An exquisite sweetness pervades the grounds of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Billy Graham Library. For those of us schooled on certainties like the taboo of evangelists naming their organization after themselves, the experience seems destined to lurch in the direction of hoakiness, not least when the tour kicks off with a visit from a mechanical, talking cow.
Yet two hours later I leave with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and the irrepressible desire to praise the God who would turn a dairy farmer’s son into ‘the evangelist to the world’ and then adroitly shepherd him through a lifetime of encounters with history-making moments, kings and presidents, stadiums and delicatessens, and conversations with the mighty and the mild.
Little ‘Billy Frank’ grew up to an unlikely lifetime of being ‘Billy’ with remarkable restraint, focus, winsomeness, and balance. The library does not nudge one towards doing obeisance to a plaster saint. Rather, this visitor to the man’s library found himself gripped in some small way by the grace that steered the evangelist with so few missteps.
There were, perhaps, a handful. The narrative goes easy on Dr. Graham’s anti-communist rant and makes him an early adapter of racial equality in an historical moment when many American Christians did not find the choices presented to them by the civil rights moment entirely clear.
Yet Graham’s capacity to listen and adjust is more than evident in the startling role he played in the Soviet Union’s final agonies, as in his developing articulation of an approach to racial integration that drew out the consequences of humanity’s comprehensively shared identity as creatures made in their Creator’s image.
Graham never strayed from the conviction that humankind is desperately lost, that God passionately wants them back and in Jesus makes a way for them to come home, and that today there is an opportunity to find grace while tomorrow brings we know not what.
He spoke and lived this simple, enduring message with deepest conviction and disarming winsomeness.
The superbly integrated features of the Library’s tour tell the story. It is easy to depart the place with a song on one’s lips, am appropriately simple melody that Billy must have sung with untold millions of fellow journeyers:
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Dr. Graham, now a widow in the twilight of his life, no doubt hums it too.