I remember going to Dodger Stadium when I was in Junior High School to hear Billy Graham speak. The stadium was packed out. We sat in folding chairs in right field. He shared a dynamic and stirring message. George Beverly Shea in his baritone voice sang “How Great Thou Art” and I will never forget the call to come forward. The crowd sang “Just as I am” over and over and thousands of people left their seats to come forward to dedicate their lives to Jesus. As a young person, I was very moved to follow Jesus and His ways of leadership as I still do today. Since then, I have also followed the career of Billy Graham for over forty years.
Ross Douthat in Bad Religion talks about Billy Graham as being one of four influential persons who, as a spiritual leader, made a significant difference in the United States after WW II. This was a time when man’s models of Utopia – Fascism and Communism failed to improve society and caused great misery, pain and horrible atrocities upon mankind. It was a time when traditional Christian faith and contemporary liberal democracy were natural partners causing an era of intellectual confidence, artistic vitality and pews full to bursting (Douthat, 2012). It was a time when people in the United States realized that Government without a spiritual orthodox heart could lead to a horrible world war.
Douthat goes on to say that since the 60’s to present, orthodox leadership has splintered and become weak because of adopting heretical ideas and values from leaders who have drifted from orthodox Christianity (Douthat, 2012). In my mind, leadership without absolute values like the Ten Commandments and the Gospels can lead to self-centered outcomes that rationalize greed which hurts society and individuals. The Enron scandal of 2001 is a classic example of greed using accounting loop holes to hide billions of dollars of debt. The bankruptcy of Enron hurt thousands of people.
On the other hand, a man like Billy Graham has led a life exemplifying the Christian faith, helping the poor, involved in politics, the pastor of Presidents and influencing millions of people to live inspired lives following the values of the Bible.
One of my favorite books on leadership is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders (Sanders, 1967). I try to read it every year and refer to it often. Sanders uses the Bible as a text book on leadership. It is inspiring to read about leaders who have stayed the course and lived according to their values.
Douthat offers the hope of history. He recalls that throughout history, there have been events that should have been the end of Christianity like the persecution of the Roman Empire, the war with Islam, the middle ages giving away to the Renaissance, the waves of European revolutions, Marx’s communism etc… Douthat, 2012). But in each of these cases, an age of crisis was swiftly followed by an era of renewal and Christianity was revived.
In an age where the Ten Commandments have been removed from our courts and prayer removed from our schools, where will new spiritual leaders come from? My bet is history will repeat itself and each generation will see a new Billy Graham. In the meantime, as leaders, are we staying true to our values? Are we mentoring other leaders?…maybe the next Billy Graham?