The Billy Graham Training Center At the Cove is located in Asheville, North Carolina. That’s about an hour from my home. Yesterday, the Center put on a free breakfast for the pastors of this area. So, I fired up the Dodge Caravan, met three of my fellow pastors from the county, and off we went.
The breakfast buffet was an impressive spread. As we ate, a few speakers took turns standing at a podium and telling us some nice things about The Cove. The last speaker was Will Graham (Franklin’s son, Billy’s grandson), who also gave us a personal report on how Billy is doing these days.
For most people, that was the end of the breakfast. But my friends and I had an “inside man.” Even though this fellow works at The Cove, he lives in our county and attends the church where two of my friends serve on staff. After the breakfast, he took us on an extensive tour of the whole facility. He drove us around Camp Cedar Cliff, the youth camp that is located at The Cove. He walked us through the Visitor’s Center and the Chapel. He took us into one of the rooms of The Cove’s two inns. He even let us go inside a couple of the cabins where the famous speakers who come to teach at The Cove stay while they are there. Billy’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, had recently spent about a month in one of the cabins we toured.
Trust me when I say that The Cove is quite a place. Wherever we went I couldn’t help but marvel at the simple beauty of the design and construction. Millions of dollars have been spent, but the place is far from ostentatious. It strikes that difficult balance between the time-honored and the contemporary. I don’t impress all that easily, and I was impressed.
We all know about the praise and laud Billy Graham has long received. But do you know about the criticisms he has also long received? There are three of them. As I say a few things about each, I want you to do me a favor: Take an unbiased look at each case and see what you think. When I get to the end of this post, I’ll sum up what I think.
The first criticism involves the close relationships that Billy Graham has enjoyed with many of our Presidents. In particular, he and Richard Nixon were very dear friends. The critics say that Graham always went too soft on the Presidents. They say, “Here was a man who had the ear of the most powerful men on earth, but what did he do with it other than keep himself in the celebrity spotlight?” The contention is that Graham was more concerned about remaining in good standing with the Presidents than truly playing the role of sin-renouncing, fear-of-God-evoking prophet. The critics feel that he should be have been more like Nathan — who boldly looked at King David and said, “You are the man” — or Daniel — who defied Darius’ decree and openly prayed to God.
The second criticism stems from Billy Graham’s breaking down of denominational lines. It was back in the ’50s when he started letting ministers other than Baptists sit on stage with him. Over the years, he continued down this path of religious inclusiveness. Bringing a Graham crusade to an area meant all of the local churches working together. Baptists got on the same team with Lutherans. Methodists came alongside Episcopalians. Presbyterians joined up with Catholics. When an individual responded to a Graham invitation, the person was asked to give a denominational preference. His or her name was then handed over to a local church from that denomination. Critics have always contended that Graham’s practices violated Bible passages concerning separation over doctrinal error, passages such as: Matthew 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 2:1; Hebrews 13:9; Ephesians 4:14; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 Timothy 4:1; Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 John 9-11; and 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.
The third criticism has to do with Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife. She was left at home to raise the children while Billy traveled around the world holding his crusades. Billy himself has even admitted that this criticism holds some merit. He loved Ruth and his family immensely and couldn’t help but feel some remorse that his schedule took him from them so much. Of course, it should be noted that Ruth never complained about Billy’s constant traveling. Marrying him had ended her hopes of becoming a missionary. Consequently, she believed that by raising the children while he was off preaching the gospel, she was doing her part to see people won to Christ.
So, what is my opinion of Billy Graham? I think he is like most of us in that he is not as wonderful as some perceive him but not as bad as others perceive him. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I do know there will never be another like him. At The Cove, I saw pictures of him with celebrities such as Bob Hope and Johnny Cash. I saw a picture of him sitting on his front porch with Muhammad Ali. I saw other pictures of vast crowds gathered in stadiums to hear him present the gospel. I saw sermon outlines that had been given to him, handwritten outlines from Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody. I saw a priceless pocket watch that had been given to him by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. I saw old posters from the legendary Los Angeles crusade that made him a household name. For reasons that are still debated, news mogul William Randolph Hurst, who never met Graham, ordered all his newspapers to play up that crusade and make it headline news. I saw a Dallas Cowboys jersey that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had given to him. It had the name “Graham” on the back.
What do you make of such a preacher? It’s kind of hard to say. I can understand the points of both the praising and the criticizing. What I’m going to do is let God sort it all out. And, from what I know about Billy, he would be just fine with that answer.