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A reader has written concerning a picture which appears in "The Liberator" comic book, next to the passage from Luke 6:26, where Jesus said, "When people speak well of you, WATCH OUT! False prophets are always popular." The picture is of Billy Graham.

The reader wrote:

"Why did you make such a terrible implication against a man who has spent his entire life pointing people to the teachings of Jesus? The Grahams could be billionaires living the easy life, but they have forsaken our inborn greed to help everywhere they can in this world. To forsake means it (money) is not your goal in life.
I agree that the Christian community has a huge problem with having too much and not giving enough, and that it isn't preached or practised in the church today. But to condemn a specific individual seems a violation of God's principles
."   Sacramento, California

We do usually try to target principles, and not individuals. But the Bible is full of criticisms of specific individuals as well. This is particularly true of powerful leaders.

In the cartoon in question, we have not even criticised Billy Graham. We have just put his picture beside a statement from Jesus. If Billy Graham is famous for teaching what Jesus taught, then people should see this as an illustration supporting the statement, like the picture on the following page of "The Liberator", where a woman is helping to push a stalled car for someone, next to the words "Do for others what you would want them to do for you." (Luke 6:31)

However, we must confess that this was not our reason for putting a picture of Billy Graham in that particular juxtaposition. But we did feel that our decision to place it there did not amount to condemnation. The quote does not say that all popular people are false prophets. It simply stated that popular religious leaders need to be reminded that false prophets are popular. The quote is nothing but a warning to popular religious people.

Now who would represent a better illustration of a popular religious leader today? Whether or not Billy Graham is a false prophet is a separate issue; but taking offence at what amounts to a "warning" is not a good attitude to begin with. Nevertheless, since our reader has brought the subject up, we will now consider the case with regard to the possibility that Billy could actually be a false prophet.

Jesus says that, in order to be popular in an evil world, one must shy away from the unpopular things that he taught. Our reader says that Billy has spent his entire life pointing people to the teachings of Jesus. Dare we ask which teachings?
Has he spent his entire life teaching people that they must forsake everything that they own to be Christians? (Luke 14:33)
Has he spent his entire life teaching people not to go to war? (Luke 6:27-35)
Has he spent his entire life teaching them not to save up money in the bank? (Matthew 6:19)
Has he spent his entire life teaching them not to work for a living? (John 6:27, Matthew 6:25-33)
Has "Doctor" Graham spent his entire life teaching people not to call him "doctor" because it is the Greek version of the Hebrew word "rabbi"? (Matthew 23:7-8)
The list of Jesus' teachings that Billy Graham has clearly not taught includes just about everything that Jesus ever said.

It is true that Billy Graham has popularised the term "born again", but we have serious doubts as to whether what happens at a Billy Graham Crusade (And why aren't they called "Jesus Crusades"? See John 5:43-44.) is really what Jesus expected from Nicodemus or from any other follower for that matter.

Jesus enjoyed moments of popularity, but they were always short-lived. Billy, like anyone, has his critics, but he has never been in danger of arrest, much less crucifixion. Religious and political leaders (on the whole) like what he says. We must seriously ask ourselves, "What does Billy do that Jesus didn't do, that he is able to be so much more popular than Jesus was, and that he is able to live so much more luxuriously?"

We do not want to attack Billy unfairly. What he says (apart from his raves about America as though it were the kingdom of heaven) is often quite reasonable. The problem is in how he says it, and, more importantly, in what he does not say.

Billy's ministry has been built on pandering to the rich and famous. One of the most significant things about his whole ministry is that it is based on an agreement that he will not point people to the teachings of Jesus (i.e. that he will not discuss doctrinal issues). Instead, he points them to the nearest church... any church, and leaves it to the churches to point them to whatever it is that they want to point them to.

Billy may not be a billionaire, but it's hard to tell the difference when he is in a room full of billionaires (as he often is). He insists on flying first class wherever he goes, and he stays in the most expensive hotels. Our reader says that the Christian community has a huge problem with having too much. But if Billy is to be the sample for the rest of us, then most of us still don't have enough!

Forsaking all is not preached or practised in the church today, because anyone who does it is booted out, as happens any time we have tried to teach such truths outside Graham Crusades. Like the Pharisees of old, he calls the Romans (police) to drag us away. It's not just that he hasn't got time to teach obedience to Jesus himself, but rather that he openly opposes those who do. And he is amply supported by church leaders in doing so.

No one should be above criticism, including ourselves. But that should also include Billy Graham.

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