Friday, September 27, 2013

Graham has solid place in history

Wonder how it feels to be treated like a historical figure while you’re still alive.

President Barack Obama and his living predecessors could tell us. And civil rights legend John Lewis could, too. Ditto, Mikhail Gorbachev, the final Soviet ruler.

It’s a pretty exclusive club. And it’s clear, as his 95th birthday approaches, that Charlotte-born Billy Graham is a member.

Who else but ex-White House occupants have anything like the Billy Graham Library – a presidential-style museum filled with mementos of his decades-long career?

And this week, Wheaton College in Illinois has been hosting a four-day conference on its most famous alumnus, with speeches, roundtable discussions, and even a Billy Graham Film Festival featuring clips from some of his more famous crusades.

Other recent signs that Graham, who will celebrate another birthday Nov. 7, has achieved larger-than-life status: Popular Christian singer Michael W. Smith has written a song, “Take Me Home,” about Graham’s longing for heaven. And grade-schoolers can now dip into a new biography of Graham that’s tailored to young readers, 9 to 12.

The lasting influence of Graham – pastor to presidents, America’s evangelist-in-chief and preacher to millions around the globe – was the theme of many of the scheduled Wheaton lectures from scholars around the country.

Grant Wacker, a professor at Duke Divinity School, was to speak about “Billy Graham and American History.”

“Billy Graham and the Enigma of the Modern South” was the theme from Webster University’s Steven Miller, who authored a well-reviewed book about Graham’s role in the rise of the Republican Party in the Bible Belt.

One scholar’s focus was Graham’s visits to the Soviet Union – controversial at the time, but now considered part of the bigger story of communism’s collapse.

Also on the agenda: Graham’s relationship with race. He promoted integration and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s, but kept his distance from the civil rights marches in the 1960s.

And a panel scheduled for Saturday was to include not only Charlotte evangelist Leighton Ford and wife Jean Ford, Graham’s sole surviving sibling, but also Martin Marty, perhaps the country’s leading expert on American religion.

Meanwhile, Smith’s song will be out soon. It’s a conversation Graham might have with Jesus when he gets to heaven. “Hello, old friend,” it begins. “You’ve walked beside me all these miles.”

Graham’s take on his fame and his hopes for heaven are covered on the final page of the new biography for kids – “Prophet with Honor,” Christian publisher Zondervan’s adaptation of William Martin’s definitive biography.

“I want to hear one person say something nice about me, and that’s the Lord, when I face him,” Graham says on page 144. “I want him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

-- Tim Funk

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parade of religion speakers on the way

Time to go get your calendars. Some intriguing speakers are just ahead.

Here’s the lineup:

Monday (Sept. 23) – Noted Israeli archeologist Gaby Barkay will talk at UNC Charlotte about two of the oldest fragments of a biblical text ever found.

The tiny texts include the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) widely used in synagogues and churches and the oldest example of the divine name “Yahweh” written in paleo-Hebrew letters.

Inscribed on silver scrolls, the fragments predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 500 years.

Barkay will speak at 7 p.m. in Cone University Center’s McKnight Hall.

Wednesday (Sept. 25) -- James Tabor, chair of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Religious Studies, will kick off the Milford Dialogue, a lecture/discussion series at Park Road Baptist Church. It’s named for the late Rev. Charlie Milford, the church’s former pastor.

A provocative author and a veteran of several archaeological digs in the Holy Land, Tabor is scheduled to consider the impact the first-century Jesus has on 21st century Christians.

Tabor’s books include “Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity,” “The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity” and his controversial “The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity.”

Tabor will speak at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Center of the campus of Park Road Baptist, 3900 Park Road.

Sept. 28 – CNN political anchor Wolf Blitzer will moderate a community dialogue at Lenoir-Rhyne University on “Politics, Religion and LGBT Equality.”

Also on the panel: Mitchell Gold, a Hickory business executive, gay advocate and author of “Youth in Crisis: What Everyone Should Know About Growing Up Gay”; the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, pastor of Clinton Tabernacle Church in Hickory; and the Rev. Jack McKinney, a Baptist minister and pastoral counselor.

The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the university’s P.E. Monroe Auditorium, 625 Seventh Ave. S.E. in Hickory.

Sept. 30 and Oct. 21 – Myers Park United Methodist Church will host a two-part interfaith dialogue.

On Sept. 30, Rabbi Murray Ezring of Temple Israel will join the Rev. James Howell of Myers Park United Methodist for a discussion about “Christianity and Judaism.”

On Oct. 21, Imam John Ederer of the Muslim American Society of Charlotte will join Howell to explore “Christianity and Islam.”

Both presentations will begin at 7 p.m. at Myers Park United Methodist, 1501 Queens Road.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, September 13, 2013

Graham could get frosty reception in Iceland

Time for an update on the Graham family, as in Franklin, Anne and Billy.

On Sept. 28-29, world traveler Franklin Graham will headline one of his crusade-like festivals in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The president of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association could get a frosty reception in this small (population 320,000) island country in Northern Europe.

For starters, it’s not the most religious of places: A 2011 Gallup poll found that 60 percent of Icelanders considered religion to be unimportant in their daily lives.

Graham’s opposition to same-sex marriage – the BGEA ran ads promoting North Carolina’s Amendment One in 2012 – may spark protests. The country’s former prime minister (J√≥hanna Sigurdard√≥ttir), was the world’s first openly homosexual leader elected to head a national government.

According to Icelandic news reports, gay activists found a way to snap up most of the free tickets to Graham’s festival in hopes that he’d address a nearly empty arena. Organizers devised a way for churches to distribute the tickets.

Graham’s take? “My desire for this festival is to share the good news of God’s love for sinners – all sinners, which includes me – and I want anyone in search of hope to know what God has done for them in his desire for each of us to experience his peace,” Graham said in a statement to the Observer. “God’s message is for all of Iceland, whether you are rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, church member or unchurched, believer in God or atheist.”

Meanwhile, Franklin’s older sister, Anne Graham Lotz, a Raleigh-based evangelist, has authored a new book with an intriguing title: “Wounded by God’s People.” In its pages, she writes about how Christians often inflict pain on other Christians.

“They think when they’re hurt by God’s people, they’re hurt by God,” Lotz recently told Fox News. “Don’t throw away God.”

Here’s what Lotz told Fox about her father, Billy Graham, who turns 95 in November:

 “He’s doing really well,” she said. “His mind is clear, which I’m so thankful of. It takes him a little longer to recall things. … Has a hard time seeing. Has macular degeneration. Hard time hearing, which is my biggest difficulty with him. He can’t hear my voice on the phone. … Has a hard time walking. He uses a walker or wheelchair. But his spirit is good.”

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jones running to head National Baptist Convention

Charlotte's Rev. Clifford Jones, Sr., will be a 2014 candidate for president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

Jones, who pastors Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, is hosting the National Baptists' 133rd annual session this week in Charlotte.

The National Baptist Convention USA is America's oldest and largest black Baptist organization, with about 7 million members.

Jones' campaign card was distributed Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center, where nearly 20,000 black Baptists from around the country are meeting through Friday.

The election will be next year, when the National Baptists meet for their 134th annual session, Sept, 1-5, in New Orleans.

This week, Jones and his megachurch have kept a high profile: On Sunday, current National Baptist president Rev. Julius Scruggs, gave one of the morning sermons. Then, on Monday, the church hosted two concerts for conventiongoers.

Scruggs, elected in 2009, has said he will not run for another term next year.

On Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary -- and former Charlotte mayor -- Anthony Foxx greeted the National Baptist gathering at the Charlotte Convention Center. Foxx and another former Charlotte mayor, Harvey Gantt, both call Jones their pastor and have long attended Friendship Missionary Baptist.

On his campaign card, Jones touts his various church assignments over the years, including former president of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Inc.

-- Tim Funk