Methodist Perspective: Why Billy Graham Deserves All the Honors he Was Too Humble to Receive

by Erica Grieder

As a member of America’s United Methodist Church, I believe that religious leaders should be honored only when they deserve it — and rarely, if ever, by the government.

Also, I’ve never looked to the Southern Baptist Convention for pastoral guidance, or been receptive to any of the unsolicited pastoral guidance the church’s leaders strew all over the American public square.

As I explained to one evangelical I encountered in 2008 at the Georgia State Fair, I can’t be converted to Christianity, because I already am a Christian.

And I highly doubt a Baptist could have persuaded me to accept salvation in the first place, unless they were African-American, because most African-American Baptists are members of the same denomination that ordained Martin Luther King Jr., not the one that gave us Jerry Falwell.

With that said, the Rev. Billy Graham, who died Feb. 21 at the age of 99, was an exception. He was ordained in 1939 by the Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida; still, he was among the Christian leaders I would be inclined to turn to, if I were in need of pastoral advice.

Millions of Christians, around the world, would say the same. Many of them would never have become Christians, if not for Graham’s evangelism — and his ministry had an outsized influence, of course, here in the United States.

That’s why many Americans objected to the government’s decision to honor Graham with a memorial service on Wednesday morning, held in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where his remains lay in honor the rest of the day.

At first glance, that seems like a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state, in a context where many national politicians are flouting the Establishment Clause anyway.

Graham himself wanted his fellow Americans to understand that when he accepted such honors, he was doing so as a Christian, on behalf of someone else.

“All that I have been able to do, I owe to Jesus Christ. When you honor me, you are really honoring Him,” he said in 1983, while accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As a Christian, I understand why Graham would see it that way. And the fact that he did see it that way is the reason I think it’s okay for the government to honor him.

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SOURCE: Houston Chronicle

Erica Grieder joined the Houston Chronicle, as a metro columnist, in 2017. Prior to that she spent ten years based in Austin, reporting on politics and economics, as the southwest correspondent for The Economist, from 2007-2012, then as a senior editor at Texas Monthly, from 2012-2016. In 2013, she published her first book, “Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas.” An Air Force brat, Erica thinks of San Antonio as home. She is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s Emerging Leaders Council, and holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and Columbia University, where she majored in philosophy.