It would be difficult to find people who didn’t appreciate Billy Graham’s contributions to American life. Difficult, unfortunately, but not impossible. While there are probably people who weren’t persuaded by his message, they at least respect the honorable life he lived. Today’s atheists won’t even concede that. Instead they’ve taken Graham’s death and turned it into a pathetic display of their own intolerance.
While Graham laid in the Capitol, at least two extremist groups took one last opportunity to malign the man who delivered a message that changed millions of American lives. Unfortunately for them, their spite said a lot more about the true colors of the secularist movement than anything else could. Predictably, the biggest opponents of Graham’s honor were the radicals at the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In a letter to House and Senate leadership, they complained that a man who wanted nothing more than to bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ didn’t deserve the honor Congress was giving him.
Arguing that he put “the Bible far above the Constitution,” FFRF desperately looked for reasons to oust America’s pastor from Statutory Hall. “Billy Graham believed fervently in Christianity, and people listened to him. But that is not worthy of praise or a spot in the U.S. Capitol, however temporary,” they wrote. “Graham in his own way sought to undo the only sure way to guarantee freedom of religion: a government free from religion. Graham is on the wrong side of history. You will be, too,” they warned GOP leaders, “if you authorize the unearned honor.” The last private citizen to lie under the rotunda, Rosa Parks, was a Christian too. Do they think Congress was wrong to tribute her?
Americans United took a slightly less vicious tact, insisting, “We don’t say this to criticize a man who has died, but because the question of who should receive this rare honor warrants public discussion… such a high government honor for someone solely for their work spreading an interpretation of one faith offends the spirit of our First Amendment’s guarantee that government will not take actions that endorse or promote religion.”
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Even the Washington Post raised the question about Graham’s worthiness. “Not that he should be lauded, but does he deserve to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol?” the Miller Center’s Barbara Perry told the Post. “Lying in honor should be someone who served their country. Well, how did he do that?” For starters, he served the men who served our country. Twelve presidents counted him as a trusted advisor or friend. Apart from that, he was actively engaged in making sure the civil rights movement (of which Rosa Parks was a part) had a voice. Then, there’s the small matter of him delivering the gospel message that our country was founded on to tens of millions of hurting people. Everything Billy Graham did was in service to others.
Surely, men and women who disagree with Reverend Graham can understand the important role he played in U.S. history, through some of its most tumultuous chapters. Historian John Fea is no fan of the “overlap of church and state,” but even he could recognize why Billy Graham was deserving. “Evangelical Christianity, whether you like it or not, has always been at the center of the Republic, since the 18th century… Graham was the embodiment of a major stream of American culture. Not just religion but American culture.”
The tragic irony here is that these atheists are the intended beneficiaries of the message Billy Graham preached. It’s profoundly sad that they can’t get over their contempt for God long enough to hear that message: God loves them.
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