Why I Walked Out On Billy Graham
By Rev. Rob Schenck
‚ © 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
I have been a great admirer of Billy Graham for nearly 30 years. For 25 of those years, Dr. Graham was my role model in many ways as my ministry in preaching and evangelism developed. He set the gold standard for integrity, led the way in using technology to communicate the Gospel and stayed “on message,” resisting trendy distractions by preaching only the simple Gospel for more than 60 years.
You can imagine how delighted I was to have the opportunity to travel to New York City to sit in on what will likely be his very last American crusade. I have always enjoyed Dr. Graham’s preaching, but it is watching the thousands of respondents to his altar calls, streaming out of their seats, that always brings tears to my eyes and builds faith in my heart. I had no doubt that it would happen again in New York in spite of Dr. Graham’s age and infirmity.
So, it was with a sense of almost boyish excitement that I passed through the main entrance to the Flushing Meadow Park in Queens on that sultry Saturday evening, the second night of the last Graham Crusade. I was choked up making my way to my seat through throngs of people of every size, shape, color, ethnicity and, no doubt, level of faith – or perhaps no faith at all. There were groups speaking to each other in Spanish, Korean and Chinese. Ushers held signs directing others to areas where they could hear the sermon in Farsi, Arabic and Tagalong. I was thrilled to be there.
I eventually settled in my seat close to the platform. I enjoyed the musical program, although it was youth night and the music was just a little to high adrenaline for my personal tastes. Then came the moment I had come for, the preaching of the “old time Gospel.” I looked up from my reading material anticipating Dr. Graham’s arrival on the stage. But wait, who was this?
Out of the shadows came a very familiar figure, but it wasn’t Billy Graham – it was Bill Clinton!
Yes, former President Bill Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, came out, both waving to a cheering crowd. They used the old “simulated eye contact” that goes on routinely at political rallies, before taking their seats immediately adjacent to the pulpit.
I was stunned. What were Bill and Hillary Clinton doing on the platform of a Billy Graham Crusade?
Well, at first I dismissed it as simply customary for the Graham organization to invite sitting politicians as guests of Dr. Graham. I think that’s a perfectly appropriate courtesy. And I would have expected Dr. Graham to be his normally gracious self and appropriately recognize such dignitaries, cleverly finding something good to say about them, even if it that were a difficult exercise with some. But that’s not what happened.
When Dr. Graham made his appearance on the platform, walking haltingly with the aid of his son, Franklin, it was Bill Clinton who welcomed him. When Dr. Graham was securely in the pulpit, he did indeed say some kind things about the Clintons, but instead of stopping there, he actually handed the microphone to the former president. That’s when for me things when into a tail spin.
First of all, Mr. Clinton was his usual self-congratulatory unctuous self, making his praise for Billy Graham somehow magically redound to his own glory. In reflecting on learning in his childhood that Dr. Graham had refused to come to Arkansas unless he would preach to an integrated audience it almost sounded like it was then that the great evangelist got the true seal of approval” by engendering the young Clinton’s approval. I was nauseated.
But, it got worse.
When President Clinton finally surrendered the microphone back to Dr. Graham in what I can only excuse as a moment of weakness, Dr. Graham said, “I told President Clinton that when he left office, he should be an evangelist because he has all the right gifts for it, and he should leave his wife to run the country.”
Except for the small number of boos, all you could hear was the roar of the crowd, many thousands of which stood to the their feet in whoops, applause and whistles.
Now, I’m a New Yorker down deep to my DNA. My dad is from Manhattan and mother is from Brooklyn. I served as a staff pastor in Queens. I know New Yorkers and I know New York audiences. I am sure that a huge number of those 90,000 people present read that as one thing: Billy Graham’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. That’s when I got up, turned away from the stage, and walked out.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t leave in a huff. I was more in a daze. I couldn’t believe that I had just witnessed the Clintons manipulate their way to a quasi endorsement by the leading evangelical of the last half-century. It was shameless exploitation of a sacred platform by the most powerful, cunning and recklessly ambitious political duo in American history.
I’ve been in Washington for 12 years – eight of them with the Clintons in the White House and four of them with Hillary in the Senate. I have met both of them personally and I have seen them in action – live and in person – on many occasions. What the Clintons want, they get. If any two individuals could bully themselves into a Billy Graham meeting and onto his platform to get photo ops and a quasi endorsement, it’s them. And that’s precisely what they did.
Of course, I’m not leaving Dr. Graham off the hook. He is after all, one of the top religious leaders in the world and a worldly-wise statesman. I’m simply giving him a little slack for being 86-years old, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, fluid build-up on his brain and serious fragility after a devastating pelvic fracture. I wouldn’t say he was at his strongest to resist the strong-arm tactics of Clinton & Clinton, Inc.
What I will say is that Dr. Graham and his organization allowed the Clintons to take this holy moment, this sacred hour, and once again soil it, as President Clinton had done to his sacred office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The specter of Dr. Graham’s departure from the world stage already had me in a sort of funk. But this was an even sadder spectacle – too sad for me, and I left. I never did hear Dr. Graham preach. I’d rather have his better days in my memories.
In case you’re wondering about Hillary’s intentions on that platform, she went on to the whoops and whistles of another adoring crowd the very next day as she marched in the annual Gay Pride Parade. It was a very different kind of crowd, though.
Rev. Rob Schenck is the president of the National Clergy Council.