A man who has preached the Christian Gospels to more men than anyone in Christian history?that is Billy Graham, the famous American evangelist. What does he think of the Gospels today, of his own evangelistic mission?
He thinks that God'sways and means are veiled from human eyes and wrapped up in mystery. There is no way of knowing them. Once he was sure of God'smind, he says, now no more. ?There are many things that I don'tunderstand,? he confessed! No Christian need to take every verse of the Bible literally, he says. Sincere Christians, according to him, can disagree about the details of the scriptures and theologies.
Graham today allows scope for reinterpretation. ?I am not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and title is from the Lord,? he says. He admits that he has differed with the scriptures over the years.
Born in 1918, Billy Graham was the son of Presbyterian parents, with a 300 acre dairy farm. He was ordained a Baptist priest in 1939. As a southerner, he was aware of the Jim Crow movement, but was not prepared to denounce it.
He believed that the Christian scriptures were inspired by God. He now admits that parts of the Bible are ?figurative?. He once told the Newsweek that ? a lot of these that I commented upon years ago would not have been of the Lord?s.? And ?there is not a single social issue I haven't spoken on,? he says. As age has crept in, he has come to appreciate the complexity of ideas and the need for gentleness of spirit. After years of sabre rattling, he now opts for peace and refuses to be fundamental. He recognises that it is wrong to lie about God even thought it was done out of blind enthusiasm.
The Middle East is his major concern today. He says human history began in the Middle East and that, perhaps, it would end there How? Because, as a man of faith, he believed in the second coming of Christ, when he will settle all problems ? in a great period of righteousness.?
Billy Graham was the first in the evangelical profession to admit that he was not perfect. What is more, he discovered that he had been a false guide. Was he not a blind advocate of the scriptures? Did he not lie for President Nixon?
But the damage has been done. It is in the name of religion that the worst crimes have been perpetrated. It is in the name of religion (infallibility of the Book or the Pope) that it has been possible to enforce its dogmas.
Billy has confessed to the inadequacy of his own education. The fact is: The priests are supposed to know the mind of God. But they are the most illiterate among men. ?Lord, I don'tunderstand all that there is in this book, I can'texplain it all, but I accept it by faith as your divine word.?
The softening of Graham'sviews began during the Watergate scandals. He was shocked by President Nixon'sblatant misdeeds and the lies he himself had to speak for his friend. Graham confesses that he was prepared to crawl before a group of senior Jews for what he said to Nixon about the Jews.
Asked whether be believes that a Hindu could go to heaven, Graham said: ?I think He (God) loves everybody regardless of what label they have.? Yet he was preaching that only though Jesus Christ one can attain salvation. Now he says: Only God knows who goes to Heaven! But Allah continues to hate non-Muslims!
Can Billy Graham make amends for the false claims he and other evangelists have made in the name of Christianity? He cannot. And they have done immense damage to the progress of human civilisations. But at the fag end of his life, Graham has found refuge in humility. It is no doubt welcome and a message to other evangelists of our times.
Did Billy'schange of heart make a dent in the heart of his son Franklin Graham? Not at all. In fact, he and other young evangelists thrive on extremism and fanaticism, perhaps that is the only way to win converts? On Islam he had said: ?A very evil and wicked religion?. He refused to retract. After 9/11, he says, ?there were a lot of things Muslims said about how the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same. But that is simply not true,? Franklin says. He told Newsweek: ?The God I worship does not require me to kill other people.?