Church Law Practice Group Reflects on the Life of Rev. Billy Graham

Posted on by Thomas Schetelich in Maryland Church Law.

The following article was written by Firm Principal Thomas Schetelich and appeared in the monthly publication CPN-OnPointMr. Schetelich and his practice group are pleased to represent churches, ministries, and faith-based organizations throughout the region. 


I met Billy Graham on July 9, 2006.  He was in Baltimore for the Metro-Maryland Festival, featuring his son Franklin as the primary speaker.  I was the Chair of the Festival’s Executive Committee, and had been leading the team working on this event for the past three years.  The general assumption was that Billy Graham had ended his public speaking career, and that was the basis on which our plans for the marketing of the Festival proceeded.  As the time approached, however, we heard that this most famous of preachers wanted to preach one more time.

So it was that on the last day of the Festival, with 30,000 people in Camden Yards to hear him, I had the opportunity to spend some time alone with Billy Graham.

Billy Graham was the most visible of a new generation of Christian Evangelicals – those that brought faith outside the walls of churches and into communities across America, and then across the world.   In doing so, he not only spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but made faith a part of our daily lives, our work, and our society.

He also brought the Gospel into the halls of our government.  His public friendship with Presidents starting with Dwight Eisenhower showed that Christianity had a role and a voice in the halls of political power; that separation of church and state did not mean the separation of faith and policy.

His compassion and his credibility made him America’s pastor, the most familiar voice when the nation would inaugurate a President, or grieve a loss.

His world-wide crusades showed Americans at their best, with a benevolent and peaceful invitation to people everywhere to the liberty that is in Jesus Christ, and in the society that the Gospel produces.

He championed a unity among Christians across denominational lines.  He was criticized for this by some who felt that he should not accept invitations from the established denominations, but limit his appearances to those sponsored by evangelicals.  Perhaps the defining moment came in 1957, when, after accepting an invitation from the Protestant Council of New York to hold a crusade in Madison Square Garden, Graham announced, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ … The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?”

Billy Graham not only preached to millions, he trained thousands to follow him.  In Hebrews 11, the faith of Isaac is commended in that he “blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”  So Graham showed great faith in the young and rising generations.  The 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin was attended by 1,200 evangelical leaders from 104 nations.  The 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, drew 2,400 delegates from 150 countries, and laid the foundations for continuing efforts.

As such, his name became one where all Christians could find it easier to work together and serve together.  Friendships made among those serving together in the crusades and later in the festivals often continued on, bearing fruit over the years, an ongoing impact of the time when Billy Graham came to your city.

On July 9, 2006, I waited patiently just outside the space at Camden Yards for my time with Dr. Graham.  I wondered what we would talk about, and what I would say.  After all, what do you say to a man who has preached to 215 million in live audiences; and who has appeared 61 times on Gallup’s Top Ten Most Admired lists – far more than anyone else (Ronald Reagan is second with 31)?

Then, suddenly the lines of security in front of the door parted, and there he was – older and frailer than the famous pictures, but obviously with his sermon ready.  Before I could say anything, he reached out his hand and said “Hello, I’m Billy Graham.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

He said it without an ounce of pretension or self-importance.  He said it with a genuineness that I expect he has greeted thousands that he met.  He led the conversation, but talked not about his accomplishments.  He instead wanted to talk about local ministries, local churches, and hear about the Gospel in my home town of Baltimore – as I am sure he has inquired and prayed for the hundreds of home towns reached by his ministry and blessed by his visit.

For more information about legal issues facing churches, ministries, and non-profit organizations, please contact Thomas J. Schetelich.