Evangelicalism: Billy Graham steps into Cincinnati's racial divide.
Evangelist Billy Graham concluded four sweltering nights of preaching in Cincinnati, standing strong after a bout of feeling faint. On the last weekend in June, Graham, 83, mixed his age-old gospel message with calls for reconciliation in the racially charged city.
Invited by a diverse coalition of community religious leaders, Graham repeatedly spoke of how God can help people learn to love those of different backgrounds. "I want to tell you we've all come together around the throne of God, and we love each other," he said.
Graham also condemned rising anti-Semitism in Europe: "Bigotry of any kind is a sin in God's eyes."
An estimated 201,600 people turned out at Paul Brown Stadium over the four days. About 11,000 came forward to make first-time or reaffirmed commitments to Christ. Sunday night's crowd of 65,600 broke a stadium record.
Graham, who has Parkinson's disease and other ailments, spoke of his growing frailty and his mortality. Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross said the evangelist, who recently had cataract surgery, reported feeling faint on the stage Friday, when temperatures soared past 100 degrees in the Cincinnati heat.
"He's repeatedly said that he has no plans to retire," Ross said. "He plans to continue preaching as long as he has strength."
Graham's next mission is scheduled for October in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
At least a few of those who support an economic boycott of downtown Cincinnati-including the stadium in which Graham preached-protested the mission. A small plane circled over the stadium as Graham spoke Saturday, pulling a "Boycott Cincinnati!" banner.
Riots erupted in the city in April 2001 after a white police officer was charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man. Community activists called for a boycott in July 2001, saying the city had "made no concession" on racial matters. A Hamilton County municipal judge later acquitted the officer (CT, July 9, 2001, p. 15).
One boycott organizer, Damon Lynch III of the Cincinnati Black United Front, rejected calls for the boycott to be lifted for the Graham mission and other events.
"These events are not bringing restoration or healing," Lynch told CT. "There is no healing to the families. There is no healing for communities."
Lynch, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church, said he had a "respectful" 15-minute meeting with Graham. "We talked about the realization that the body of Christ has many members, and we're fighting from a social-justice bent. He's spreading the gospel, which [I hope] changes hearts and minds."
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service, Cincinnati; additional reporting by LaTonya Taylor
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also appearing on our site today:
Jewish Leaders Accept ApologyGraham "couldn't have been more humble and apologetic" over 1972 comments.
Christianity Today covered Cincinnati's racial tensions in last July's "Lost Common CauseChristian focus on racial reconciliation is set back after Cincinnati's riots."
How civility turned to anarchy: The Cincinnati Enquirer examines the tensions leading to the riots.
Article about Graham's message of reconciliation includes:
Graham frail but message strong—The Cincinnati Post (June 29, 2002)
Graham to Cincinnati: It's time to make peace —The Plain Dealer, Cleveland (June 28, 2002)
Graham offers hope for peace—The Cincinnati Post (June 17, 2002)
The Cincinnati Enquirer has posted excerpts from the Rev. Billy Graham's sermon.