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January 18, 2021

Billy Graham and MLK 

In 1957, Billy Graham invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at his revival gathering in New York City. They were an unlikely pair: one was tall, gaunt, white; the other short, sturdy, black—two Baptist ministers from the American South. And each of them had a defining impact on the twentieth century. Though the two men followed separate callings after 1957, they shared a common commitment to racial justice and the Bible. Later that same year, King preached on the subject of the Sermon on the Mount. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners to love their enemies. King commented on this: “You love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does . . . when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.” These words embodied King’s civil rights’ philosophy. As for Graham, he started life with prejudice. However, his own views eventually underwent profound change because of the Bible. He later wrote: “Most influential was my study of the Bible, leading me eventually to the conclusion that not only was racial inequality wrong but Christians especially should demonstrate love toward all people.” Graham personally removed segregation ropes before his 1953 revival meetings in Chattanooga. He said: “Either those ropes stay down, or you can go on and have the revival without me.” Not surprisingly, the only major public appearance the two made together had them praying the words of the Bible together. At the end of King’s prayer at that revival in 1957, he led the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer. King, Graham, and the integrated crowd of many thousands spoke the words of the biblical prayer in unison.

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