The Day Billy Graham Shocked His Ushers

Yesterday marked exactly 69 years when evangelist Billy Graham took a step that shocked everyone. It was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the year was 1953. Up until then, evangelicals in the South condoned segregated revival meetings. It was very common to see ropes dividing white from non-white at Christian rallies and revival gatherings.
 
When Billy Graham had traveled oversees for ministry, he not only noticed how Christian worshipers were integrated, but also how horrified these non-Americans Christians were at the idea of segregation among American Christ-followers. In fact, his European ministry friends not only dispelled the notion that civil rights activism was enabling communist agenda, they also showed him how segregation in the church was actually playing into Soviet plot to sow division.
 
As they were about to begin the revival meeting on March 15, 1959, at the Chattanooga Auditorium, Graham ordered the ushers to take down the rope that divided the races. As the ushers discreetly tried to put them back up, Graham said to them, “Either these ropes stay down, or you can go on and have the revival without me.”
 
From that day onward, Graham made it a policy never to lead a meeting or rally that segregated people in any form.
 
As we remember this 69 years later, we also recall Paul’s words to the Ephesians about 2000 years ago:
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:13—16

Donald Nwankwo
Rector, The Light of Christ Church
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