The Key To Billy Graham's Success - Blurring Denominational Lines

Feb 22, 2018

Reverend Billy Graham passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 99 at his home in Montreat.  The most prominent American Christian preacher of his era was ordained in Southern Baptist church, but it was his ability to blur the denominational lines of Protestant Christianity that built his large following says Reverend Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop, the pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville.  She joined BPR's Matt Bush in studio to discuss how Graham was able to do that - plus his complex history with gender, racial, and LGBTQ doctrines in the U.S., and where Protestant Christianity stands and where it may be going at the time of his death.  Reverend Mount Shoop is also the co-host of BPR's Going Deep: Sports in the 21st Century podcast.  Episodes can be found here or through iTunes or Google Play Music, and can be heard Saturday afternoons at 3:30 on BPR News.

Excerpts of interview - 

On blurring the denominational lines of Protestant Christianity - "Billy Graham is an interesting figure because he was a trailblazer - probably unconsciously so - in creating a space in which those lines started to blur and not be so important.  He had a broad appeal...(he) began to loosen the hold that the denominational lines had, especially in mainline Protestantism, on frankly everything from the government to the economy, to the conventional culture of this country."

On how Graham was able to blur the denominational lines - "There became something very predictable and stale about being Methodist, or Presbyterian, and the Baptists do this...he kind of breathed life into if you're Christian, you do this."

On current evangelical Christianity and how it formed during Graham's heyday - "In some ways, evangelical is now equated with conservative politics or the religious right.  Technically that term evangelical means that you are called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  So every Christian should be evangelical."

On his crusades and filling sports stadiums with followers - "He created an experience for people.  It was a visceral experience.  It was a revival.  There was energy,  there was feeling, there was movement.  Lives were changed.  They left those experiences different."

On whether denominational identity still matters to Christians now - "What I'm seeing is a soft resurgence in denominationalism now.  I think it's because of our political climate.  And people are looking for frameworks of meaning and how to be engaged in what's happening in the world...I think it's because of how much is up for grabs in our country politically and spiritually."

On the Billy Graham rule, where he would not be in the same room alone with a woman who was not his wife - "If Billy Graham does anything for us today as Americans...let it be that he holds a mirror up to us.  His rule (was born) in a time when it was not uncommon for men in power to abuse their power.  And to use that to have sexual relationships with women they had more power than.  We're seeing with the MeToo movement that has persisted.  On the one hand the feminist in me says, 'Hey I'm you're equal.  We should be able to sit down and have a meeting just the two of us.  And engage in a conversation about theology and church politics.'  But there is another part of me that has lived in the church long enough and knows how much of a patriarchal institution it is to know...there are very few examples I can give you in which there wasn't some complexity to the men I was engaging with and how they used their power."