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Michael G. Long

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Behind the Billy Pulpit: Will the Real Billy Graham Please Stand Up?

Posted: 10/25/2012 5:02 pm

Billy Graham does not write the national column that still appears under his name in newspapers across the country, and it is likely that he did not pen the words in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) advertisements currently running in local and national print media.

The advertisements typically include a photograph of Graham as well as the following text:

"On November 6, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God."

Graham might have penned these words, but it seems unlikely, especially given his own recent claim that poverty is the No. 1 issue facing the United States. When asked during the New York City Crusade, his last major revival, to name the most critical social problems of our time, Graham stated, without hesitation, that "the greatest problem we have is poverty." He made this bold statement even before our most recent economic troubles took off at the end of George W. Bush's tenure in the White House, deepening and extending poverty across our country.

If Graham really believed what he said at the New York City Crusade -- by the way, back in the 1960s, he had also lobbied for Johnson's War on Poverty, calling "anti-poverty efforts a major teaching of the Bible" -- one would think, especially given the economic pain of 2012, that the issue of poverty would appear at the top of his list of moral problems right now.

Because this pressing issue appears nowhere in the advertisement, it seems likely that Graham no more penned these words than he did the many sermons he preached throughout his distinguished career.

But don't expect the great evangelist to clarify the matter anytime soon.

Consider his sermons: Billy Graham has never publicly acknowledged, let alone expressed gratitude toward, the ghostwriters who labored far behind the scenes to provide him with outlines and manuscripts he regularly used for his preaching -- quiet scholars like Lee Fisher and Robert Ferm.

On the contrary, Graham even wrote in his 1997 autobiography that although he turned to key staff members for background research and editorial work on his speeches, articles and books, he never relied on his staff for the preparation of evangelistic sermons.

But that's just not true. Even a cursory look at the papers of his staff members shows that the extraordinary ministry of Billy Graham was due in large part to the hard work of ordinary researchers and writers churning out sermon after sermon in rooms far behind the Billy pulpit.

And so it is that I suspect Graham did not pen the BGEA advertisement, and that he will not publicly acknowledge as much.

That's a shame.

Because if Billy Graham were to disown the BGEA advertisement, if he were to return to his own comments about poverty, if he were to write his own statement and if he were to recall his own Bible-based lobbying for the War on Poverty, he could finally fulfill the role that has long eluded him: the role of a truly biblical prophet critical of all leaders, Democratic or Republican, who ignore the cries of the poor while pursuing wars and wealth.

 
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