This article originally appeared in the November 18, 1988 issue of Christianity Today.
Without question, the public thinks of Billy Graham as "Mr. Clean." Even those with ideology and lifestyle 180 degrees from his consider him untainted. How does he do it?
Like so many other subjects, integrity is more easily recognized than defined or analyzed. It is easy to identify a person of integrity, but it is not so easy to pinpoint what makes him so. Billy Graham is "Mr. Clean" because he and his associates have determined that he will live beyond reproach. It's not merely a creed, but a commitment. Graham lives privately what he preaches publicly. He is consistent. What he believes, says, and does are the same. There is only one Billy Graham, not a public one and the private one.
Moreover, Graham has held himself accountable to his associates. We all need strong friends who will lovingly slam doors in our faces. Some of the most visible breaches of integrity this past year have come from a lack of accountability; no one was there to say, "I won't let you do this, because I care."
But integrity is what we do more than what we don't do, what we are more than what we are not. Those close to Graham will tell you he is who he is because he practices the presence of God, and it is this, more than the fear of public criticism, that keeps him in line.
In July of 1984 my wife and I were observers at Mission England, the Billy Graham crusades in Great Britain. While in Liverpool, I needed to talk with Graham for an hour or two concerning some matters at Christianity Today. Because of time restraints, he graciously invited Arlie and me to ride with Ruth and him to the next crusade site. We would leave immediately after the closing crusade in Liverpool.
Sitting that night on the platform in Liverpool, I sensed how easy it would be for a preacher to be seduced with the sweet taste of power, to begin to think that he really is somebody. The press reported that almost 90 percent of the people in Great Britain recognized Graham's name. Only a handful of national leaders had stronger name recognition. Thousands traveled for hours to come to this crusade. Most would have given anything to meet him. Newspapers, magazines, and TV sent their best reporters to interview him. How would I respond if I were subjected to so much adulation—not for a night, but for 40 years? This is the stuff of which corruption is made. After the service, Arlie and I quietly slipped out of the stadium and went to the appointed place. A modest gray Ford sedan waited for us, driven by a young volunteer.
Graham had not had dinner, so about an hour beyond Liverpool we stopped at a short-order restaurant along the expressway and ordered hamburgers and fries and went to a quiet corner to eat. I didn't think much about it then, simply because this is the way you and I travel with our families.
But I have since reflected on that event. The man sitting there eating hamburgers and fries with us was just an ordinary guy. That's not profound, but it is profound that 40 years of worldwide public attention have not convinced him otherwise. People have shouted at him from every corner that he is a great man; but he's stone deaf. He just doesn't hear what they are saying.
Graham and his associates could have engaged a limousine to take him across England, instead of a modest Ford with a young volunteer. He could have made earlier reservations at the finest restaurant in Liverpool for his post-crusade dinner. Instead, we munched hamburgers and fries in a corner of an expressway oasis. He probably never thought anything about it.
Integrity listens when wise friends say no. Integrity avoids the appearance of evil while seeking the approval of God. Integrity recognizes how very ordinary we are, and refuses to believe anyone who says otherwise.
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