Revised on: 11.7.2018 at 03:01 p.m.
Posted on: 11.7.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
By Diana Matthews
Author Grant Wacker spoke Sunday at Whiteville United Methodist Church on “The Life and Legacy of Billy Graham.” The program was a part of the Carolyn T. High Preaching Mission.
WUMC pastor Paul Stallsworth said Wacker, who taught at both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University, was “offering everyone a gift” by sharing the results of his research. Wacker presented comments from some of Graham’s harshest critics as well as his admirers and described how Graham’s views on politics and society changed over the six decades of his public ministry.
“When (Graham) started out, it was the day of radio tubes. When he retired, it was the smartphone age. He had a smartphone. I saw it,” Wacker said.
Graham, said Wacker, could be called “a protestant saint” in the sense that saints are “individuals God used as agents in his plan of bringing redemption, meaning and hope to the world.”
In spite of Graham’s quirks and flaws, said Wacker, “God seemed to single him out to have a special influence.”
Ambition and humility
Wacker described ambition and humility as competing forces at work in Graham’s personality. The preacher was “a terrible name-dropper” and “enjoyed basking in the limelight,” Wacker said, and sometimes blurted out opinions on topics he knew little about. The good side to Graham’s ambition was his hard work and devotion to his mission.
“He knew he had charisma,” said Wacker, “and he cultivated his gifts. He was scrupulous about his hour of prayer and Bible reading in the morning and also about getting his exercise. He didn’t use his charisma for selfish goals. He disciplined his ambition.”
It took discipline and integrity to turn down huge offers of money from people who would have made Graham a TV star or named a university after him. He said no to anything that would have distracted him from his first aim, which was preaching about Jesus Christ worldwide.
He chose not to make obvious appeals for money, and “the organization was never short of money,” Wacker said. Graham “never begged” and didn’t have to: “The soft sell worked.”
Likewise, Graham felt that “Christians don’t fight,” so he chose not to defend himself against criticism, and by not lowering himself, “he won” in his own mind and others’ as well.
Graham’s humility consisted of knowing that he was flawed and that there were others with greater talents, but at the same time being happy that God had done important things through him.
Human regrets and
In his older years, Graham apologized humbly for blunders he had made when he attempted to speak for God about AIDS or bomb shelters or Watergate. He regretted not having done more to bridge the gap between the races in America.
Graham eventually regretted having been away eight months out of 12 during the years while his five children grew up. “The whole family has had ups and downs” stemming from those days, Wacker said.
The tons of mail Graham received show that “there’s a lot of suffering in the world,” Wacker said. Graham had to delegate answering the letters to a team of assistants, but the process of writing to “Dear Billy” or “Dear Rev. Graham” was reassuring for many lonely people in nursing homes, the armed forces or prison.
“Loneliness was the second most-frequent concern people wrote to him about,” said Wacker. “The first was addictions. Graham said that addictions are ‘powerful demons’.”