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Give Thanks for a Letter from Billy Graham

Editor’s note: Baptist Center for Ethics founder Robert Parham (1953 – 2017) wrote the following editorial in Jan. 2014 in the event of Billy Graham’s death following Graham’s hospitalization in late 2013. Parham wrote it with the guidance, “Hold until needed.” It is published now following Graham’s death on Feb. 21, 2018.

Billy Graham’s letter made a world of difference.

Seminary professor Glen Stassen and I co-wrote a resolution on multi-nuclear arms control and peacemaking that I submitted to the resolutions committee of the 1978 Southern Baptist Convention.

The resolution reference appears in the 1978 SBC annual on pages 42 and 54.

More importantly, the resolution passed, the last year before the SBC headed off the tracks toward fundamentalist control of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The resolution said, “we commit ourselves … to seek to become more committed to peacemaking in a variety of ways.”

One of those “variety of ways” was the 1979 peace conference organized by Southern Seminary students and faculty with pastors in the Louisville area.

Initially, it was not well-received. Foy Valentine, executive director of the SBC Christian Life Commission, was unsupportive and privately critical. A prominent moderate Louisville Baptist pastor opposed the use of the word “peace” in the event title. A prominent fundamentalist Louisville pastor accused us of being communists. Even many planners were apprehensive.

Enter Billy Graham.

“There is probably no problem today which is more pressing and more threatening than the massive unchecked escalation of arms in our world,” he said in a statement of support.

“This issue must concern every Christian. We have a responsibility to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in our world, speaking out against the madness which seems to have gripped whole nations. I am thankful the Southern Baptist Convention has grappled with this issue…and is continuing to draw attention to it through the Convocation on Peacemaking and the Nuclear Arms Race.”

Graham wrote, “We must not only talk about peace–we must work for peace on all levels of our world.”

In closing, he said, “May God bless you as you meet together, and give you His wisdom in all your deliberations.”

Graham’s letter validated the importance of what we were doing and placed a seal of legitimacy over the event for those who feared negative repercussions in their churches.

After all, if the most trusted evangelical leader was for it, who could be against it?

His statement isolated the “nattering nabobs of negativism” and empowered the earliest days of the emerging peace effort among Southern Baptists.

While many progressive evangelicals and liberal Christians have been critical of Graham, surely this was one of his better moments on social justice and peacemaking.

And now is the time to remember and to give thanks for the “better angels” in his soul.

I, for one, will always be grateful to Billy Graham for standing for peacemaking in the breach when it counted.

Robert Parham (1953 – 2017) was executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics, from 1991 until his death in March 2017.