Billy Graham, controversy and twitter outrage

Billy Graham went to be with the Lord this week at the grand old age of 99. I never knew him personally, I didn’t get to meet him or even hear him “live.” Though I’ve watched him on the big and small screen (most memorably in 1989 when I stewarded at Mission 89 for the Bradford Live link). Yet like many, indirectly my faith has been influenced by his life work.

1. When I became a Christian, our church used the BGA counselling programme to encourage new believers in their first steps.

2. Many of the people who helped shape my faith had heard him preach, served on Mission Teams and in some cases come to faith through hearing him preach.

3. I don’t agree with and wouldn’t use all of his methods. I think the altar call and decision card became over used in some circles. However, there is a lot that preachers can and should learn from him including:

– A relentless focus on the Gospel

– Sticking to saying ” The Bible says” and minimising personal opinions

– Although I am not so keen on the altar call, I think it is important to pro-actively call for a response.

– Integrity at all costs

Now Billy Graham was not perfect and he would be the first to admit that. The Nixon recordings with anti-Semitic content were a low point, however they might be spun. God doesn’t call perfect people into his service.

Secondly, I recognise that there are views he held to and proclaimed that many people would have disagreed with. Some of those views are ones I would share because they are Bible views. Now, it is fascinating and chilling to see the response by some, especially on social media to him and his death.  It is fascinating not just because of how they are responding to him but because this is part of a trend.

It seems that there  are many people around who when someone famous dies and as soon as there are eulogies, they cannot help themselves in the need to say something as offensive and as hateful as possible about that person. I suspect that in a lot of cases, it is people who are part of a generation who were not around when the person in question was prominent in public life.

Social media makes this possible. People can be brave when sat behind a computer screen and when their oppnent is dead. I’m not sure that they would turn up at a funeral to heckle or queue up to write their curses in the book of condolences.

Social media, especially Twitter with it’s instant and concise nature also seems to magnify the offence. Twitter doesn’t allow much space for nuance or reflection.

With this in mind I want to put forward a couple of comments. First of all, we have been told for so long by the preachers of postmodernism that tolerance is essential. Yet, those same preachers of “tolerance” seem very quick not just to denounce the views of others but to use the most intolerant language possible. They call people ” evil” just because they don’ share their views. They wish that their opponents will rot in hell. So can we lay to rest the pretence of tolerance and pluralism once and for all. We disagree sharply and it is okay to say so.

Secondly and this is as much a message for my Christian brothers and sisters, disagreement does not have to preclude civility.  I have seen, and been on the receiving end myself of some quite aggressive comments. There are people who are quick to misrepresent, quick to insult and come across as very shouty. You don’t need to respond in kind. Sadly there seems to be a view that militant atheists are fair game for a bit of roughing up. There seems to be a need to show them that we can be more macho than them.

Here’s a challenge. Read through your comments and tweets. Think ” If I did not know it was me, would I want to meet that person? Are they winsome? Do they commend the things they believe in?”

And one final tip. There’s an old internet tip that goes ” Don’t feed the trolls.” The trolls are out there and busy today, feeding on raw emotion. Seeking to provoke a reaction. Ignore them.