Last week, America’s leaders honored “America’s Pastor” Billy Graham by receiving his body to lay in respect and honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
This bi-partisan action has only been accorded to honor private citizens three other times: The others were two police heroes, following 9/11, and civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.
The late morning ceremony was relatively brief. From the time the hearse arrived at the back Capitol steps until the closing benediction was less than one hour. In between, the benediction was given by the House of Representatives Chaplain and meaningful remarks were made by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and President Donald Trump before these three each paced a display of flowers at the casket bier. The familiar Graham Crusade song “Just As I Am” was played and sung by Christian musician Michael W. Smith and the benediction was given by the Senate Chaplain.
Everything which was done, said, and sung was warm, reflective, and respectful. But, it was keywords in the benediction that was most meaningful to me. Senate Chaplain Barry Black thanked God for “the gift of your servant, William Franklin Graham, Jr. We are grateful for his scandal-free life of integrity, characterized by conduct that was above reproach.” (Emphasis mine)
In his 100th year, with over sixty years of consistent evangelistic ministry with 419 evangelistic outreaches, 210-million people reached face to face and over 2-million professions of faith, “Mr. Graham” and his team had lived out a mutual covenant of integrity, sexual purity, honesty, and humility. These biblical principles kept this man of God and his ministry free from scandals and, instead, empowered them each to live “life of integrity, characterized by conduct that was above reproach.”
In 1948, Graham and his founding team members, including Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson, were conducting a series of meetings near Modesto, California. Although he was just 29 years old at the time, he had been a full-time evangelist for several years, ministering as part of the popular Youth for Christ organization.
But, as opportunities for independent campaigns were developing, including the future/historic one in downtown Los Angeles, he and his team wanted to avoid the public and private problems and scandals that plagued other evangelists.
Graham asked his team members to pray and then write down the issues they thought they would face, and how they should deal with them. Cliff Barrows recalls that the next morning they all met and compared notes. Each man had written the same four items. They were:
- To be men of integrity.
- To live lives of sexual purity.
- To be honest in accountability to God, donors, and each other.
- To live with humility.
After further prayer, asking God for confirmation, they agreed that these high, Biblical standards and principles would govern the way they lived their personal lives and conducted their ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham went into further detail about the resolutions, which became known as “the Modesto Manifesto.”
The second item on the list was the danger of sexual immorality. We all knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.
This wise principle of avoiding spending time alone with women to whom they are not married, however pure the intent or innocent the setting, has become known as “The Billy Graham Rule” and has been practiced by many male Christian leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence.
In the current context of sexual abuse and allegations, avoiding even the appearance of evil continues to be a wise practice for any “man after God’s own heart.”
Thank you, Lord, for such a man named Billy Graham. For your word teaches us to “Mark the blameless man, and consider the upright, for the end of that man is peace (Psalms 37:37 MEV).