions would be excluded from.
I think Billy opened up.
No, I’m not saying he denied his own faith or rejected the biblical message… Among his fellows. But among those outside of the “Faith once delivered to the Saints”, what he admittedly accepted and held to simply by Faith, and even against evidence that might be to the contrary, it seemed he could no longer hold against those who didn’t have the same opinion or Faith as he.
He didn’t deconvert. He grew older and wiser and perhaps more compassionate with age and experience. Less willing to judge that he knew the mind of God for others. He allowed the possibility that he could be wrong by allowing the possibility that others might also be right. Or at least as “right” as he was… by nothing more than Faith to support them both.
Again, I may be wrong but I think Billy stopped preaching Hell and started preaching Heaven, hope and peace with God because the one sounded more real and empathetic than the other… and he knew he didn’t have actual Evidence for either. Among friends he was still a believer, but outside with others of different Faiths he became a type of Agnostic Theist, a Christian Humanist . No longer willing himself to consign others to flames but also unwilling to deny hope and life to anyone, regardless of Faith.
This is the Billy Graham that I will remember and honor today. Because doesn’t even Billy Graham deserve redemption and forgiveness from his past? Maybe Billy Graham entered The Recovery and no one knew… but him and his God.