Tag Archives: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Levity for Longevity: Humor at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

More fun at the office: The End of World Wide Pictures, a tweaked desktop from a screenshot of a WWP movie.An article I wrote for TheHighCalling.org was just posted. It’s a fun little reflection on humor in the workplace, featuring some of the behind-the-scenes highlights you wouldn’t expect from my years at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

For two and a half years, I worked in the Internet Department of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. We were young, tech-savvy folks who could have worked at dotcoms but instead chose to work for an aging evangelist. The job had its share of stress—crashing servers, last-minute changes, and webmaster emails from people who didn’t know how to copy and paste.

We coped—in part—thanks to humor.

There were the Monday mornings when laughter would spread like the plague through our department. You could almost tell when the latest flash-animated cartoon had been released on HomestarRunner.com and nearly everyone in our department would pause to watch the disgruntled StrongBad answer his latest email in typical mocking style.

Read the rest, and be sure to click through to my author bio for a great pic.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Cow

Billy Graham Cow, via ABC NewsThe Billy Graham Evangelistic Association dedicated their barn-shaped “library”—which is basically an evangelistic tourist trap, animatronic cow included (apparently I was wrong).

I wish I was joking. I just have a hard time taking it all seriously, especially when the family got into a fight over whether or not Billy and Ruth Graham should be buried at the end of the little tour, making it the ultimate shrine. I’m a big fan of Billy Graham–but I’m a fan of the man, not the brand. (link via Knightopia)

Newsweek Interviews Billy Graham

My former employer, Billy Graham, graces the cover of Newsweek and is the feature of a story about his declining health and thoughts toward the end of his life. It’s an interesting read.

Having worked for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association before, it’s always fun to read this kind of stuff. At one point recently I was very tempted to start up a Billy Graham blog (a Billy Blog!). I had my eye on urls, I had a logo in the works and I even chatted with my lawyer about how to keep from getting sued. I ended up being too busy to invest the time into a project with no sure revenue model. I guess I’ll have to settle with my Billy Graham Squidoo lens. (Jan. 1, 2009 Update: OK, I went ahead and started the blog about Billy Graham.)

This kind of thing would have been great fodder.

Continue reading Newsweek Interviews Billy Graham

Billy Graham Fires Lesbian

So tonight I was writing a Church Marketing Sucks entry about my former employer, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (nothing ground-breaking, I just noticed they were preaching to the choir with their online advertising), and I came across this news item from October 2004: Minnesota Upholds Billy Graham Firing of Lesbian Sara Thorson.

Shocking stuff, even in such a brief story. You can get more thorough articles from the Pioneer Press, Gay City News or WorldWide Religious News.

Basically, Sara Thorson was fired from the BGEA in 2002 after coworkers saw her kissing another woman in the parking lot. Thorson worked in bulk mail processing and had nothing to do with the organization’s evangelistic mission. According to court documents, she had worked at the BGEA since 1971. Regardless, she was fired.

Continue reading Billy Graham Fires Lesbian

My Salary Pays for BG HQ

This fall the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will begin moving into their new $27 million headquarters. According to the Charlotte Observer the building was paid for with $17 million from the sale of the property in Minneapolis and $10 million worth of savings in “staff reductions and consolidation.” Not exactly the line they pitched to us during all those relocation meetings, but hey, now I can say my salary helped pay for the new BGEA digs. You’re welcome, Billy. Glad I could help.

In other news, the long-forgotten World Wide Pictures film Last Flight Out will finally see the light of day. The BGEA’s September TV special will feature the thrilling story of a washed-up pilot paid by the man he truly hates to rescue the woman he once loved from menacing drug lords (and their gringo body guard) threatening her isolated mission station in the jungles of Colombia. Whew.

I had the chance to read a few early scripts, and despite the incredible potential and current relevance in a story of a missionary being rescued from violent drug lords/terrorists, Last Flight Out is “intensely mediocre” (with props to Nick Ciske). I’ve talked about the film before, but it’s just a painful reminder of what could have been.

Check local times here and consider watching a non-Mel Gibson Christian movie. I’d tune in for laughs, but it’s airing during youth group here in the Twin Cities (Sept. 15 @ 6:30 p.m. on WB 23). (And no, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to have the youth group watch it)

What’s even more amazing than the mediocrity is the fact that the BGEA buys time on local TV stations across the country four times every year to air Gospel presentations. Sometimes they’re subpar movies and sometimes it’s a few Christian artists followed by a sermon from a recent crusade. But every time they do it nobody pays attention. Maybe it’s the subpar content, maybe it’s the lack of a single, national time slot, but whatever the reason nobody pays attention. It’s exactly what conservative Christians have been begging for, and nobody cares. I’ve never understood that.

I Have a Marketing Degree!

Well, it finally happened. The immense redesign of billygraham.org (my former employer)—that was initiated only four months after the redesign me and my team slaved over—is finally up. Not everyone is happy with the new look, and I can’t say that I blame them.

For a sense of perspective, you can check out the Internet Archive for past versions of the Billy Graham web site (though the graphics don’t always load). I worked in the Internet Department from 2001 until halfway through 2003. You can see three different designs, though the difference between the first two is primarily cosmetic.

I hate to rag on the new design. I have friends who still work there, friends who don’t have the luxury of shaking their heads and moving on to something else. It’s painful to see some of the changes. We spent eight months working on our redesign, only to see it prematurely dismantled. You’ll have to forgive my bitterness.

I hate to be elitist and act like I know web design better than anyone. Or marketing or ministry or business. The fact is many organizations and businesses make decisions I don’t agree with, but none strike me so deeply as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Maybe it’s because I see so much unfulfilled potential, as someone else said. Maybe it’s because I invested two and a half years of my life in that organization. Maybe it’s because I like Billy and deep down I want him to be cool. I mean, OK, C’mon.

You don’t quit your job! You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.

Today was my last day of employment at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I am now officially unemployed.

The sky is clear and bright blue, but it’s raining. The pavement is wet, but I am dry. It’s good to be done, but I’m sad to be gone.

Under that rainy blue sky I said my last goodbyes. A handshake wasn’t enough, and we hugged instead. It’s better that way: the slowly healing blister on my thumb makes me grimace with each handshake.

I can’t read on the bus ride home. At one point I’m the lone rider. I can only stare out the window or pen a few random words like these, trying to understand the feelings that are finally coming through.

Billy Graham’s Bible Blasters

I saw an employee screening of Last Flight Out today, the latest movie from World Wide Pictures, the motion picture arm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I’m not usually a fan of Christian movies, so my expectations weren’t exactly high for this movie. I was expecting intensely mediocre. Instead, it was dreadful. Absolutely dreadful.

What saddens me about this movie is that some people will think it’s amazing. The very fact that it was produced says somebody liked the idea. But as the movie is released there’s that certain type of person that will love this movie. They’ll be touched, and they’ll be pushing it like Citizen Kane, when sadly, it’s not even in the same galaxy. Somehow when you blatantly shoehorn the gospel into something it becomes top notch. Apparently quality doesn’t really matter to some people. Or maybe it’s just that the gospel is a trump card for any measure of quality. As long as you quote John 3:16 and explain salvation in painful, awkward detail, nothing else matters.

But what truly disturbs me is that God doesn’t seem to care. People will still be saved watching a pathetic movie. I don’t know how that works. I guess I should take solace in the fact that God doesn’t need an Oscar to change hearts.

Christians Like to Whine

Sometimes I think Christians are all about whining. Look at me, I’m a Christian, and here I am whining. Christians seem to spend more time whining about the things they don’t like than actually doing something to remedy what it is they don’t like. The country is in terrible shape. But rather than run for president, we complain about it. Abortion is rampant, but rather than influencing young women who are most likely to turn to abortion, Christians picket and put bumper stickers on their cars.

It’s become most apparent to me in television. Christians are constantly bemoaning the lack of moral choices while channel surfing. There’s never anything decent on, so the whining starts up again (of course the other side of the coin is that although Christians complain, they go ahead and hypocritically watch the crap anyway). But what I find amazing is that when decent alternatives are offered, Christians hardly bat an eye.

Four times a year the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association buys primetime TV slots in virtually every market across the U.S. and Canada. Three of those times they air two, hour-long re-broadcasts of recent Billy Graham Crusades. They usually feature several songs by different artists and then a message by Billy Graham himself. They’re hyped up church services, piped into your living room on the major channels. We’re not talking about the crummy Christian cable or satellite networks here, we’re talking major network affiliates. And once a year the BGEA buys air time to show one of their World Wide Pictures movies, films that quality-wise are very decent made-for-TV movies. Not only does the Association purchase all this expensive air-time four times a year, but they also put in a response mechanism. 1-800 numbers flash on the screen and hundreds of phone counselors are available across the country to talk with people about the basics of Christianity that they just heard about on TV. As if four times wasn’t enough, last week the Association bought a half-hour of late-night TV time on WB stations across the U.S. to air a TV special geared for teens.

So what do all the whiny Christians who have been begging for quality TV do? Little or nothing. A Billy Graham TV special is no cause for commotion. You’d think pastors would be announcing it and every Christian media outlet would be hyping it. And some do. But most don’t. You hear very little about it, and it’s certainly not for lack of trying. The Association spends a hefty amount on advertising, buying television, print, and web ads.

Now of course I work for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Perhaps I’m a jaded, cynical cubical jockey who likes to shake his fist at the masses. And perhaps I do enjoy a good fist-shaking, but this doesn’t just happen with Billy Graham. Big Idea scored a major first by getting local public broadcasting stations to carry their latest Veggie Tales Christmas special. PBS stations all across the country aired a wholly religious holiday special that explained the meaning of Christmas in language a child can understand. In many areas “The Star of Christmas” aired multiple times during the holiday season.

Yet this was hardly a blip on most Christians’ radar. I didn’t see single mention in any Christian media outlets (and I read most of them). Christians didn’t seem to care. No one was writing columns about how Christians are finally getting what we deserve, finally getting the credit from society, finally earning the respect we have whined for for so long.

And if it’s not straight-out ignoring the TV shows we whined so hard for, we decry any advances Christians make. P.O.D. is constantly questioned for selling out their message and for not feigning excitement at a few Dove nominations. They’ve been on TRL, who cares about GMA? Apparently it’s not good enough to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the MTV crowd.

And when Mandy Moore starred as a Christian lead character in a major motion picture, Christians complained that the sinners in the movie were portrayed too realistically. They actually said “shit” and “god damn” a couple times, something you’ll hear in any church parking lot when a parishioner locks their keys in the car.

No, I don’t think Christians actually want to be a well-heard and respected voice of moral clarity in society. We just want to hear ourselves complain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s probably something good on FOX right now.

The Elvis of Christianity

Assuming Jesus doesn’t have the role, Billy Graham is the Elvis of Christianity. Or maybe just 20th century Christianity. Either way, Billy Graham has been the man when it comes to Christianity for more than 50 years.

The guy has preached to more people than anyone in the world, but more than just doing a lot of sermonizing, he’s been able to reach people. When Billy Graham tells you God loves you, for some reason people believe it.

Early on, he was fiery and charismatic. He could thump his Bible with the best of ’em, and ads for his 1949 tent-meeting revival in Los Angeles promised another “sin-smashing” week. He shouted, gesticulated, pointed his finger and was downright more animated than Mickey Mouse.

Over the years his style softened but his message stayed the same. In the past 20 years or so he’s become more of a grandfather than an Elvis. He’s soft-spoken, but filled with love and compassion. You get the impression he hangs out with God and a little something of the supernatural rubs off.

But for all the religious showmanship, the Elvis of modern Christendom truly has a heart for the young. He started preaching with Youth for Christ in the 1940s. In 1958 he published the book Billy Graham Talks to Teen-Agers. It included such classic questions and answers as this exchange about Rock ‘n’ Roll:

“Question: You had other types of music to face when you were young, but how would you regard Rock ‘n’ Roll?

“Answer: I rarely hear any of it, but I do feel that it has gotten out of hand. Anything that whips young people into a frenzy is bad, it seems to me. I often have been disturbed by what has happened to teen-agers [sic] after they listen to it. If I were 17 today I’d stay as far away from it as I could.”

Of course Billy changed his tune over the years. In 1970 he published The Jesus Generation which included the information that on a few occasions Billy Graham himself visited various rock festivals, protests and love-ins in an attempt to understand the masses. Of course he attended “incognito” (meaning he donned a hat, sunglasses, and a big sweater). He also managed to use campy 60s expressions, including trying to “rap” with the younger generation in order to “turn them on” to Jesus.

In the early 1990s he went a step farther and invited Christian hip-hop band dc Talk to perform at Crusades in what has been billed as “The Concert for the NeXt [sic] Generation.” The idea was to bring in current Christian artists that teens actually listen to in an attempt to bring salvation to a younger generation. It worked. Ten years later, almost a million teens have come forward at Billy Graham youth nights.

And now, for the first time in Billy Graham’s 50 plus years of ministry, he’ll be putting on a TV special especially for teens. Unlike other televised Crusades, there will be no choir, no old, gray-haired musicians, and no financial pleas. The 84-year-old Billy Graham will be the oldest thing in sight, but you won’t see the teens glazing over. Billy is surrounded and gladly interrupted with the voices and music of this generation.

“Inside Out” is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s first TV special for teens. It airs next Friday, December 27 on the WB network in most areas (check your local listings) of the U.S. The half-hour show features the music of gospel star Kirk Franklin, rockers Jars of Clay, and Billy Graham’s faithful standby, dc Talk, interspersed with snippets of Billy Graham’s preaching. The show also includes the voices of real teens, talking about life and God.

The Elvis of Christianity has come along way, and if next Friday is any indication, he’ll continue to leave his mark. It’s been one sin-smashing lifetime.