Saturday, June 25, 2005

How long does the glow last?

Billy Graham is on what may be his last crusade, holding a huge tent meeting in Queens, New York. The New York Times gives some curiosity-slating details about the techniques and technology behind a 21st-century altar call -- computers, phone teams, follow-up calls and letters.

"Some people have compared this process to closing a sales deal," the Times' Andy Newman writes. "Mr. Bailey [the New York campaign's director], understandably, prefers a different analogy. 'As soon as a child is born, it is put immediately into its mother's arms. It needs care to survive from the first moment. A spiritual baby needs the same care.'"

The Times asks but can't answer a question I've wondered about: What's the follow through? A Billy Graham-commissioned study asked 189 people who had made commitments at a crusade if the experience had had a positive, negative or neutral effect on their lives. Newman cites flaws in the study, but the question isn't even useful.

The real question, in Graham language, might be who was really saved, who actually made that one-time choice that started the journey in the right direction. In the Orthodox Church, that one-time choice is made over a long period of time, with much consideration of the commitment, and salvation is a long journey of minute-by-minute decisions either to accept or reject the help of the Holy Spirit. I think a follow-up survey to answer those questions would be hard to construct.

When Graham came to Portland in the 1990s, the son of a co-worker went to the Crusade. He was in high school at the time, not a bad kid, but a little adrift and a little shallow. He told her afterwards that he went forward to get saved. "So you gave your life over to Christ?" she asked him. "What?" he said.

If anything about him changed as a result of that event, it's not apparent from the outside.

That's not to say anything against Graham's integrity or sincerity, which I have no reason to doubt. I carried more bile against the crusades before I was Orthodox than I do now, though I was younger then and more shocked and outraged at the compromises that are made in concession to economies of scale.

But the idea of being moved by a Billy Graham sermon to the point of finding God waiting for me outside the cosmos is like hearing that people in some distant place wear hats made of oak leaves -- an irrelevant curiosity.

UPDATE: Graham promotes Hillary in '08: "They're a great couple," he said. "I told an audience that I felt when he left the presidency he should be an evangelist because he has all the gifts and he'd leave his wife to run the country." (New York Daily News by way of Dawn Patrol by way of Orthodixie.)

No comments: