Bene Diction reports on two pieces of Billy Graham news, the WaPo piece from Wednesday that goes over the fight over where Billy and his wife Ruth should be buried and a Baptist Press piece from this summer on a Graham statue that will be placed in a courtyard between the Southern Baptists' Nashville HQ and their Lifeway publishing arm's HQ.
First, to the WaPo piece. Ruth wants them to be laid to rest at the Cove retreat near Asheville, NC; I recall seeing the simple, glassy chapel at the Cove as part of a Bill Gaither TV show. It would be a simpler setting for a simple man. Very powerful as a preacher, but simple and humble.
De-facto heir Franklin wants mom and dad buried at the BGEA HQ in Charlotte, where a large memorial library/museum is in the works, complete with an animatronic talking cow introducing people to Billy's farm-raised youth.
Something between a Christianized EPCOT and a rustic burial plot would seem right, but no one's going to be fully pleased. There's going to be some sort of Graham museum, given the nature of his ministry; the writer of the WaPo piece seemed to be on Ruth's side, backing the rustic chapel over the Interstate-accessible theme-park.
Having the Grahams buried in Charlotte might actually help the Cove keep it's tranquil retreat motif; if they're buried there, they'd get a lot of yacky Christian tourists hitting the burial site on their way to see Biltmore. I worked at Cedar Campus, a Christian retreat/conference center, for a summer; having tons of tourists driving up to see the grave-site would spoil the vibe.
The statue is interesting. Although Graham is a Southern Baptist, he's not been noted for being one, opting for a more generically evangelical platform. One of the things that has gotten him in trouble with more sectarian Baptists is that he'd work with any Christian church that was willing to help, even if it wasn't quite as biblically sound as his critics would like. Even his wife Ruth stayed a Presbyterian, something that my "recovering Presbyterian" wife likes to note when the Grahams come into conversation.
It's OK that the Southern Baptists are honoring Graham, but he belongs to the whole Christian community, not just the Southern Baptists.
He's largely stayed out of the Religious Right paradigm, getting a bit political for Richard Nixon pre-Watergate, but quickly backing away from such activity after that. He'd make the properly biblical comments about issues in the political arena, but not get in the arena himself. Thus, he's not as toxic to folks on the left as many modern evangelical players.
The statue is 17 foot high, but that's how big the cross is; Billy's part is merely seven feet tall. A bit larger than life, but not that much. The cross has him beat by over 2-to-1.
Graham's not dead yet, just in deteriorating health. Were he dead and Catholic, he'd be on the fast track to sainthood like Mother Teresa or John Paul the Great; people would flock to his grave-site asking for him to intercede with Jesus.
Evangelicals cut out the middleman and pray straight to God; there isn't a market for a evangelical capital-s saint. However, he's a singular figure in 20th Century American Christianity; none of the big televangelists can come close to the impact that Graham has had.
How do you honor that body of work? A nice museum is inevitable; things are likely to err some on the high-tech Disneyesque side given the scope of interest in Graham. However, we'd best honor it by trying to better present the Gospel ourselves, with more humility and less pride, more universality (not universalism, mind you, but the idea that the Gospel transcends nationality and culture) and less parochial thoughts.