Thursday, October 3, 2013

Who is More Popular? Billy Graham the Professional Wrestler or Billy Graham the Evangelist?

Superstar Billy Graham
If Superstar Billy Graham the wrestler and Billy Graham the evangelist met in a steel cage match (with both men being in their prime, of course) I would probably put my money on the wrestler.  But if I had to bet which guy had a larger worldwide following I would probably go with the evangelist.  

The title of this post was prompted by Ken Garland's recent article at Religious News Service: "Billy Graham's Legacy is Fading 'into the mists of history'."  Garland notes that Graham biographer Grant Wacker (his bio of Graham is not out yet, but it has been getting a lot attention) once asked a group of students at Trinity College (not sure which one--CT, TX, IL, DC?) if they knew the name "Billy Graham."  The only person who claimed to have heard the name said that he thought Billy Graham was a professional wrestler.  The student was correct. Graham was the WWF heavyweight title holder from 1977-78.  I used to watch him a lot when I was a kid.  But I don't think this was the answer that Wacker was looking for.

Read Garland's article about the recent Billy Graham Conference at Wheaton.  It appears that very few young Americans have ever heard of the man who many historians have called the most important religious figure in modern America.  Here is taste:

WHEATON, Ill. (RNS) We gathered at Billy Graham’s alma mater over three days to explore his ministry’s place in American history and chronicle its meaning for the future. It was a fascinating conversation, and poignant, too, as Graham struggles with poor health at home in Montreat, N.C., far from the limelight he once commanded.

But as scholars and admirers here in suburban Chicago added to the growing conversation on Graham’s legacy, a question hovers: How many people younger than, say, 60 are listening?

As Duke Divinity School’s Grant Wacker told the Wheaton College gathering dominated by graying heads, during a recent lecture at Trinity College just one student knew the name Billy Graham. And that student thought Billy Graham was a professional wrestler.

“His story,” Wacker said, speaking of modern Christendom’s most famous figure, “is rapidly receding into the mists of history.”