“Nobody’s perfect!” The reality of fallen humanity expressed in a quick turn of phrase that reminds us that even at our best, humans are flawed at best. Usually this phrase is a reminder to offer the grace to others we desire to experience for ourselves when our flaws are exposed for all to see. However, in recent times, I find this phrase is reserved for those whom we feel are kindred spirits, and it is denied to those with whom we have differences. I believe this inconsistency has been especially prominent as the nation reflects on the life of evangelist Billy Graham.
In the reactions to his death, I have found less grace and mercy than I would have expected to see. American culture prides itself of being a place of second chances and a place where maturity and growth allow an individual to show progressive understanding and deepening character as time passes and as they mature. While many who share Billy Graham’s faith readily see him through eyes of grace, some who do not see matters of faith as he saw them, seem blinded to the fact that someone who lived for just shy of a century is bound to have made at least a few mistakes – some of them awful, painful and regretful – but that individual is also bound to have learned some lessons and demonstrated the best of humanity as well.
I can imagine that, at the time of my death, it would be relatively easy to scour the records of my life, of everything human interaction I have had and to review everything I have preached and written to find enough missteps to paint me as a very flawed person. It would also be easy to compile my interactions with other flawed people, minimizing the good partnerships, helpful alliances and fruitful ventures, to make me appear to be self-serving, self-aggrandizing and self-centered in all I said and did. It seems to me, that too many people are taking such an approach with Billy Graham’s life, and not extending to him, the grace that he most consistently preached and the grace that God extends to everyone through Jesus Christ.
Billy Graham was not a perfect man. No one is. Billy Graham was aware of his imperfections and let it be known on numerous occasions. Once, when he was asked if he minded having his name on the Hollywood walk of fame with a bunch of sinners, he responded that he too was a sinner and therefore shouldn’t have any problem fitting in. Every true preacher of the Gospel realizes that in the end, we who follow Jesus are just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. We didn’t make the bread. We don’t own the bakery. We do know the One who owns the bakery and is Himself the Bread of life that satisfies and we make it our business to tell others where to be fed. At times we are imperfect in sharing that Good News, and we frequently embarrass the One who sent us with the message, but we are called to continue to share the message of His salvation through stammering lips and forked tongues. He knows this and uses us anyway.
I am sensitive to this not because I am a Billy Graham apologist, but because I believe the Gospel he preached and understand the universal need for grace and graciousness. I especially believe such grace should be readily offered to one who preached it and on the balance lived it so faithfully. My hope is that rather than conveniently take cheap shots at Billy Graham, misrepresenting his life and ministry, we should give honor to whom honor is due. we should learn from the missteps that are common to the human experience and give a faithful man the same room to grow we all need as human beings who are struggling through a journey no one traverses perfectly, but that even a flawed human can finish well – as did our Brother, Billy.
Grace, mercy and peace to you all!