The Billy Pulpit
The sky is filled with clouds, smoky gray and pink, as some 90,000 people at Pasadenas Rose Bowl file out into the night. Eighty-six-year-old Billy Graham, who has mingled with U.S. presidents he appeared with George W. Bush on the day the president announced the U.S. invasion of Iraq has just presented what might be his last Los Angeles crusade. His sermon was on the topic of Sodom and Gomorrah, the complacency of people, and fact that God always gives a warning to his children before he destroys them.
Twenty-two-year-old Romero Lumbraus, who drove from Pomona with his wife, Mary, 19, and a friend from church, found the sermon "encouraging and hopeful." Hed never seen the evangelical preacher in person before but has heard him his whole life and feels that Graham was reminding the crowd that these are dark times but that there is also "a kingdom of God on earth," made up of "righteous people" who have given their life to God, like those here tonight.
Its a "kingdom of God on earth" because of their faith?
Do you believe the number of people who believe in Christ helps?
So its a numbers game?
"Uhhhh . . ."
Well, are you saying, if enough people believe in Christ that will make him come?
"I believe that Christ will come when the body of Christ is united and everyone agrees on one thing. Like right now there is a lot of division, people believe different things and in different ways of serving God."
You mean if everyone Muslims, Jews, Buddhists believe in one God then Jesus will come?
"Thats what the Bible says."
Do you like George Bush?
Do you think of him as a spiritual leader or a political leader?
"Well, I respect him and I admire him for confessing that Jesus Christ is his savior. I also admire him for not, in a way, using his belief and forcing it on other people."
Susan is "in sales," lives 10 miles away from the Rose Bowl and attended Billy Grahams crusade three nights in a row. She says she used to "do all the things Christians are not supposed to do" but doesnt like to do them any more. Tonight she brought her two teenage kids and some of their friends. She thought the fact that so many people came out to see Graham was "neat." She liked the fact that Billy Grahams voice was so calm and that it was so quiet when he spoke. She says that he used examples from Wall Street and Las Vegas to help describe Sodom and Gomorrah, "Because its hard for most of us to imagine what [Sodom and Gomorrah] was like all those years ago."
Is Billy Graham a fundamentalist?
"I dont know what that means," she says, her eyes glazed a bit in the night air.
"He told a story about one of the Kennedy brothers," she says, walking up the hill to her car, which is parked a quarter-mile away. "Im not sure which one. Robert, maybe? Who invited him to play golf in Florida. And, the Kennedy was driving and stopped the car and said, Do you really believe in a second coming of Christ? And, Billy Graham said he told him, Yes I do."
Down by the parking lot, Deb and Calin Suskind and their two teenage boys are making their way to their car. They live in the O.C.
"We are the only Suskinds in Orange County," Calin explains, with a voice that evokes country clubs and plaid pants.
The Suskinds, who attend Yorba Linda Friends Church and have a tendency to look at each other for approval before they answer any questions, heard it was Grahams last crusade and wanted to make sure they got to see him in their lifetimes. They are neatly dressed and glad they came.
Deb, who also brings her family here to see football games, says that though many were already Christians when they came tonight, there were a lot of people here who were simply curious. She knows this because when Billy Graham invited people up, the whole field was full of people asking Christ into their hearts for the first time. She credits this to his accessible manner.
"We think he preaches the Christian message in a way that all people can understand very easily," she explains.
So, hes really broad?
"Well, its not broad. Its a very narrow message. The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by him. And, that is what Billy Graham preaches."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.