This weekly column is devoted to discussing some of the themes that were common topics of discussion among Christians the week before. This week began with many discussions of the film Black Panther, but very quickly turned to Billy Graham upon the news of his death at age 99.
I landed in Sydney, Australia, after a 16-hour flight to find my phone almost exploding with news and notifications of Billy Graham’s death. Christianity Today had a long and detailed obituary while Gene Veith called Graham’s passing The End of an Era: “In addition to being the supreme evangelist, Billy Graham did much to establish evangelicalism as a potent and popular force in American culture. But his death at age 99 marks a new era, one that has already been taking shape, in which evangelistic Christianity must cope with the loss of its cultural popularity.” Al Mohler‘s remembrance was titled The Preacher: Billy Graham and American Evangelicalism. “I first became aware of Billy Graham watching him on television when I was a child. I later came to know him personally when he spoke at my inauguration as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From those days watching him as a child even to my inauguration, Graham was characterized by one great message, the salvation provided by Jesus Christ.”
Some writers wanted to ensure we didn’t forget about some of the concerns with Billy Graham’s legacy. Tom Ascol shared a quote by R.C. Sproul in which he graciously assessed Graham’s strengths and weaknesses. Chris Anderson wrote Grace, Truth, and Billy Graham: “I have friends who can’t believe anyone would say something negative about Billy Graham. And I have friends who can’t believe anyone would say something positive about Billy Graham. Actually, both are possible—and both are necessary.” Jemar Tisby tweeted, “I think we can say Billy Graham was less racist than many of his peers yet he still fell far short of being an anti-racist advocate or activist. We can do so without completely discounting the good he did, his importance to American history, and without mischaracterizing him.”
In the mainstream media, some focused specifically on what they consider his irredeemable flaws. Denny Burk responded to an NBC article on Graham’s “painful legacy for LGBT people” while Samuel James responded to various critiques by saying, “What I saw in dozens of tweets from accounts with shiny blue checkmarks was hatred of the simplest and most unembarrassed kind. It bothered me, not least because it threw me: This is Billy Graham we’re talking about. Not a politician, not a culture warrior. Is it even possible to be meeker and milder as a Christian than Billy Graham was, and still actually believe the gospel?” In Defending Billy, Owen Strachan responded to George Will‘s column at the Washington Post. “Will may well disagree with evangelicals over key theological ideas and claims. This is his prerogative. But his portrait of Graham as a bumpkin is unwarranted and unfair; it’s a tired trope, really.”
I will be honest: I had never heard of Black Panther (the movie, the character, or the comic book) until the movie released and people began talking about it. I don’t have any real interest in superhero films, but did take notice when my Twitter feed began to fill with accolades for the movie.
Sam Sey wrote I Took a Trip to Wakanda and said, “I think that’s one of the reasons why Black Panther resonates with so many Black people. For many Black people, the movie rediscovers a picture of Africa—a picture of ancestors—they’ve lost. For Africans like me, the movie reminds me to hold on to what I haven’t lost from Ghana—what I still hold on to—more tightly.” Jasmine Holmes wrote Emissaries of a Glorious Nation and she said, “The narrative of a little black girl who grows up in the suburbs in Houston and wishes that she could be a shame-free princess in a majority-black context full of pride and promise? That’s mine.”
Writing for Desiring God, Sam Morse wrote At Home in Wakanda: “Having watched a civil-rights documentary beforehand, I found the ideologies of the two main characters to be thought-provoking. And although Black Panther has good action scenes, strong characters, a decent narrative, and helpful questions about global responsibility, the enchantment of the movie for many blacks in the theater was not, in my estimation, about the hero per se, but about the society. I left wanting to be like the Black Panther. But I left wanting to be in Wakanda even more.” Chris Williamson also wrote about the movie for ERLC: “For two black boys growing up in the hood, the Black Panther increased our sense of somebody-ness before we fully comprehended why we even needed that boost in our psychological development. There was something about seeing the Black Panther on the colorful pages of those comic books that caused me to hold up my 9-year-old head a little bit higher.” Also see The Gospel Coalition and The Wardrobe Door.