I was in Europe when I first heard of Billy Graham's "endorsement" of Mitt Romney. I was skeptical of this report because I knew that Graham was not in the habit of endorsing a particular candidate for any political office. When I saw a copy of Billy Graham's statement, it made a lot more sense. This is what he said:
On November 6, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.
Some have decried Graham's turning "political" in an election year. Others have claimed that the great evangelist in his senescence is a mere puppet of his son Franklin – a baseless claim that smacks of brazen ageism. That Graham met with Romney is no more surprising than the fact that he met with President Obama in 2010, another election year. Billy Graham is a national treasure and has met with every president since Harry Truman. Although he is a lifelong Democrat, Graham's relationships have always transcended politics. He preached the funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and he led President George W. Bush to personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Graham's statement about the election reveals three things about him and the times in which we live. First, it is a message filled with the pathos of a person who has long outlived most of his contemporaries. The end of life approaches, and one's thoughts turn toward things that really matter, things of eternal moment. Billy Graham's most recent book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well (Thomas Nelson, 2011), is about heaven. Deathbed requests and words spoken near the end of life have a certain gravity. They command attention. Graham had something important to say, and we should do him the honor of listening to his words with respect and weighing them carefully.
Second, Graham reveals in his words a deep love and genuine concern for his country. Jesus (and Jeremiah before him) loved Jerusalem and wept over it. There are some tears in Billy Graham's lament about the turning point we face in our American republic today. Here is a man who has preached the gospel to more people than anyone else in history. His heart yearns for everyone everywhere to know and love Jesus Christ. But discipleship is also part of the Christian life. Graham is helping many believers who came to Christ through his ministry, as well as anyone else who will listen, to form their conscience about a crucial national decision in light of the lordship of Jesus Christ. And that is a good and godly thing for a minister of the gospel to do.
Third, Graham asks his readers to take a stand on three non-negotiable commitments of the Christian worldview: the sacredness of every human life including those children still waiting to be born; the dignity of marriage as God intended it to be, a lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman; and religious freedom, not only for Christians but for all persons, for individuals and institutions of faith alike.
The Manhattan Declaration, which deals with these three concerns, was born in the heart of Chuck Colson. He wisely saw that they were threshold issues without which a wider moral consensus on many other pressing matters could not be built. That America's greatest and most respected Christian evangelist has come to support these three principles in such a bold, nonpartisan way is an act of moral courage.
I write these words as an Independent who holds no loyalty to any political party and who has voted for candidates of both the red and the blue. Chuck Colson knew all too well that the kingdom of God cannot be equated with any partisan movement. He also knew that politics was not the answer to the deepest needs of our society.
But there are also times in human history when people of faith cannot in good conscience opt out of the political process. Wilberforce was a leader in Parliament and worked tirelessly to pass legislation that ended the British slave trade. Christians living in 1930s Germany were concerned about many issues other than anti-Semitism, but Bonhoeffer knew that following Jesus required taking a stand against that intrinsic evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. lobbied both Congress and the president to enact civil rights legislation. Today we face a similar moment with respect to the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom. As Chuck Colson said as we released the Manhattan Declaration, "Enough is enough. The Church must take a stand."
Chuck'd be proud of Billy.