“I felt like slashing their throats.” Those words weren’t uttered by the young photojournalist who was recently gang raped in India or by the girlfriend of Australian baseball player Christopher Lane who was senselessly murdered by three bored teenagers. No, it was Billy Graham who made that statement.
It was in the spring of 1973 when the Watergate scandal was first coming to light. Richard Nixon had called the famous evangelist as he scrambled for support from various national leaders. The good reverend made the aforementioned comment regarding coverage of the president by CBS news. Little did he know that his virulent statement was being recorded in the infamous White House tapes that eventually brought down the Nixon administration.
Whatever might have motivated Mr. Graham to say such a thing is now irrelevant and I don’t draw attention to it to sully his otherwise blameless reputation. Actually, it is his godly reputation that I want to use to make a couple points I think are worthy of consideration.
For one thing, many Christians hold a very errant perspective of godliness. Some have been blessed to have been raised in good homes and have no comprehension of what it’s like to grow up in a loveless home or in a rough area. The temptation for such people is to equate their untarnished lives with godly character. But isn’t that line of thinking the very thing that turned the outwardly righteous Pharisees into religious devils?
Don’t get me wrong—being able to look back upon an unblemished life must truly be a blessing. It’s just that having lived a life free of demonstrable sin does not necessarily mean a person is godly.
It reminds me of an elderly gentleman I met one time who had avoided the pitfalls of wicked behavior over his long life and yet had a proper understanding of his place before God. He shared his testimony with me in one succinct line: “I was saved out of a life of terrible sin, when I was ten years old!” This man understood the depravity of his heart and his need for a Savior.
It is true that the presence of outward sin is a sure sign that a person is not living a godly life. However, to imagine that it is the tell-all evidence of godliness is not only a superficial notion but a very wrong one.
To be godly means a person resembles God both outwardly and inwardly. How does a fallen creature become like God? Scripture offers only one avenue to such a life: it is to allow the Lord to live His life through him.
Billy Graham’s statement was, at best, imprudent; at worst, it reveals some deep-seated animosity he held toward members of the press corps at the time. Whatever the case may be, they are not a reflection of the God he has faithfully served all these years but of that part of his nature that is fallen.
I have said many times that my flesh is just as rotten and perverted today as it was when I was involved in the most deplorable behavior. It has not improved, nor will it ever. This is why “self-help” solutions are exercises in futility. What has changed in my life is that I have learned the secret of rising above those corrupt impulses by walking in the Spirit. The only goodness in me—or anyone else for that matter—is the Holy Spirit who indwells me. On those occasions when my carnal nature does rise to the surface, I am apt to make statements just as un-Christlike as what Billy Graham made forty years ago.
This leads me to my second point: it is dangerous to idolize Christian leaders. The very first thing the apostle Paul confronted the worldly-minded Corinthians about was the strife that had entered their fellowship because they were exalting men rather than Christ. He pointed out the quarrelling going on in the church as evidence of this. People were saying, “‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
Paul did eventually tell the Corinthians to imitate him, but only to the degree that he imitated Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) Without the indwelling Spirit of Christ, he was Saul the Pharisee—nothing more than another ugly hypocrite. It was this realization that provoked him to say “…that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…” (Romans 7:18)
One of the problems with exalting human beings is that they will eventually let you down. How many people have abandoned the faith because the scandalous behavior of some Christian superstar has come to light?
In the case of Billy Graham, his comments had been safely buried in the White House archives all these years. One can only imagine how many other questionable or even wicked things he has done, said or thought that never saw the light of day. Only God possesses the complete record.
Nevertheless, none of this diminishes Billy Graham’s godly reputation in my mind. It only confirms what I have suspected all along: he is a fallible human being like the rest of us.
The apostle Paul tells us that we should honor those to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:7) This new revelation about Billy Graham does not take away from his long years of service. Is he another fallen hero? No, because he was never really the hero people tried to make him in the first place. I think it would behoove us all to save our hero worship for the only One who truly deserves it—Jesus Christ. He is the only One who will never disappoint us or let us down.
Another Fallen Hero?,Share