(TRENDS in CHRISTIANITY – continued)

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Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Swaggart, Joel Osteen

Beginning with a big tent revival in the city of Los Angeles at the age of 31, in 1949, Billy Graham had become a star attraction among Christians. He entered the 1950s at the age of thirty-one filled with evangelical fire. He was without need of artificial flourishes. Graham was a Virginian and a Southern Baptist with a degree in Anthropology and a polished manner. With a weekly radio program, Hour of Decision, Graham attracted the attention of people across the nation and across denominational divisions. Graham built a good organization. He expanded to television and to stadium crusades and overseas crusades, going to Korea one year, to Brazil another year, and to Taiwan the year after that. He preached to more people in the world than any Protestant before him. To fair-minded observors he appeared honest and real.

He integrated seating at his meeting in the South before the integration movement was well underway, and he opposed resistance to school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Graham was not as interested foremost in salvation for people, connected to his wanting them to lead meaningful lives. Graham was religiously conservative insofar as he believed in the devil. He said that he believed in the devil because he saw the devil's work everywhere. God, he said, allowed the devil and all his designs in order to help God's great plan.

He was tradition in that he reduced all of humanities problems to sin. And life without Christ, he claimed was meaningless. In one of his sermons he spoke of people trying to have a good time, going out on a date or drinking. "You have a good time for a while," he said, "but soon it wears off. It's gone."

Some evangelists thought Graham insufficiently fundamentalist and running from Biblical truths in order to be popular. The Reverend Carl McIntire, a fiery radio evangelist, described Graham as ''a cover for the apostates,'' and he described Southern Baptists as ''soggy'' compromisers.

Graham visited the Soviet Union as a tourist in 1959. A Baltimore Sun editorial described him as having made a "fool of himself" by "attending a propaganda show..." while the European press responded to Graham's visit to Russia favorably. Graham stuck to his conviction that he was doing right, and in 1982, while Reagan was President, Graham attended a peace conference in Moscow. He was attacked by some other evangelists for being naive or for appeasement. Graham rode out the storm, returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 and there he assured the Russians that the US and President Reagan wanted peace.

Oral Roberts (1918-2009)

Men integrated into the world of higher education like Billy Graham and Pat Robertson had a different style of communicating their faith than some who did not. Faith healing was much a part of their world of the university educated. This was not quite so with the Oklahoman Oral Roberts. Roberts grew up in poverty, the son of preacher who attended Oklahoma Baptist University and Phillips University and ended his college studies without a degree and had begun performing the magic known as spiritual healing.

Roberts transferred from tents to radio and television and drifted away from spiritual healings, which were an impediment to extending his appeal. He won an acceptance wide enough to be invited to join international evangelical conferences and to become a friend of Billy Graham. He scraped enough money together to fund a university of his own – in Tulsa. It included his old interest in healing but of a more accepted sort: a medical complex. His was a small Christian university – around 3,000 students – and hardly a challenge to the big universities that were being accused of having turned their backs on God. But it served those who wanted education with a Protestant Christian foundation.

In 1972, Roberts was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. And when Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, became president, Roberts dined in the White House. In the late seventies, however, he raised some eyebrows when he claimed to have seen Jesus and described Jesus as 900 feet tall. And he raised eyebrows again when he announced that "the Good Lord" would call him home if his followers did not send him the five million dollars that he needed for his ministry.

Jimmy Swaggart (1935-2009)

Jimmy Swaggart was a Pentecostal televangelist from Louisiana. He grew up poor and anchored in religion. At the age of nine he preached on street corners and led congregations in singing. As a young Pentecostal fundamentalist minister in the 1950s he lived in church basements. By the early 1970s he was moving from radio broadcasts to television. Into the 1980s his programs were transmitted over 3,000 stations and seen by more the 8 million people in the US and more than 500 million worldwide. He preached with rising and falling emotion and denunciations of sin.

Swaggart exacerbated differences within Christianity. He denounced Billy Graham's willingness "to spiritually associate" with Roman Catholics. In his booklet titled "A letter to my Catholic Friends" he described Catholicism as tainted with many false teachings. He described Seventh Day Adventists similarly. And while some churches were trying to appeal to the young with Christianized Rock and Roll, Swaggart described Rock and Roll as "the new pornography." Swaggart also spoke against "prosperity preachers" and the most successful among them: his fellow televangelists, Jim and Tammy Bakker. In 1987 he spoke of Jim Bakker's sexual indiscretions, and to Larry King on CNN he stated that Bakker was a "cancer in the body of Christ." That was before Swaggart was caught with a prostitute for the second time and became even more famous for weeping on camera, declaring that he had sinned.

Joel Osteen (1963 – )

Joel Osteen has been described as a prosperity preacher, someone calling on people to live well. He is an American best-selling author and the senior pastor of the non-denominational Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. His Christian ministry is said to reach more than seven million weekly in the United States and millions more in over 100 nations around the world. In 2007, his tours expanded to include stops in Canada, England, Northern Ireland and Israel. One of his books is titled Become a Better You. Another is Seven Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day. Osteen told CNN's Larry King that his basic message is "becoming all that God [has] created you to be." Joel Osteen is no phony actor. He believes in what he his doing. He is relaxed, does not posture and is without bombast. He is moved by what he does. He looks kind, naturally decent and intelligent because he is all of these, and this adds to his appeal.

He speaks of God's plan for the listener or viewer and describes their relationship with God as a contract. He calls on his fellow Christians to be persistent in reminding God to do what he has promised, using Jesus Christ as their lawyer in a heavenly court with God on the throne (not Osteen's exact words). He calls on his fellow Christians not to plead, beg or complain but instead to present their case to God, top be persistent i faith , as in God, you said this and said that. This puts the minds of people on their Christianity in addition to themselves, that persistence in faith will bring reward. Pastor Osteen advises people to think big because it makes success possible.

Osteen has written a book It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor, published in 2010. Some Christians have condemned the book. Their views can be read among the 289 reviews at Amazon.com, the 7% who have given his book a one star rating compared to the 79% who have given it the highest rating: five stars.

Copyright © 2010-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.