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JACK WEATHERLY — Belhaven was a crossroads for Graham

JACK WEATHERLY

Billy Graham and C.S. Lewis couldn’t be further apart in some respects.

But in one all-important respect there is harmony: Jesus.

Billy Graham descended from the mountains of North Carolina and preached the gospels to the world for more than a half-century. He died last week at 99.

His small tent meetings grew to gatherings of hundreds of thousands, and even millions with the advent of television.

He met in private with world leaders – including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and especially U.S. presidents.

His body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday. (Yes, the separation-of-church-and-state objections were quickly voiced.)

Lewis, the Oxford University professor who is considered the preeminent Christian apologist of the 20th century, passed away in 1963.

The two men actually met in 1955 and shared dinner and conversation in the scholar’s quarters.

Lewis told Graham, “You know, you have many critics, but I have never met one of your critics who knows you personally.”

Years later, Lewis described Graham as a “modest and very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed.”

Lewis was asked whether he approved of “men such as . . . Billy Graham asking people to come to a point of decision regarding the Christian life.”

Lewis said, “I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ,” a point made abundantly clear in his book “Mere Christianity,” the most accessible of his books in defense of the faith.

David Payne portrayed Lewis in “An Evening With C.S. Lewis: My Life’s Journey” at Belhaven University here in Jackson last Friday, regaling a thousand or so of his fans.

Graham appeared at Belhaven College (before it reached university status) in 1952 and was quoted by the United Press wire service at the outset as saying there was no place for segregation in his crusades, though he subsequently told the local press that he had been misunderstood, according to Dr. Charles Westmoreland Jr., professor of history at Delta State University.

Yet his timidity gave way to the conviction that, as he would later practice throughout his long career, God does not see a person’s color.

“It was in 1953 in Chattanooga when he took the ropes down that segregated white and blacks in the audience,” Westmoreland said in an interview.

Graham was not a member of any denomination during his ministry. He was ordained a Southern Baptist, but eschewed that  affiliation to open more doors and fill more stadiums.

Some credit him with the explosive growth of evangelicalism, which accounts for much of Christendom.

After he became an Oxford don, Lewis found his way to belief in Jesus as the biblical messiah and savior after he had rejected it for much of his life.

Like Graham, he felt discrimination. That was because of the intellectual climate at Oxford, where it was a given that Christianity was a quaint myth.

So he and a handful of friends formed a small circle at Magdalene College at the university and called themselves “the Inklings.” They would read their manuscripts to each other. Thus, Lewis was introduced to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” that way.

Likewise, Tolkien listened to Lewis read his “The Chronicles of Narnia” and his other writings and gave his critiques.

Payne’s portrayal reveals the man behind the books, known throughout his life to friends as Jack, a warm and sensible man who was very likeable indeed.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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