Reverend Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday recently. Mentally sharp, but physically frail, the man who brought millions to Jesus Christ also delivered his “final sermon” through a video containing a powerful message about the future of this great nation.
"Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening," Rev. Graham declared. "There have been times that I've wept as I've gone from city to city and I've seen how far people have wandered from God."
Graham’s calling and career as America’s most famous preacher has put him at the center of our public life for better than 50 years and his final message included clips showing him alongside Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as well as with Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II.
Billy Graham’s birthday celebration and the release of his final sermon made a modest ripple in the daily news cycle, but Graham’s impact on our present political life goes far beyond whatever ratings the broadcast message may have garnered on Christian TV and FOX when it aired.
The millions that Billy Graham brought to Christ include any number of famous people, entertainers, celebrities and at least one school secretary; Sally Sheeran Heath, the mother of Sarah Palin.
"If it weren't for Rev. Graham, I don't know where I would be," said Governor Palin.
"In the 70s, she would tune into the Billy Graham crusades, televised," she said. "His invitation for people to know that they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — my mom understood that from the way that he could articulate it. She became a Christian, led the rest of the family to Christ, and that I believe transformed our family." "His message transformed my mom's life," said Palin, one of the speakers at Graham’s birthday celebration.
The transformative power of Jesus Christ is of course Billy Graham’s most important message, but there is another message that Rev. Graham has preached – although it is not always obvious to those who merely observe rather than participate in a Graham crusade.
And that is that your Christian values and personal calling aren’t something you shed at the church door – they are what you do and live 24/7 – and what should inform your actions if you are in public life.
Fifty-five years ago in a sermon Billy Graham delivered during a month-long crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina, he gave Christians not just the permission to be active in public life, but the mandate: “Now the Christian life is just not being saved from hell. It is just not redemption and forgiveness--that certainly is essential, and that is a part of it--but the Christian life is a way of life. It is a way of living here and now. It is a new way, a revolutionary way, a dynamic way; life with a new dimension, life with a thrill and a joy.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who regularly rivals Governor Palin in our CHQ presidential preference polls, was not at the Billy Graham birthday celebration, but he speaks unabashedly about how his Christian faith informs his political actions. You can see an example of Cruz making the connection at the Values Voter Summit here. Other conservatives in Congress and in political office from Washington to City Hall live and try to govern according to their Christian faith as well.
Bringing people to Jesus Christ has been Rev. Billy Graham's life work, but Billy Graham’s very public mission and his regular appearances in the media over the course of some 60 years kept alive the idea that Christians belong in the public square, even as the media and popular culture became less welcoming – indeed downright hostile to public professions of Christian faith.
Keeping Christianity alive in the public square may be Rev. Graham’s most important contribution to our nation’s politics, and it is one that is still bearing fruit today, even as Billy Graham’s physical powers wane.
You can watch the video of Billy Graham’s final sermon through this link, and it is well worth your time to do so.