Monday, December 9, 2013

Pittenger gives Billy Graham video to reps, senators

Just in time for Christmas, each member of Congress has received a gift from U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.

Namely, a copy of "The Cross," a widely televised video featuring what may well be 95-year-old Billy Graham's final public message.

The 9th District Republican asked the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to send him 535 copies of "The Cross" DVD -- one for every House member and every senator.

Pittenger "more than covered the costs with a generous contribution to the ministry," the BGEA's Ken Barun said in an email.

In the video, much of it filmed at Graham's mountaintop home in Montreat, the Charlotte-born evangelist speaks into a camera. He calls for a spiritual reawakening in America and says that the cross of Jesus Christ "demands . . . a new lifestyle in all of us."

"With all my heart, I want to leave you with the truth," the elderly Graham says about God. "He loves you, willing to forgive you of all your sins."

Pittenger was among the guests at Graham's private 95th birthday party last month at Asheville's Omni Grove Park Inn, where the video was shown to the 800 or so guests.

"After watching the video, Congressman Pittenger felt Dr. Graham's timely, powerful message would be helpful and relevant for his colleagues, as well as of interest to many of their constituents," said Pittenger spokesman Jamie Bowers. "Washington is a tough town. Just (recently), a member of Congress (Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla.) was charged with cocaine possession."

Bowers said non-Christian House members and senators got a copy of the video because they, too, have many constituents who may have seen and been talking about Graham in "The Cross." It's been televised on Fox News and on many local TV stations.

The video gift, Bowers said, came with a note from Pittenger to his colleagues that "The Cross" was of interest to many of their constituents, "so I thought you'd like to see it for yourself."

Bowers said Pittenger has already heard "many positive comments and 'Thanks'" from members of Congress.

At Graham's Nov. 7 birthday party, Pittenger told reporters he first met Graham when he was 22 and caddying for the evangelist at the 1971 Byron Nelson Golf Classic. "He was playing with Bob Hope and Arnold Palmer, and there were golf balls flying everywhere," Pittenger said.

Years before embarking on a political career, Pittenger was a Christian activist. After college, he went to work for Campus Crusade for Christ, serving for 10 years as an assistant and advance man for Bill Bright, the group's founder. In that capacity, the young Pittenger also helped launch a ministry for elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill.

He also traveled to several Eastern European countries, including the Soviet Union, to support persecuted Christians and underground churches.

And over the years, Bowers said, Pittenger has gone on mission trips to Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, India, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Guatemala.

Pittenger was in China on a mission trip in February 2012 when then-U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., announced she would not run that year for a 10th term. Pittenger, who got the news even though he was halfway around the world, was subsequently elected to succeed Myrick.

He has attended Central Church of God, a Pentecostal church in Charlotte, for 17 years. But because of frequent Sunday obligations, Pittenger and his wife now regularly attend Saturday evening services at Forest Hill Church, a non-denominational evangelical church that's also in Charlotte.

-- Tim Funk