As a child, I was raised as a Southern Baptist.
As a young adult, he helped me to choose to remain one.
He was above politicking and partisanship, above heavy-handedness and religious histrionics, above sensationalism and celebrity worship, above glad-handing and condescension.
He loved God. He loved Christ his Savior. He loved the Gospel. And he loved people. All people, regardless.
And he loved sharing “the good news”, because it meant life to those who heard it.
“God wants a relationship with you…”
He preached to millions and counseled presidents, but his message was always simple: God loves you, and Christ died for your sins.
His favorite verse was a verse his mother taught him as a child, and it was the verse he would stand upon in his crusades- the verse which became the bedrock of my evangelical background:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
His words, without favor to prince or pauper, were inspired to confront and convict, to challenge, to clarify, to comfort, and to call- a man out of himself and out of sin, into a relationship with Christ, into discipleship, and into the kingdom of heaven.
And his life was a tremendous example of humility, honesty, courage, compassion, faithfulness, and single-mindedness.
And he was bold, like a lion.
He was, for me, the kind of evangelical I wanted to be, and that I thought every evangelical should strive to be like: in the words of Jonathan Merritt, “resisting the pull of partisanship, standing courageously in the middle; speaking with love and mutual respect for those who claim other parties; clinging to the Gospel, but not in a way that marginalizes listeners based on their political affiliations.”
He was the kind of Christian I wanted to be.
A lover of God, a lover of the Gospel, and a lover of all people.
Thank you, Mr. Graham, for your ministry and your service, your life of service and living love.
You are home now, Billy, but we will certainly feel your absence here now in this world.
But your message, and your Father- our Heavenly Father- will keep us near to you, and you near to us.
Mr. Merritt’s quote came from his Op-Ed piece “Billy Graham, the Last Nonpartisan Evangelical?” which was published today, February 21, 2018, in the New York Times.