In March, we’ll be celebrating the moxie of notable Irish-Americans. Like many in the South, evangelist Billy Graham was of Scotch-Irish descent.
Christian Evangelist Billy Graham spent decades as a fixture on the cultural and political scene, but as his age advanced and his health declined, he stepped away from the spotlight and kept to his home in the mountains of North Carolina. His last “crusade” – large-scale meetings where his preaching regularly drew thousands – was held more than a decade ago in New York in 2005. Even as the ministry he founded continued on, Graham was mostly quiet, meeting with some in his home, but not granting interviews or otherwise appearing in public.
Yet when he passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 99, the whole world seemed to join in mourning. On February 28 and March 1, 2018, he became only the fourth private citizen — and the first religious leader — in United States history to lie in honor at the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.
In this day and age where the average human attention span is down to around eight seconds, why would so many pause to remember a preacher who hadn’t delivered a sermon in years?
Maybe it had a little something to do with Billy Graham’s moxie. Graham had the audacity to believe that every person on earth is born flawed and broken and separated from the God who created them. He believed that God Himself became human and paid the penalty for that brokenness, and made it possible for people and God to have a relationship again. He believed that every person on earth needed an opportunity to hear this message, and decide for themselves whether or not they would embrace it. Graham dedicated his life with single-minded focus to the audacious goal of sharing that message with as many people as he possibly could, by whatever means he had at his disposal.
His focus took him to every corner of the globe. Graham preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history. He reached nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories on six continents through 400 crusades held during the course of his ministry.
His focus took him behind the Iron Curtain, into a South Africa still divided by Apartheid, and into conflict in Northern Ireland.
It’s hard not to be intrigued by a person like Graham. What can we learn from his moxie? A few points:
People with moxie don’t make it about themselves.
Graham’s daily practice was to spend time reading the Bible and praying. That was true at the height of his ministry, when he was on the road for months at a time, and it was true in his waning years, when spent his days confined to his home.
His personal devotion and commitment to the God he served informed Graham’s practice and likely led to his ministry remaining remarkably scandal-free. Tawdry tales of money-grabbing and skirt chasing are as old as faith itself but Graham’s ministry seemed the exception to the rule.
Graham never considered himself above temptation or question, and he carefully guarded himself against such occasions. He never wanted his sins to blemish the cause he championed.
People with moxie live with a greater vision in mind, and are willing to remind themselves that there’s something bigger than themselves in this world.
People with moxie admit when they are wrong.
While Graham didn’t ever get caught with his hand in the till or anywhere else it shouldn’t be, he did express regrets over statements he’d made and entanglements he’d indulged. His biggest regrets came from entangling himself in politics. He publicly acknowledged his failings, and learned from them.
By confessing his faults, he vividly lived out the very message he preached. He acknowledged that he, too, was flawed and not beyond the temptation of power and powerful people. The more circumspect way he carried himself in his later years demonstrated that he had repented of those earlier errors, and had refocused on his purpose. Graham didn’t hold others to a standard he himself was unwilling to keep.
People with moxie stand up against oppression.
A decade before the Civil Rights Act became law, when the South was in the grips of segregation and Jim Crow, Graham insisted upon integrated meetings. He personally removed ropes meant to separate blacks and whites at his meetings. His efforts gained him the ire of die-hard racists, but he persisted.
Years later he did the same in South Africa, refusing to hold a meeting there unless blacks and whites were all welcome without restriction.
People with moxie are never content to allow others to be mistreated. They use their moxie to seek justice.
It’s difficult to imagine a question that hasn’t been asked and answered by Graham. But if I had the chance to interview him today, what question would you want me to ask?