Thursday, November 07, 2013

Billy's 95th Birthday: What He & Woody Allen Teach Us Today

Today is Billy Graham's 95th birthday. He was born this day, 1918, in Charlotte, North Carolina, just four days before World War I ended. He has been alive through all the brutal wars of the 20th century. He witnessed America turn from growing prosperous nation to the world's great superpower of all time.  And through that all he has been considered "America's Pastor."

Though both of his parents were strong Christians, Graham didn't become a believer strictly through his upbringing. At the age of 16, he heard evangelist Mordecai Ham preach on sin and repentance, and believed the gospel then. He was ordained at 21, but it would be about a decade later until we began to come into the evangelist we know him to be. Since his first Crusade in Los Angeles in 1949, Billy Graham has preached the gospel to millions around the world. According to the profile on his website, "Mr. Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history--nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories."

There are many other words that can be written about Billy Graham. In fact, many have done just that. Some of the places I checked out for this brief post are the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,, and Reclaiming the Mind, which recounts his relationship with another great evangelist, Charles Templeton, who eventually renounced the faith and remained an atheist until his death.

I want to share two short videos of an interview between Billy Graham and none other than Woody Allen. Allen had Graham on his show back in 1969. Check it out!

The 2nd half of the interview can be found here:

Here's the one concept that stands out like a sore thumb to anyone who watches this: This is what tolerance looks like.

  • Allen opens with kind words & sets the stage: Right from the start, Allen, the interviewer sets the tone. He has kind words about Billy Graham. He says, "My next guest is a very charming and provocative gentlemen. Whether you agree with his point of view or not on things, he always is extremely interesting to talk to...He certainly is the best in the world at what he does." Allen mentions as well that he doesn't agree with Graham, but the glowing words set the stage for a cordial, friendly interaction of opposing views. 
  • The humor goes both ways: Neither of the men are seeking to crowned the funniest between the two or who had the best argument. It's not a debate. Convictions are put on the table (at least by Graham) while being soaked in humor by both men. Allen never acts or looks offended at what Graham says, even though he tells him and some audience members that they are sinning and wrong, nor does Graham get hurt at how Allen pokes fun at him. Graham never backs down from the gospel, but there are more laughs, claps, and fun in this than anything I've seen in my lifetime. 
  • Two opposing views: The entire interview is a clashing of views. They both know that they don't agree with each other. Graham spends a ton of time preaching and inviting. Allen spends a ton of time deflecting and having fun. Neither one of them gets angry or fights. Allen doesn't say Graham is "toxic," "spewing hate," "intolerant," "bigoted," or "unintelligent." Graham doesn't say Allen is "foolish," "hellbound," and a "disgusting human being." We see it all go down without the call for Graham or Allen to be accepting and approving of a particular lifestyle. There are some points of persuasion, of making a case, etc., but there is no blanket call for acceptance just the way you are. 
This was filmed over 40 years ago. What this screams to me is what I'm calling ancient tolerance. It's the tolerance of old that dates way back, where two people can present an argument while bantering, having fun, and enjoying one another as humans. This is not the modern tolerance of today that is equated to accepting universally without any argument or case under the guise of love. Ancient tolerance, at least in this instance, has the power to bring together even through opposition, while modern tolerance is dividing more and more through opposition.

Both Billy Graham and Woody Allen in this interview are key examples of what it means for us to engage one another in a world of opposing views. They are teaching us. I admit I am not the best at this; I get way too worked up. This interview helped me see that. This isn't a Christian or non-Christian issue; it's a dialogue issue. It's both sides.

For all the talk of progress, this is one area I believe we have digressed over the years. Tolerance is not what it once was. In at least this one way, I say "give me the good ole days."

And with that, I'd like to wish Billy Graham a happy 95th birthday. I never saw a Crusade or have read any of your books, but that does not mean your ministry hasn't impacted my life. I saw it in the halls at Trinity and I witness it whenever I read Christianity Today. Millions know Jesus because of your faithfulness, and I am so blessed to have lived in some of the same years and decades as you. I look forward to meeting you some day in eternity as we worship Jesus together.  Tonight, the video below is being shown around the country. Thank you for your ministry and how, even today, on your birthday, when we are celebrating you, you want people around the world to repent and trust in Jesus.

By His Grace.

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