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A Charming Failure?

 “There is something innately charming about the ordinary folk who came in droves to see the charismatic preacher (Billy Graham): men in their dark suits and hats, women wearing frocks, hats and gloves, girls with their plaits and bobbysocks, clean-cut lads with short-back-and-sides haircuts, all in a conscious effort to look their best.”

The words “innately charming” appeared in a recent article (extract above) on Billy Graham by a TV presenter. They could be judgmental as well as descriptive but can one judge the standards of another time? The clothing mentioned in the above paragraph, for example, was as normal in those days as is the “dress down” aspect of today’s custom of no ties, non-ironed trousers, rumpled clothes, torn and faded jeans and so on. Do we judge the dress of the Elizabethan era? As well, remember that most of those “well dressed” people were the war generation who grew up in the Depression. They conserved clothes and wore their “best clothes” – as expected – in those days, to such events. Those with a knowledge of that time would agree. Not to know that is to misread the scene.  “What’s acceptable and worn at the time“ applies to both eras.

More importantly, what were the results of Graham’s charisma? “Passing” seems the judgment by that writer – a non-continuance into the next generation. Was the transience of his message due to a failure in preaching done by a “slick preacher with movie-star looks and a sonorous voice”? That seems too easy an explanation – Graham could not achieve everything, surely, in one sermon to a massed audience. Follow up education was needed.  It was provided. Did the many, though, follow through or was the rally the beginning and the end – which I suggest it was. If the many didn’t attend what was their reason? Lack of time or inclination are possibilities. So many attendees would never have gone past the “God exists and Jesus calls you to know that” step.

As well there were the loosely connected people who did not know or could not teach/explain the essence of Faith, “Love one another” to their children.  Among them, were the many parents who stayed at home but sent children to Sunday school – a childminding facility on Sunday morning. Did the parents come later to worship with their offspring? Well, see the result to-day – empty pews.

So, if any hard-line view is taken of the Billy Graham campaigns then “parent-failure” has to be seen as a factor. As the parent so the child. Further, Christian educators of those days tried to “make it easy” to learn and discarded learning by heart/rote from the Bible and a little book called the Catechism with its question-and-answer method fell into disuse. That contributed to ignorance and the fall away in worshippers.

In Queensland’s Presbyterian Church the reverend gentlemen of the 1960s were told annually at their State Assembly that youth numbers were falling – that there was a real need to act. Did it happen? The words fell on deaf ears. That wasn’t Billy Graham’s fault.

Indeed, one can ask if theological colleges even now realise the need for high communication skills in students.

The “after Billy Graham generation” consequently – largely uninstructed and uninformed – went into a world of beguiling influences and of wonderful singers – the Beatles and suchlike – and welcomed the advent of the Pill in the 1960s. So the Pill was there, the Bible said, “Not before marriage”. Was “why” ever explained? Who won?  The Church?  No way, so the old Greek god Eros, with the help of the Pill, won by many lengths. Who was Eros?  Sex. You’ll no doubt see some aspects in the Mardi Gras which, this year, celebrates its start up 50 years ago – about the time we are referring to above. It is now described as “Australia’s greatest pageant”. It may well be.

The real question, though, has to be, did Graham fail or was it lack of skilled Church involvement/education/illumination as well as indifference by send-them to Sunday School parents and other non helping adults as well? By the clergy’s lack of communication skills? Billy Graham’s so called “pretty faith” lit the glimmer of belief in a lot of people but lack of extra fuel caused it to fail. 

There’s hope, though, tune into Jordan Peterson by clicking here – you won’t sleep!

[SM]