February 28, 2018
The U.S. Capitol is a momentous place -- and today, it is occupied by a momentous man. On a simple pine platform, the same used by presidents and heroes before him, lies the coffin of the Reverend Billy Graham. After 99 years of laboring for God, the great evangelist finally rests. It's no accident that his final act is bringing together both sides of that iconic dome, because honestly, that's what he's done his whole life -- crossed the boundaries of race, stature, age, and politics armed with one simple thing: the truth.
In a rare hush at the Capitol, thousands of people are still filing through Statuary Hall -- some driving for hours -- just to get one last look at the man who changed their lives. Others aren't there because Billy Graham was instrumental in their conversion, but because they want to pay their respects to a leader who lived out what he preached. After Rosa Parks, Reverend Graham is the fourth private citizen to receive this honor – there, at the sight of so much history, turmoil, and tradition. To both parties, there was never any doubt that this was where America's pastor belonged. "If there is anyone whose life deserves to be honored by lying in the U.S. Capitol, it's Billy Graham," said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
Billy Graham arrived on the scene at a time when the world was looking for solutions -- and this young, wiry, son of a dairy farmer had the ultimate one: Jesus Christ. From the Cold War to the civil rights movement, Billy played a significant role in bringing evangelicalism to the mainstream of American life. It was a mission that endeared him the world over. By the end of his life, he'd been voted one of the Top Ten Most Admired Men 61 times, more than any other person ever. And he did that preaching a message that some would call hostile or offensive today: that Jesus loves and died for us all.
Some people, in the wake of Billy's death, have taken the opportunity to lash out at the people carrying on that message. His son, Franklin, who's devoted his life to ministry -- including a worldwide outreach through Samaritan's Purse -- seems to be target number one. I once asked Franklin why his father didn't often speak to the cultural issues like he did. Franklin's response was simple: he didn't need to. In the 1950s, when Billy Graham was rising to prominence, Americans had just modified the Pledge of Allegiance to include "one nation, under God." It was the same time as our national motto, "In God We Trust," was adopted and prayer was welcome in schools. Today, that same God isn't welcome in our classrooms -- not even in the form of posters with our national motto.
To compare Billy Graham and how he operated to today's standards -- when Christians have to fight for the right just to mention God at graduation -- is misguided. The lines have been drawn in battles that didn't even exist when Billy was in his prime. These days, Christians don't have the option of standing on the sidelines. The fight is coming to them whether they want it or not -- in workplaces, family businesses, schools, foxholes, sports, changing rooms, and even churches. Evangelicals didn't choose that. Most of us would love to return to simpler times, when our biggest concern was what our kids were learning -- not who was in their bathrooms. Or how we could promote marriage, not stop the institution from being redefined altogether. What Christians want now is what the people of Billy Graham's time had: the freedom to live out their faith in every area of their lives.
As for Franklin, he preaches the same truth as his father: that we are all sinners and need the grace extended by God through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, that's an offensive message today in a society where so many people have rejected the Bible's standards. If Billy were alive and well, he would agree that Christians don't have the luxury of picking and choosing what we want to believe in Scripture. He certainly didn't. Over the past 10 years, as Billy retreated from the public eye and the cultural battles grew fierce, he took his share of public stands, staking out a very clear and uncompromising defense of marriage and religious freedom.
Billy would want to be remembered as someone who cared about the whole truth. And that truth is the same one he preached in his final message to the world.
"Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I've wept as I've gone from city to city, and I've seen how far people have wandered from God... I know many people will react to this message, but it is the truth. And with all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth. God loves you, and He's willing to forgive you of all your sins. The cross is offensive because it confronts people. Even so, it is a confrontation that all of us must face."
For more reflections from D.C., check out my interview from this morning on C-SPAN.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.