I've been working on a column where weaving thoughts into the right words that clearly convey what's on my heart is proving elusive. I started writing about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida but raw emotions coupled with uncertain thoughts caused me to changed course mid-stream as news of Billy Graham's passing came across my email inbox.
Perhaps it was my mind grasping for something that made more sense in the midst of a period of senseless tragedy. Not that the passing of "America's pastor" as some have called him, was what I was looking for. Rather, it was his timeless message that gripped me. In times when bad news prevails, pondering a message of good news brought by one of the most significant figures of the 20th century brought hope.
Graham led 400 crusades over his 70 year career, spoke to millions about forgiveness in Jesus Christ and he was no foreigner to cultural conflict. He opposed segregation at the beginning of the civil rights movement and invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak on his platform. He was a confidant to presidents, and a faithful messenger of the gospel to everyday citizens. Graham's preaching was heard in nearly every country and millions came to faith in Christ under his ministry.
His ministry impacted many from singers like Johnny Cash and Wynona Judd, presidents from Truman to Obama, and celebrities and newsmen like Kathie Lee Gifford and Dan Rather. Yet it's the impact Graham had on the countless numbers whom we will never know on this side of eternity who tuned into his television specials and had their lives changed.
It is does the soul good to dwell on messages of hope and goodwill, repentance and reconciliation, rather than being drawn into futile and caustic quarrels that ultimately divide and embitter. Graham wasn't forced to deal with the issue of mass shootings over most of his active career. But his message speaks to what's at the root of the crisis and that's the condition of the human heart.
There will be a march on Washington led by students who want an end to the violence. There are calls for more gun restrictions, better school security, and the ousting of politicians that stand in the way. While inordinate focus is directed at the object that led to 17 deaths at MSD High School, few seem to ask what led to the shooting in the first place.
We live in a different age than when Graham's ministry first began in 1947. Fewer children are growing up within an intact family and the nurture of a mom and dad. Psychotropic drugs widely replace parenting and discipline. Entertainment is increasingly violent and crass. And children are increasingly alienated and unloved.
Graham's was an imperfect age. It was one of segregation and racism. Yet he stood up to the injustice at one of his own events in 1953, tearing down the ropes that organizers set up to keep blacks and whites separate in Chattanooga. He told the organizers that it would be an integrated service or "You can go on and have the revival without me."
We may not have segregated crusades and lunch counters today but walls of anger and ropes of hatred have gone up within too many hearts. Love and peace have been cordoned off by rage and contempt and what was once unthinkable has become increasingly common. Now we drink from hatred's bitter cup.
Graham was well loved and his message a salve to wounded souls. Even though he has passed, his legacy lives on. That's because the timeless message he shared—repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation to God through Christ still changes lives. It's the message our nation desperately needs today.
This column appeared in the February 26, 2018 edition of the Richmond Register.