Saturday, July 02, 2005

Billy Graham in New York

This is a bit late but as the Monk noted I am in Ecuador and earlier this week was a bit hectic.

Billy Graham was in New York for what was billed as his final crusade last weekend in New York. Graham is 86, in frail health, and the crusade in New York was well publicized and organized. The Southern Baptist church that I attend in New York has been encouraging and reminding folks to go for a number of months now.

Graham appeared on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with some fairly well known Christian groups and artists opening for him. Held at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens (near Shea Stadium and where the US Open is held) he drew perhaps 200,000-250,000 over the three day period. I attended the Saturday session with my family.

Overall it was reasonably well organized with Graham and the live entertainment appearing in one large section and large video simulcasts in other parts of the park. After a series of musical offerings Graham came to podium. Despite his age his frailty was not apparent, he retained a fire in his eyes and great strength in his voice. His message was short and simple and regrettably I missed a decent part of it as I was chasing my son. One memorable comment from the homily was his belief that the spiritual condition of America was in a parlous state and he referred to the music of the past few years as evidence.

Perhaps the most interesting moment for me was when Graham introduced Bill and Hillary Clinton who sat in the guest seats. Bill had the opportunity to say a few words and reminded me of why he is perhaps the best politician of the 20th century, bar none. He recalled listening to Graham at the time of the segregation protests in Little Rock and told how many preachers of white-only congregations begged Graham to speak to their flock and how Graham courageously refused. Clinton got quite good applause, especially from the African Americans in the audience - many of whom shouted encouragement. It reminded me of those who said that Clinton was the first black President. (The audience was remarkable in its heterogeneity in every way - a bit surprising and encouraging for New York City where one would not necessarily imagine would be the most fertile ground for a Christian evangelist.)

When Graham rose to speak he acknowledged the Clintons with kinds words and a joke. "I told Bill some years ago that he should give up the Presidency and join me as an evangelist and let Hillary run the country."

A moment of nearly dead silence followed by some desultory applause. Hillary's doing all the right things, appearing at these events without being obvious (as Peggy Noonan predicted she would) but if the reaction from this crowd-many of whom seemed to be pro-Clinton- was any indication, it will be a rocky road for Hillary.

No comments: