Like so many on this Wednesday morning, my thoughts are about Billy Graham, one of the most influential figures in American – if not world – history. A contemporary of my paternal grandfather, who, like Graham would be celebrating a 100th birthday had he lived well into 2018, I cannot help but think about all the various changes that Rev. Graham not only saw, but had an instrumental role in pushing to reality.

Three things stand out that I firmly believe should inspire us today as we seek to, in the words of our Resident Bishop, Cynthia Harvey, to learn, live, and tell the gospel story:

1. Early on in his ministry, Graham declared there would be NO segregated seating at any of his events. Of course, in the southern United States in the 1950’s, this caused more than a little consternation, for segregation was the law and practice of the land. Additionally, for years he REFUSED to take his ministry to South Africa as long as there was Apartheid segregating the races.

2. In the midst of a New York rally in 1957, Rev. Graham, who was passionate about making sure that ALL peoples of ALL races heard and had a chance to respond to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, invited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to offer prayer at one of the sessions in an effort to reach out to those who might not otherwise feel welcome at a rally. On July 18, 1957, Dr. King prayed a prayer that could have come out of ours or any other era,

“And in these days of emotional tension—when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail—give us penetrating vision, broad understanding, power of endurance, and abiding faith, and save us from the paralysis of crippling fear. And O God, we ask Thee to help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color.”

3. As part of his 1958 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, when talking about God’s enormous and universal love for ALL, Rev. Graham delivered lines that, I’m sure in the day and even to this day, could cause him a lot of trouble, even though looked at through the eyes of scripture they are 100% accurate. Those words?

I tell you that God doesn’t love us any more than He does the Russians. 
He doesn’t love us any more than He does the Chinese. 
He doesn’t love us any more than He does the Africans. 
God doesn’t love us any more than any other people. 
There is no changing with God, and there is no partiality with God.

By the time of his preaching in Charlotte, Billy Graham had already made at least these three solid steps – ALL of which could have made his life more difficult and definitely set him up for trouble – and never wavered from his belief.

May we all live in such a way that we will do whatever it takes to proclaim God’s message of grace, peace, mercy, love, redemption, reconciliation, and restoration that is available TO ALL so that ALL may know of and respond to God’s grace.

Grace and Peace,

Lamar C. Oliver