I reflected on the Rev. Billy Graham’s passing last week with a bit of a different perspective than some. A number of news reports discussed how he was able to get millions of people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That he spread Christianity to far reaches of the globe.
You may find this odd, but I don’t see that as a positive impact of his life. I’d like to think he made people better at being people. That he extolled people to do the “right thing” or to find an inner peace.
To me, there’s little good that can come from comparing how many people follow a certain religion. It only pits faiths against each other, and doing that entirely misses the point. It shouldn’t be a focus on who has more pelts. It should be a focus on getting people to treat each other with respect and enjoying the time on Earth we have. In today’s climate, that message should resonate more than ever as we see discord everywhere. Political disagreement. Social inequity. An overwhelming trend towards violence.
Religion should be a safe zone. It far too often just becomes another battlefront and I’ve never really figured out why.
Graham is going to come under fire for some of the things he said, especially infamous remarks caught on tape about Jewish people, but I’d like to think his outreach and charitable influence far outweighs the vast majority of evangelists. Ironically, just a week prior to Graham’s death, The Charlotte Observer ran an article discussing Jim Bakker and his current status. Good ol’ Jim is now in the Ozarks preaching about the Apocalypse and probably not to enrich anyone other than himself as he uses that message as a front to peddle a variety of survivalist merchandise.
Basically, he profits off of others’ fears, not unlike most of the evangelists who use methods such as “prosperity gospel” to line their own pockets. That doesn’t just give religion a bad name — it is flat out theft in many cases.
Graham has no doubt influenced a great many people in their faith journey. I don’t claim whether that’s good or bad. What is good is the many people Samaritan’s Purse has helped with aid and relief in the face of disaster. They are an excellent example of putting religion aside to help those in need.
That’s the legacy of Graham I’ll likely remember.
The number of followers one has isn’t always a positive sign. Just look at how many Twitter followers any Kardashian has versus Bill Gates. I really don’t care how many Graham converted to Christianity. I’m more impressed with those who he made better people.
The world could use some better people right now.
Scott Cost: firstname.lastname@example.org