An amazing little news brief just moved on the AP wire. But I’m not sure the AP writer realized it was amazing when he wrote it. According to the wire service, Evangelist Billy Graham, at age 90, is switching churches. America’s pastor is moving his church membership — after 55 years — from First Baptist Church in Dallas to First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C.
The article suggests that the change of membership occurred because Graham lives far away from Texas. But I doubt that’s the entire motive.
The article says the new church is near Graham’s “retirement home in South Carolina.” There’s only one problem. To the best of my knowledge, Graham doesn’t have a retirement home in South Carolina.
Graham’s always lived far from Texas. He grew up in Charlotte. He attended Bible school in Tennessee. His ministry had its headquarters in Minneapolis. And he always kept a home in North Carolina.
Graham’s gigantic ministry these days is located in Charlotte, roughly 75 miles from Spartanburg. His mountain retreat in Montreat, N.C. is even farther away from Spartanburg, if my GMS (Google Mapping System) is working.
Graham, at age 90, isn’t in great health. It’s doubtful that he’s showing up for worship services in Spartanburg — even on Easter.
So, why was Graham a member of FBC Dallas? And why is he cutting ties now?
During the early years of his ministry, First Baptist Church in Dallas was the nation’s most prominent Southern Baptist megachurch, the most sought-after pulpit in all of Baptistdom. A really big deal. Graham embraced the church and kept his membership there throughout his long career. He was good friends with W.A. Criswell, the congregation’s longtime pastor and the most powerful pastor in Texas for much of the 20th century.
These days, the church isn’t America’s most prominent Baptist Church. In fact, it’s no longer Dallas’ most influential Baptist Church. And it’s new pastor, Rev. Robert Jeffress, made headlines during the last presidential campaign, just months after being picked to lead the church.
Jeffress denounced then-GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in the fall of 2007, telling his congregation: “Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.”
Jeffress, I understand, has made a few other comments since then that got folks riled up.
I’d bet Graham’s membership switch, in the twilight years of his life, has less to do with geography than theology.
DALLAS (AP) — Evangelist Billy Graham is changing membership from a Dallas church to one near his retirement home in South Carolina.
First Baptist Dallas said Monday the church was told by Graham’s personal assistant that the 90-year-old was switching to First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C.
Graham joined First Baptist Dallas in 1953 during his first crusade in the city. The Rev. Robert Jeffress tells The Dallas Morning News that the church will “always treasure the relationship” with the preacher.
The pastor of First Baptist of Spartanburg, the Rev. Don Wilton, has preached for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.