Why Billy Graham’s legacy is complex

News appeared this afternoon that Billy Graham had died at the age of 99. The significance of this moment is clear – he was someone who lived an extraordinary long life, met the great and the good of all the world, changed the lives of countless thousands who were not the great and the good and helped to shape the world that we live in today.

My own feelings on hearing that he died are complex. After all, I took part in one of his great stadium campaigns. I sang in a choir of a thousand voices in a football stadium in 1985, invited my friends (some of whom had their lives changed by that encounter) and prayed like mad for the success of the venture. It was a defining moment for so many people who were involved in it. What’s more I know people whose lives were changed at the Billy Graham Glasgow Crusade in 1955 in the Kelvin Hall.

The methods and the message didn’t change that much over the years.

Very many of those of us who remember those events will be reluctant to simply dismiss what Billy Graham did. We were there. We know the good intentions and the good will that were exemplified by the preacher from the USA.

However, those who believe that Jesus is just about to come back and sort everything out for good don’t always do terribly well at thinking about how we should live in this world. (And that’s a long-standing thing – just look at St Paul and his ideas about marriage). Billy Graham was one such. Believing that Jesus would come back soon and sort everything out he didn’t appear much interested in the world being sorted out by human endeavour. Thus, he had a conflicted relationship with the Civil Rights movement in the USA, chummed up with the likes of Richard Nixon (with whom he was caught out making anti-semitic remarks) and was completely on the wrong side of God’s loving relationship with humanity in his attitude to human sexuality.

I’ve seen a number of responses to his death today from those remembering all these things who paint him as a demon. I don’t believe he was, however mistaken I think he was about some things. In many ways, I think he was sincere but wrong. I don’t think he was a demon because I remember him. I was there.

I’ve also seen responses from those idolising him including some from people responding in public on behalf of organisations whose own private lives were significantly deleteriously affected by views which Billy Graham shared so powerfully. Very obviously, I don’t think Billy Graham an angel either.

Lives are complex and so are legacies. Today on the news of his death I find myself thinking of those who were given purpose, energy and life in all its fullness by an extraordinary missionary preacher and I thank God for that.

I also find myself thinking that the America in which Donald Trump can triumph is part of that legacy too.

White evangelicalism in the USA was undoubtedly bolstered by Billy Graham’s life and work. The lack of condemnation from Billy Graham of the antics of some of those (including his children) who emboldened that community even further travelling on his coattails is a stark reminder that his faith made him able sometimes to proclaim his gospel clearly but see the affairs of the world more dimly.

Notwithstanding Trumpism, Billy Graham’s ideas were perhaps more successful in the church than in the world. Historically the church shifted over the 20th century and the Evangelicalism of Billy Graham became a far more significant factor in church life than ever it would have been without him.

It was an extraordinary life. It was a life that benefited me and it was a life that gave credence to ideas which harm me.

Such is human complexity.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

To some surprises.

Visit of the Primus, the Most Rev Mark Strange

It was great to be with the Primus, the Most Rev Mark Strange this morning in St Mary’s in which he talked about authority and what he’s been discovering since being elected as Primus.

Here’s his sermon:

Here’s the forum conversation we had after the service in which we talked about he Anglican Communion, the Scottish Episcopal Church, how we relate to the Church of Scotland and other churches in Scotland and lots more:

Here’s the Q and A with questions from the congregation: