Protestants: Crusader in the Coliseum

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Evangelist Billy Graham has spent the better part of the past five years carrying his crusades for Christ overseas, to Latin America, Australia, Korea, England, Germany. "Something is always breaking out somewhere," he says. Right now, as Graham sees it, things are breaking out in the U.S. Taking stock of the nation's spiritual climate, he decided that the U.S. was "in the worst state of spiritual decline and immorality in its history," and that he was needed more urgently at home than abroad. "I have canceled everything outside the U.S. The America I see now is so different from the America I saw five years ago that it demands an immediate mission. I am going to give everything I have to it."

After 14 Years. Graham decided to start out in Los Angeles, "a city more needful of a crusade than any in the world." The City of Angels was an especially appropriate place for the beginning of a new Graham crusade: it was there that his sermons first rocketed him to national fame. "It all started here 14 years ago," Graham said in Los Angeles. "Nobody had heard of Khrushchev, Castro was a teen-ager,* and Dr. Kinsey was still studying wasps."

Nobody had heard of Billy Graham either. He was a Baptist preacher from North Carolina, had recently flopped at a revival meeting in Altoona, Pa. Brought to Los Angeles by a group of fundamentalist ministers to conduct an evangelistic mission, he ran into discouraging difficulties. His sponsors had trouble raising the $20,000 budget; the owner of the selected tent site refused to rent it for the crusade; the fire commissioner complained that the circus-style tent was a public hazard.

Just in time, all obstacles were overcome, and Billy nervously stood up before an opening-night crowd of 2,000. Soon the audiences were averaging 6,000 a night and such Hollywood celebrities as Roy Rogers and Jane Russell were showing up to pray. A three-week engagement stretched out to eight; 4,000 people made decisions for Christ. And the voice of Billy Graham was heard in the land.

Last week Graham, 44, was midway through his new 25-day crusade in Los Angeles, and the contrasts with 1949 were dizzying. This time the budget was $600,000. Teams of Graham staffers sent in ahead of time to make preparations for the crusade signed up 3,500 Southern California churches as sponsors, formed a prestigious crusade committee headed by Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy. The crowd at the Los Angeles Coliseum the first day was 38,000. During the first ten days the crusade drew 300,000 people. At least 25,000 came forward to make their decisions for Christ, including 3,216 in one night alone—a record for Graham in the U.S.

As always, Billy's words were charged with a deep Biblical faith. On God's love: "God's mercy said, even from the Cross, I love you." On modern morals: "Spiritual disease is the problem with the world and the cause of hate, racial prejudice, fights and war." On making decisions for Christ: "Jesus said you must be born again. Christianity can cause you to love your fellow man, meet your futility and boredom, change you throughout."

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