Graham’s springtime blitz draws a strong response.

Even for a itinerant evangelist, it has been a lot of travel. During April and May, Billy Graham has been crisscrossing New England, holding one-day rallies in seven cities and delivering “evangelistic lectures” at seven college campuses, including three Ivy League schools. Three associate evangelists—Ralph Bell, John Wesley White, and Leighton Ford—have also been working the territory. The climax comes the first week in June with an eight-day Graham crusade in Boston.

In the middle of it all, Graham made trips to Washington, D.C., to address a U.S. Chamber of Commerce prayer breakfast, to Moscow for an unprecedented preaching engagement (CT, April 9, p. 44), and from there to London to pick up his $200,000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

College crowds, particularly in the Ivy League, are not apt to be pushovers for a Bible preacher. But as Graham’s schedule got under way, it was evident he was getting a good reception. He drew 1,600 at Northeastern and 1,900 at the University of Massachusetts. At Yale, the crowd stretched down the street and around the corner by the time the doors of the campus chapel were opened. When Graham spoke, about a thousand people had packed out the place.

He spoke twice at Harvard—the first night at the John F. Kennedy School of Government before a near-capacity crowd of some 800, which Graham’s Harvard hosts admitted by advance ticket only. When he concluded, Graham was accorded a sustained ovation by an audience not known for its effusion toward outside speakers. The next day the campus daily newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, called the crowd “enthusiastic.” The following night Graham spoke in spacious Memorial Church in the middle of fabled Harvard Yard. The church was packed—the audience again limited to Harvard students, faculty, and staff.

The one-day rallies were also drawing good crowds as the schedule got under way: 19,000 in Providence, Rhode Island; 4,400 in Burlington, Vermont; and 9,000 in Portland, Maine. The number coming forward for counseling afterwards was running 10 percent—double what Graham usually sees in North America.

“Our team senses something unusual happening here,” said Sterling Huston, Graham’s director of crusades for North America. “There is just a very confirming sense in the numbers and the spirit of those who have been coming that this is God’s time for New England.”

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Some of Graham’s campus lectures coincided with “Ground-Zero Week” at a number of colleges, a time dedicated to halting the arms spiral, and Graham’s lectures were billed as focusing on the peace issue. No doubt some students were disappointed because Graham did not dwell on nuclear arms, and he said nothing critical of the Reagan administration. He mentioned only briefly what he dubbed “SALT 10,” the destruction of all nuclear arms. He emphasized, however, that he is not a pacifist, he does not concur with unilateral disarmament, and he does not have magic solutions to the arms race.

In fact, if there was a reason for Graham’s success with the Harvard students, it was his forthright admission that he does not have all the answers, and for his gentle approach to the gospel, minus fire and damnation.

He said he is still on a personal pilgrimage and “the more I learn, the less dogmatic I become on some topics … the answers are constantly being oversimplified in our society. It’s especially true in religion and politics. The temptation to simplify must be resisted.”

He declared his commitment to the social aspects of the gospel, and he described his alma mater, Wheaton College, as an antislave institution founded before the Civil War. He described his first “act of conscience” as a time at one of his earliest crusades when he ripped down a rope barrier separating whites from blacks.

There were some tough questions from the audience, such as, Was Graham manipulated by former President Nixon for Nixon’s political gain? Graham replied that Nixon used him less than some other presidents, and he revealed that in 1960, Nixon heard a rumor that Graham was about to endorse him for president. According to Graham, Nixon phoned to tell him not to do it because Graham’s ministry was more important than Nixon’s candidacy.

Graham was asked if he would condemn apartheid in South Africa, and in the Dutch Reformed church there, which supports it. Graham replied that it would be too easy to speak out from the safe distance of a Harvard lectern and that he has done it instead in Durban and Johannesburg. Pressed about including the Reformed church in his condemnation, Graham demurred, saying not all Reformed ministers favor apartheid.

As at his other campus lectures, Graham presented the gospel, calling it the only way out of the human dilemma, and declaring that Christ was “either a madman, a liar, and the biggest liar in the history of the world, or he was who he claimed to be.”

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Graham’s warm reception at Harvard is consistent with a slow but noticeable trend of openness to evangelical Christianity on college campuses in New England, particularly where evangelicals have been willing to be counted on social issues as they boil up on campus.

When David Fountain, a young Conservative Baptist minister, arrived at Harvard in 1976 to work as a chaplain with graduate students, he found no organized outreach among the graduate population of 7,000. He started one and was joined in 1978 by another Conservative Baptist chaplain, Michael Knosp. Today, the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship includes about 100 graduate students. It is encouraging growth, given the rarified air of the Harvard graduate schools.

At another level, the Harvard Divinity School has been talking with the Graham people for some time about finding donors to endow a chair of evangelical studies (total amount needed: $1 million). Part of the reason, said George Rupp, dean of the divinity school, is that “there’s a seasoning of evangelical scholarship. An institution [such as Harvard] always recognizes scholarship wherever it finds it, and we now find more of it in evangelical circles.” He also said that because of the growing visibility of evangelicals in the culture, mainline scholars are more interested in discussions with them.

Those discussions have already begun. Last fall two professors from nearby Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, David Wells and Richard Lovelace, came to Harvard to discuss pertinent issues with two of their counterparts from the divinity school. The meeting was scheduled for the student lounge, but there were so many interested students and faculty wanting in that it was moved to the school’s largest lecture room, where it was still jammed.

It is certainly too early to declare that another “Great Awakening” has come upon New England, but as Graham’s work in the region this spring has shown, there do seem to be signs of life that may be signaling the end of a long, hard freeze in the area that once preserved for the nation its Judeo-Christian heritage.


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