About a week ago I was sitting in class, still half asleep, when my teacher told the class that Billy Graham had died. Now this was kind of a big deal here. Northwestern is a Christian university, and he had been president of the college back in the 1950’s. Almost nobody was shocked by it, and those that were were shocked that he had alive up until now, but the general mood of the class was that of slight sadness. A great Christian leader had gone ahead of us into heaven.
Later that day I decided to read up on Billy Graham and to learn more about him. I saw the basic things about his ministry and how he spread the gospel, but I also found that he had a close friendship with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and that at one point he had bailed him out of jail. He had been a spiritual advisor to countless presidents, and by all accounts it looked like he was a great man.
But at the same there were those who called out evil that he had done. There were those that called him responsible for the rise of televangelist “ministers” who swindle millions of dollars through false promises and fear. Some acknowledged that he had called for integration in the church but showed quotes from him that were profoundly anti-Semitic. Many who were LGBTQ said that they had been disowned and cut off from their family after hearing him preach about homosexuality. Suddenly the picture became muddier.
Clearly Billy Graham was a complex person who accomplished many good things while simultaneously having done some very real harm. Those who love him and hold him as a hero have plenty of reasons for why they do it, but at the same time they can’t say to the gay man whose parents kicked him out of the house after hearing Billy Graham call homosexuality an abomination that he only did good.
The truth is not black and white. We can’t sit here and judge him as a sinner or a saint, we’re no better or worse than him. There is good and bad in all of us, and we all generally try to make our good outweigh our bad. Maybe Billy Graham accomplished that, maybe he didn’t, but whatever you think about him, we all need to recognize that life rarely deals in black and whites.