UPDATE: Some media figures have taken to mocking Billy Graham on Twitter.
Christianity is routinely mocked by the media. So when they show only reverence for a Christian televangelist, that’s no small feat.
World-famous Christian Evangelist Billy Graham passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 99 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. His message reached millions of people worldwide, his counsel aided the work of many U.S. presidents, and, remarkably, his relationship with the press was favorable.
Widely regarded today as the most influential preacher of the 20th century, Graham’s dream to spread the message of Christ began in 1939 when he was ordained as a minister in the Southern Baptist Church. By 1949, his reputation and the popularity of his Billy Graham Crusades reached an international level. He was known for his massive outdoor and indoor rallies and for the prolific evangelizing he produced for radio and television.
For his world-renowned message and his remarkable decency, Carl Cannon of The Weekly Standard, among other journalists, couldn’t help but consider Graham to be “the real deal.” In his time, he was highly revered by conservative publishers, who took great pains to print his sermons, and was able to diffuse any criticism by media.
North Carolina journalist, Frye Galliard, claimed that Graham “‘chews on criticism’, but in a constructive way. ‘He takes a piece of criticism, and if he can’t find a way to dismiss it, he invalidates it in another way, by changing his behavior.’”
One of the few examples of this was when the media tried to paint him (like many traveling preachers at the time) as swindling money from his audiences. However, Graham corrected himself and made sure to take only a modest salary from his record-breaking audiences. After that, he wasn’t criticized for finances in almost 30 years.
Graham’s rock-solid reputation took him many places, most notably to his role as counselor and friend to many U.S. presidents. During his long career, Graham gave spiritual guidance to every president, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
Carl Cannon writes, “They have golfed with him, talked about religion, invited him to spend nights at their residences, invariably trying to get some of his popularity to rub off on them even as he used his associations with them to further his own fame and ministry.”
Despite any opposing viewpoints, their relationships were never contentious. For Graham “spoke without rancor, and was offering spiritual, not political, counsel.”
His humble wisdom and talent for friendly counsel also made him a popular civil rights champion, and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.. The Weekly Standard recalls that during the Jim Crow era, he would preach that “Jesus Christ belongs neither to the colored nor the white races… He belongs to all races… and God looks upon the heart.” He famously told MLK, “You go into the streets and I’ll stay in the stadiums, but I’ll demand total integration in all the communities and everything else.”
Graham will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by Americans. The combination of the transformative message of the Gospel, and his humble earnestness in its preaching made Graham a favorite among Americans, including the media. That’s hard to imagine, especially when prominent Christians today are regularly skewered by mainstream journalism.