Opinion Richard Mouw: Civil Evangelicalism wp-export

I have no doubt what Billy Graham would have told the high school kids from Parkland, …

(RNS) — On the day Billy Graham died and we remembered his life and message, high school kids in Florida were speaking out about gun control.

To me, the juxtaposition was fitting.

As teenager in New Jersey, I attended Billy Graham’s 1957 New York evangelistic crusade on a weekly basis — our church rented a bus to make that possible. One of those evening services in Madison Square Garden was “Youth Night.” For me it was an experience that had a deep impact on my life.


RELATED: Billy Graham, America’s pre-eminent evangelist, dies at 99


Growing up in the evangelical world, I attended many “youth rallies.” Much of what happened in those gatherings clearly bordered on entertainment. Peppy music. “With it” speakers who knew how to use our teenage language (“Following Jesus is as cool as you can get!”). Testimonies from star athletes and “beauty queens” about how they continued to maintain their strong faith when surrounded by the temptations that afflict “the party crowd.”

There was none of that during Billy Graham’s “Youth Night” service. There were prayers and readings from the Bible, with some numbers by the large choir. And George Beverly Shea sang “How Great Thou Art,” long a powerful Swedish hymn that had recently been translated into English and became a mainstay in the Graham meetings.

Billy Graham speaks at Madison Square Garden during the 16-week New York City Crusade in 1957. Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Then Billy spoke. He made no effort to be “hip.” There was no humor that I can remember. Nor were there any promises about how a decision to love God with all our hearts would lead to happier and more successful lives. He simply spoke to us about what should be most important in a teenager’s heart.

He told us that God cares deeply about us, and the Lord takes us seriously. Many adults, he said, forget what it was like to be young. When teenagers try to talk about what is important to them, adults find it easy to dismiss what the kids have to say. “You’re young yet. You have a lot of growing up ahead of you!”

Those adults are wrong, Graham said. The things you young folks worry about, the concerns that you have about life on a daily basis are some of the most basic issues of what it means to be a human being. God understands those things, and God cares about the struggles of being a teenager. Don’t let anyone tell you, he said, that the struggles you deal with are “innocent” and “immature.”

I had invited some of my high school friends — several of them professing no religious faith at all — to go with me that evening. I had hopes that they might hear some things that would influence them for the good. And when Billy issued his invitation to walk down the aisles to the area before his podium, making a “decision” for Christ, two of them went.

And I did too. I was moved to respond with a public commitment to Graham’s challenge. He made it clear that God took my teenage struggles seriously, and I wanted to respond with a commitment to take God’s concerns seriously in turn.

We teenagers who “went forward” that evening did so while the choir sang the same words that it did for adults: “Just as I am, though tossed about / with many a conflict, many a doubt / fighting and fears, within, without / O Lamb of God, I come.”

Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School participate in a rally for gun control reform on the steps of the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Florida high school students who have been speaking out about gun control these days are clearly “tossed about.” And they are amazingly articulate about their conflicts and doubts about being young in an America where violence is all too present as a fact of life.

I have no doubts about what Billy Graham would say to them: Keep at it! God takes your concerns seriously, and adults need to listen to you.

In a much publicized speech being reported as I write this, a National Rifle Association  leader tells us that he too grieves over the recent deaths of “the innocent” in our schools. But the well-meaning expressions of grief by those who survived the recent shootings, he says, are being manipulated by “opportunists” who are using this tragedy for political purposes.

The Florida teenagers are not “innocents.” I learned that in my own teenage years from Billy Graham. They are persons with genuine human concerns — and with a unique perspective on those concerns. I am learning from them and I pray for the success of their efforts to teach us.

To them I offer Billy Graham’s favorite benediction: “And may the Lord bless you real good!”

About the author

Richard Mouw

Richard Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also served as president for twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

36 Comments

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  • “IN US WE TRUST” should have been his motto but alas Billy G was beholding to a mythical god and his dollars.

  • As someone who has loved the study of history for most of my life, I don’t know why anyone would consider the motto “IN US WE TRUST” to be anything but laughable. Pretty much the whole of human history is an example of why we SHOULDN’T trust each other. The fact that we are willing to extend that trust at all is a breathtaking act of faith against all logic and experience.

  • Yes, the concerns of these teenagers are real, and to be taken seriously. But what teenagers lack is experience — age is no guarantee of true wisdom, but it is almost always a requirement.

  • Based on what I read in comment sections like this, I feel most adults lack real experience as well. I was a state police chaplain and while I never experienced a crisis like these kids, I knew lots of troopers who did. They would say America is on the wrong track when it comes to guns, and arming teachers is the worst thing you could do.

  • So our president doesn’t trust public school teachers with the job of educating our children but he wants them as to be the first line of defense against active shooters. Un-freaking-real.

    BTW your survey leaves a lot to be desired in terms of credibility
    https://propagandaprofessor.net/tag/policeone/

    “The survey was conducted by a website called PoliceOne, an online support group for police officers, which apparently made no effort to include the views of all police in the poll, but limited it to its own membership of 400,000. Not only is this fewer than half the number of total police officers, but the site’s membership is not even limited to police; it’s open to anyone in any country. The surveyors claim that the respondents are all “verified law enforcement professionals”, but in fact they “verified” this in the same way that Dr. Kleck
    “verified” his respondents had experienced a DGU: by asking them, and then taking their word for it. More than 5 percent, however, even admitted they’d never been cops; but even if all were, they would represent not only a small minority of police officers but a small minority of the website’s membership.The participants were self-selected in response to email solicitation and an ad on the website. That’s an excellent means of obtaining participants if you really want skewed results.
    ….
    Of course there would probably be far fewer unarmed people being killed by police if streets weren’t awash with illegal guns. Putting cops on edge in even innocuous settings. Mostly enabled by the lack of cohesive and comprehensive regulation and record keeping of gun ownership

    https://nij.gov/topics/crime/gun-violence/trafficking/pages/illegal-markets.aspx

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffickers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html?mtrref=r.search.yahoo.com&gwh=C8A0C6A496C9A729F1B7EB4C14B16C46&gwt=pay

    http://www.phillyvoice.com/new-jersey-officials-detail-interstate-gun-trafficking-operation/

    https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/82-weapons-seized-from-interstate-gun-trafficking-ring-officials-say

  • That “… our president doesn’t trust public school teachers with the job of educating our children …” is an unproven assertion, aka another of your groundless statements.

    That “… he wants them as to be the first line of defense against active shooters ….” makes some sense since the teachers are actually where the shooting is taking place, and deputies apparently are unreliable.

    https://propagandaprofessor.net/tag/policeone/

    Is an uncredited unfootnoted opinion piece. Obviously the writer has an opinion, but there’s nothing in the way of data backing it up.

    https://nij.gov/topics/crime/gun-violence/trafficking/pages/illegal-markets.aspx

    No indication it reduced crime, gun theft, or anything else.

    It did indicate that folks who got the letter were more likely to report it if their gun was stolen, although that is closing the gate after the horses left.

    cont’d

  • cont’d

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffickers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html?mtrref=r.search.yahoo.com

    This is verbatim the propaganda Mayors against Guns, a Michael Bloomberg funded anti-gun propaganda front put out some years ago.

    It describes the so-called “Iron Pipeline” the intensive investigation of which has found no organization behind, resulted in no significant arrests, or found any trace of its existence.

    The bad guys disregard the law and move them across state lines to where they get the best prices, along with cigarettes, prostitutes, heroin, and a lot of other things. A nationwide ban on heroin has had no effect, the White Slavery laws have had no effect, but you think a law will kibosh illegal gun sales.

    http://www.phillyvoice.com/new-jersey-officials-detail-interstate-gun-trafficking-operation/

    Describes a “huge bust” involving 30 guns from a two-bit low-level criminal.

    That must be a mighty restricted pipeline, not even a soda straw.

    https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/82-weapons-seized-from-interstate-gun-trafficking-ring-officials-say

    Leaves the mistaken impression that bona-fide gun dealers were selling firearms to be transported across state lines.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/six-charged-in-gun-trafficking-case-1461632758

    In fact the four men were civilians who were buying firearms in straw man purchases and knowingly selling them at a mark-up to the dealer in New York, hardly a “ring” or a “pipeline”, and already illegal.

  • I have m own experience to BG and the BGEA. None of it bad. I honor Graham even if I disagreed with some of the tactics of the the crusades.

  • Cute Gish Gallop. Didn’t read. Your views on this subject are less than useless and entirely dishonest.

    More guns in public places is an asinine suggestion. One more likely to cause accidental injury and death given how lackadaisical amateurs can be concerning gun safety.

    So your ultimate solution is to do phuq all and let gun deaths pile on to ridiculous levels for countries not embroiled in civil war. Of course given your general malice towards others I can see why that works for you. People with actual values morals and concerns would take issue with it.

  • Betsy DeVos, Trumps handpicked Secretary of Education, has made it clear, her goal is to undermine and destroy public education. Your denial is cheap and silly.

    Arming teachers is a a dodge for people clearly in the pockets of the gun lobby. Akin to saying more food is a solution to obesity. You he r nothing of value to say on the subject.

    Anything else you want to lie about and misrepresent in support of ignoring an unacceptable level of gun deaths for a developed country? As if the BS pile from you could not get higher.

  • “I have no doubts about what Billy Graham would say to them: Keep at it!
    God takes your concerns seriously, and adults need to listen to you.”

    Yeah right. Graham was nothing but a grifter and right wing politician. Both my paternal grandfather and his identical twin Southern Baptist preachers had nothing but contempt for BG as he mixed politics & religion. Before BG the 11 Commandment was effectively Thou shalt not mix religion & politics. He was also the MC for Nixon’s political rallies.

  • Some schoolteachers in Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Washington state, are now allowed (depending on the school boards and the school admins) to voluntarily arm SAVE themselves in order to stop a mass shooter from doing a Parkland on them.

    The strident liberal Florida teenagers and their big-money sponsors don’t like that reality. The strident liberal actor (or half-actor, he ain’t quite that good) Samuel L. Jackson, doesn’t like that reality.

    Too bad. They gonna learn to accept it, and accept it good.

  • I note “Gish Gallop” is now your favorite response when facts blow a large whole in the waterline of one of your baseless propaganda spiels.

    My solution is “first, do no harm”.

    Yours is “shoot, then aim”.

  • Since you’re the tough guy ammosexual, why don’t you demonstrate how brave you’d be chasing down a terrorist with an AR-15.

  • Judging from Billy Graham’s “Christianity Today” response to the Civil Rights Movement, he would have worried about the erosion of states’ rights (the political theory of white privilege and duty instead of individual rights), urged everyone to go slow, to control their frustration at the lack of progress as the Lord would come soon to this old earth, and pray.

  • It helps when its a great description of a long garbage post saying nothing of value and trying to throw as much crap in the air as possible.

    You have no point to make at all.

    Your whole spiel is “Keep the status quo and deny everything in a ridiculous manner”.
    No point in taking your posts seriously. What you advocate is complete and utter crap. Immoral BS to ignore countless pointless deaths because a politically powerful advocacy group wants to avoid sensible regulations and actions.

    No point in reading what you have to say here, its not worth responding to.

  • Because Betsy DeVos does not like an educated population and wants to throw money towards cronies. There is a reason her own state rejected her plans to gut public education there. If you agree with such ideas, then it is just one more cretinous malicious idea that you ascribe to. Nothing new there.

    Arming teachers is a stupid idea beyond all comprehension, especially coming from someone who has such disregard for public school teachers to begin with, like our M0r0n in Chief. “Good guys with guns” and well trained police stood by in Florida as the massacre was going on because they did not want to risk their lives with better armed assailants
    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/three-sheriff-s-deputies-remained-outside-school-during-parkland-shooting-n850946

    The whole idea of “more guns” stops massacres is nothing more than propaganda from the NRA to avoid addressing the real issue of too many guns in the hands of people who should not have them.

    More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/more-guns-do-not-stop-more-crimes-evidence-shows/

  • If Betsy DeVos does not like an educated population, she ought to love you.

    I would agree, if you are a teacher, that arming you would be a stupid idea beyond all comprehension.

    But that seems extremely unlikely.

  • That certainly was the long way to say “I’m right and don’t bother reading other people’s posts”, which seems to be pretty much what you’ve been posting for years.

    At least you’re giving up the pretense of being able to support anything.

  • Not a denial. Flinging insults because you really can’t defend such a half baked idea borne of utter avoidance.

  • Jose you’re just another troll, or maybe a troll who has changed his screen name. Your “arguments” are without merit.

  • “I have no doubts about what Billy Graham would say to them: Keep at it!
    God takes your concerns seriously, and adults need to listen to you.”

    Yeah right. BG would have in all likely hood bowed down to his true god the wing nuts and supported the NRA.

  • Antonin Scalia says you are a f00l

    ” Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons. ”
    Heller v. Dist of Columbia (2008)
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-290.ZS.html

    🙂

  • Isn’t funny how the “gun control regulations violate the second amendment” argument just falls apart thanks to the quote of one of the staunchest arch conservatives.

    Thanks for playing.

  • Betsy DeVos has made it clear she disagrees with you.

    Good.

    Arming teachers is puts the metal where the pedal is.

    And I thought your B S pile could not get higher.

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