Misrepresenting Billy Graham

Last Monday, Wanda Murfin sent a note from Silverhill, Alabama, asking, “Did this happen? I read about the revival in New Orleans with Billy and Franklin Graham, but somehow I must have missed this.”

She forwarded an internet article showing photos of Billy Graham and a French Quarter scene. The reporter purports to tell what happened on Sunday evening March 12 of this year at the end of Mr. Graham’s sermon in the New Orleans Arena. It’s fascinating and would be wonderful if it had happened. But it didn’t. No way. None of it.

Here’s what the phantom writer–whoever he or she may be–says took place that night. “Graham invited the packed house of evangelical Christians and the hundreds of new converts to join him on the one mile walk from the arena to New Orleans’ infamous Bourbon Street.”

The mysterious writer quotes Mr. Graham, “I last preached in the City of New Orleans in 1954 and I felt then that there was some unfinished business. Tonight, in what very well might be my last evangelistic service, I aim to finish that business and lead as many of you that would follow me to the multitude of lost souls that fill Bourbon Street tonight…. That is where we shall see the harvest!”

The writer says the stadium erupted in cheers that lasted several minutes, then Graham boarded a scooter and joined Franklin and headed for the French Quarter. The capacity crowd followed in a 20 minute trek while singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

According to the article, Christians outnumbered sinners up and down Bourbon Street and soon the raunchy music which normally emanates from the bars was silent, as people began to pray and weep. Veteran police officers say they’ve never seen anything like it. After two hours of this, Mr. Graham departed, leaving behind hundreds of believers witnessing on the streets. “New Orleans will never be the same.”

Alas, it didn’t happen. None of it. Oh that it would. I have read this bogus article to several people who were present for Mr. Graham’s service at the New Orleans Arena and halfway through, they’re shaking their heads saying, “That didn’t happen.” I invite skeptics to go back to my blog from March 12, 2006, and read of Mr. Graham’s visit. I took notes on everything he said and sat down at the computer that very evening and recorded it all here. (NOTE: I just checked and the date on my blog-article is March 13, which is a Monday. But I wrote it Sunday night.)

So, where did this come from? And why was it written as factual, like a genuine newspaper account? I haven’t the slightest.

(We’re inviting anyone with light to shed on this subject to add your comments at the end of this article at www.joemckeever.com.)

Creative writing can be fun, but unless it is properly identified as fiction, it can mislead people, misrepresent the truth, and do a lot of damage along the way. Couple of examples.

Years ago–I mean, probably 30 years ago–I read in some evangelical publication of a giant computer in Belgium that took up an entire city block and was rumored to hold information on every human being on the planet. Christians with more naivete’ than discernment (we’re talking complete gullibility) read of that monstrosity and panicked, especially when the article said this computer was called “The Beast.” Images of Revelation 13 frightened these Christians into doing something which, unfortunately, God’s people are notorious for doing.

They passed the article on to other people. They reprinted it in their newsletters and denominational magazines without ever once checking to see if it was factual.

Being a natural-born skeptic about these things, I decided to try to run down the source of the story.

I wrote the magazine where I first saw it. The editor sent me to “The Midnight Cry” in Oklahoma City. After several letters from us, the editor finally responded and sent me to Jacksonville, Florida, to some religious paper. They sent me to Wheaton, Illinois, where I found the problem.

Originally, someone had written about that computer as a piece of fiction in a make-believe newspaper that was handed out at the showing of a Christian movie dealing with the rapture. This was a long time before the “Left Behind” craze, keep in mind. From there, someone else picked it up and reprinted it in his magazine and the race was on.

The editor explained to me how it had gotten started. He had inserted the computer article just for fun. A nearby article was attributed to Moody Monthly Magazine of Chicago, and people read the bogus computer story as part of the same thing. So it was picked up and reprinted and blamed on the good folks at Moody. (The Moody magazine is out of business now, but it always had a high reputation, and I suppose people thought if they were behind it, it must be true.)

We all know what happens to an untruth that develops life on the worldwide web: It is given eternal life and shall never perish. It circles the earth endlessly and infects every new and gullible believer it encounters. This is true now in the computer age, but it was almost as true 30 years ago. (Incidentally, these days the computer that sits on your child’s desk probably has more power and capacity than the fictional “beast” occupying an entire city block three decades ago. It’s a new world.)

But what has not changed in this “new” world is the way Christians read a bizarre story or a really great account of something incredible and pass it on without checking to see if it’s true.

The one people on the planet who should be most dedicated to Truth seem to have little concern with the subject. If it sounds good, or it’s sufficiently scary, or if it appears to be something prophesied in Scripture, well, pass it on. By all means.

The classic on this subject is the Madalyn Murray O’Hair thing. Back in 1965, I think it was, she and her American Atheist organization filed suit with the FCC to get religious programming banned from the airwaves. The suit was promptly thrown out and that was that. Or it should have been. However, some Christians with more dedication than sense (gullibility, again) heard about it and decided that God’s people should bombard the FCC in Washington, D.C., with a million petitions. Church newsletters became their distributor of choice. It was all about scaring believers with the prospect of atheists taking over the country.

For the next 30 years, editors of reputable Christian publications would periodically print pleas to God’s people to stop those infernal petitions about Madalyn Murray O’Hair. At one point the FCC had to hire three people to do nothing except open petitions arriving from church members. A government official said, “You people are wasting your time, your concern, and your money on a cause that does not exist.” Then he said, “I’m a Christian but I am ashamed of the way churches do not even check with us to see if this charge is correct. I’m really ashamed of my people.”

When the computer age arrived, bringing with it the internet, I thought that would be the end of this rumor, particularly when someone murdered Mrs. O’Hair and her organization went belly-up. But, lo and behold, there it is. I see it at least a couple of times a year. The perplexing thing is it has been updated. Now, the article says “The organization founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair is seeking to have religious broadcasting banned.”

But it’s still a hoax. A lie. A great waste of time and energy, of conviction and money.

I suppose I offend my friends whenever they forward this bit of junk in my direction. I respond that this is not true, that it is now over 40 years old, that there never was anything to it, and that they should send this message back to whoever who sent it to them. Maybe the internet can run in reverse and we can unravel the damage that has been done. I’ve not seen that happen, but it’s worth a try.

Billy Graham has done a great deal of good in his long ministry and does not need someone exaggerating the story. Madalyn Murray O’Hair did a great deal of harm in her life and does not deserve the credit for all that is attributed to her.

Most of all, the Lord Jesus Christ deserves better than the shoddy witness many of His most sincere followers are rendering. He promised that the Truth would set people free. Our obligation is to make sure what we are passing on is indeed Truth.

12 thoughts on “Misrepresenting Billy Graham

  1. Bro. Joe,

    Do you remember the Y2K hysteria where some organization calling itself “The Prophecy Club” was selling things like year-long emergency food because the computers would all crash and President Clinton was going to suspend all elections? Well, this bogus organization is still,unfortunately, in business and still making wrong predictions, and there are still gullible Christians who follow it? It’s a sad story.

  2. Joe,

    Unfortunately this is a lie that has been circulated via e-mail for awhile now. Go to http://www.snopes.com and in the search box type in “Billy Graham”. It will tell you that this is an untruth. Before passing along any of the things that are forwarded to me on a daily basis, I always check the veracity of it by going to this particular website. Maybe by checking out a story first, we can stop the rumors that are circulating when it comes to these types of things.

  3. Joe, Thanks for passing this info. I do not remember where I saw that bit of (news) but I never passed it on. I had read your blog of March 13. Glad that is cleared in my mind. Enjoy your notes and cartoons Willie Mae Maryin

  4. I have also received an e-mail asking me if this story was true. Of course, it isn’t. Like Ann, I also recommend snopes.com. Christians can be so bad about passing on rumors. For a people who are supposed to stand for the Truth, this can be very embaressing.

    Oh, by the way. No one gets any money, donated or lawsuit, from forwarding e-mails!

  5. Well, we found out who wrote the article. One of our New Orleans pastors e-mailed me with the information. At his request, I’m not using names. The writer is someone who has frequently been in this city witnessing and who was apparently upset that the Billy Graham team was booked into the New Orleans Arena where they invited everyone to “come and hear,” instead of going into the French Quarter and witnessing to the people there who truly need the gospel. He wrote the article, as I understand it, to show “what might have been.”

    I do not know the man, but obviously wish he had taken his frustrations up with the Father rather than using this means to vent. As I understand what he did (keeping in mind, I do not know him, his motives or his purposes), he reminds me of people who start witnessing for the Lord then grow angry at others who either are not doing it or aren’t doing it their way.

    I keep thinking of the passage in John 21 where Peter points at John and asks, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus says, “What is that to you? You follow me.”

    Great advice for all of us who are frustrated that other believers are not doing our bidding. Leave them to the Master. You stay on the job and be faithful yourself.

  6. Though I am a Christian, I have the personality of a cynical skeptic. Though I have faith in God, all mortal things are suspect to me, and must be proven to be believed. I have about 100 Christian friends with whom I regularly exchange email, and am amazed DAILY by some of the things they pass on. Remarkably, some of the same people pass along the same garbage a second, even a third time. I have tried to encourage them to check with snopes; I have copied and pasted snopes articles in emails to them; I have even called (on the PHONE) to talk to them about these repeated errors. Nothing has worked. My new policy is to reply with 3 words:

    HOAX–check snopes. Alas, that doesn’t help either. Why do I bother?

  7. I was disappointed to hear this Billy Graham fallacy told as fact in a recent podcast sermon from a church in Northern California. Minimal Google research confirmed that it was fiction. This left me disappointed and irritated that the preacher so glibly passed on this fake story without proper research and the congregation so easily swallowed it.

    Why do we Christians so easily show the world how easily fooled we can be by lame stories we so desperately want to believe? And how we must grieve God that we have so little faith in Him that we have to make up silly playground stories like this, instead of trusting him.

  8. I came to your page on this subject because I googled for authentication. I don’t believe these outrageous accounts of miracles that get passed along. God works miracles in my life on a daily basis and I see them as vast as the fabricated stories on the internet. If people took the time to look into their lives they will see the miracles God has for them. There would be no need for super duper stories. Thanks for being honest. I like snopes.com and about.com and urbanlegends.com. Your site is the best because you see from a Christian point of view.

  9. This would be a great story if it was part of the grand scheme of things that God orchestrates.

    We “Christians” so much want the unsaved to be saved that we sometimes cannot see the unsaved standing, living, and working with us in our everyday life. As the Apostle Paul told his brother Timothy to “Run the race, and be not weary, for also should tarry on until we are taken into glory because we have an everlasting strength given to us by the Almighty Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

  10. Hi there,

    Now, what was the point of that story anyway?

    If you wanna spread anything, spred the Gospel not pointless made up stories. Stick to the truth. It will set all people free, even us Christians.

    Blessings from above,


  11. Great article! I am a Snopes fan and am often frustrated by the stuff people post as fact. One person even got upset when I disputed something stapled to the church bulletin board and did not want to believe me even with the research info.

    But, the sad reality is that if we pass on as fact any kind of lie, including something as simple as an Internet hoax, we should not be surprised when people fail to trust us regarding our facts about God. We of all people should make sure that our every word, including those we forward of others, is something we can proudly give account for.

    That said, I am far from perfect and my earliest Internet days (pre-Snopes knowledge) included plenty of error, so we should also be merciful and kind as we teach people not to spread these hoaxes. And I must admit, I heard the “beast” story back in the early 80s, cited by an evangelist, and until tonight, still believed it to be true. I never panicked, but the idea of having a record on every person in the world using their SSN and birth date to assure no duplicates sounded at least a little feasible. Thanks for clearing that one up too!

    ~Crystal A. Murray

    Project Author/Creator “Good Morning Christian Writer”