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October 31, 1976 - Image 3

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-10-31

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'

sundayH
Editor: Stephen Hersh A!

ssociate Editors: Ann Marie Lipinski, Elaine Fletcher

inside:
page four-
perspective
page five-books
October 31, 1976

Nurnber 8

Billy Graham
Faith,Hope a

and

the opiate of the

nd

Charity

in

By MIKE NORTON

"LORD, WE ARE YOURS with ev-
ery fiber of our being!" cries
the blue-suited man onstage.
He is ant-like in. the shimmery
distance, dwarfed by the vast em-
pty space around him - but
his image stares out hugely from
a gigantic screen above, and the
sound of his amplified voice shakes
the building like a Call to Judge-
ngent.
The stage has been set up on the
40 yard line of the Pontiac Sta-
dium field, surrounded with plas-
tic palm trees and buckets of yel-
low chrysanthemums. Tonight,
close to 40,000 souls filter into the
stadium, blinking their eyes under
the hot lights and gazing down on
the peaceful astroturf below. It's
hardly your little church in the
valley. But these people are here
to get religion. They have come in
their cars, pickup trucks and Win-
nebagoes - they have come by the
busload-to see, hear and be mov-
ed by Billy Graham, The Most Fa-
mous Evangelist in the World To-
day.
The blue - suited man onstage
isn't Graham - he's J. Fran Mel-
lema, Senior Vice President and
Comptroller of the National Bank
of Detroit. He is also treasurer of
the Southeastern Michigan Billy
Graham Crusade executive com-
mittee, and he is warming un the
audience, a.Qking the believers to
look into their hearts and pockets
to help finance Graham's wo*
for God.
Little envelopes have been pass-
ed out already. As Mellema finishes
his appeal and moves away from
the microphone, sweet organ mu-
sic fills the air. Teams of quiet,
efficient ushers work the aisles,
gathering in the envelones.
Forty thousand people do not
fill Pontiac Stadium to capacity.
Sparse patches of believers cluster
here and there in the stands be-
hind the stage. senarated by
stretches of empty seats.
The envelopes are collected into
large offering plates, and now the
organ swells into crescendo: a
choir of 500 behind the stage
breaks- into "Peace Like a River."
In the audience, feet begin to tap.
Parents are jiggling youngsters on
their knees. A few hundred people
take the onportunity for a last
trip un to the johns or the Elias
Brothers hamburger concessions in
the gallery. Graham will be speak-
ing soon.
It is an overwhelmingly white
and middle-class audience, the
kind of folks you might run into at
Sears on a Saturday afternoon.
Few of them are dressed in any-
thing more formal than a shirt
and slacks.
But then, the crowd is younger
than average: this is one of the
nights which Graham has set aside
as a special Youth Night - direct-
ing his preaching at those under
25 years.
George Beverly Shea - Gra-
ham's Ed McMahon - steps up to
the microphone. His appearance
is the universal signal that Billy
is almost ready to steak. The piano
player sends a few gospel chords
Mike Norton is a Daily staff writer.

rippling out, and Shea's voice goes
booming into the deep:
I'd rather have Jesus
than silver or gold ...
When the song ends, he steps
aside suddenly. And there, with an
electric halo, flashing a toothy
grin, stands Billy Graham.
He holds a Bible in his hand,

Pontiac S
ting. They swing their bluej]eaned
legs back and forth and smile co-
quettishly at every third boy or
so. Both of them are sixteen.
"We came with our church
group," one of them explains. Gra-
ham, she admits, doesn't do much
for her. "It was a chance to get
out of the house, so we took it."

rasses:
tadium
tudes, beckoning them down to the
field to make their Decision for
Christ. This is the climax, the mo-
ment of truth: how many will be
Saved? How many will turn to
God?
Slowly, timidly, people begin
streaming down from the stands.
The choir sings softly - a band of
angels, a pack of sirens - "Lord,
I come." Who can resist the peace
that passeth all understanding?
Like wayward sheep who have
come home, they cross the turf and
flock together at the foot of the
stage.
IT IS EERIE BEYOND description
in that breathless huddle;
some trick of acoustics distorts the
sound of the PA system. Grahan
is now only 20 feet away, yet his
voice can only be heard in the
echoes from the surrounding
snace; no one here can understand
him - it is as if he were speaking
Serbo-Croatian or Urdu.
A child begins to weep softly in
terror. Its mother picks it up and
whisners: "Shh! Don't you, love
Jewus?"
Graham is looking down on
them, nleading and. exhorting
them with his arms, but no one
ean underst~nd a word he is say-
fn The echoes rebound every-
wCre. hir voice comes from all
eF1.% bent into strangeness.
Two old women are shaking their
heads as if the trouble is in thei
ears.
"Can you hear him?" one asks
the other.
"No, I can't."
"If you turn your head to the
rioht, I think you can hear better."
Now the evangelist has raised
his arms out over the flock in
benediction. People lower their
fades to pray. When the sound of
his voice ends, the heads are rais-
ed again.
A small corns of counselors has
heen trained and readied for this,
m'oment. and now it descends on
the flock of 1,400 newly-commit-
ted Christians. Small groups of
peonlo form around them on the
ground: they are taking names and
addresses, passing out pamphlets,
giving encouragement.
Graham has left,the stage; the
m ovie screen is blank now. Above
it. an electric sign is blinking:
"Goodbve! Goodbye!"
And the 40,000 members of the
glldience rise from their seats, one
b17 one, two by two. Some talking
P3"itedlv with friends, some in
tho myhtful silence, they leave the
ovnno11m stadium. Back out to
the ears and buses, back to the
sinfui world.

and stretches his arm out to take
in all of Pontiac Stadium - from
goalpost to goalpost. When he
speaks, the sound comes echoing
off the walls like thunder.
"I want everybody here who's
under 25 years of age to stand up,"
he says.
Almost the entire stadium gets
to its feet, creating a loud rumb-
ling sound.
He smiles even more broadly,
surveying them. His head is thrown
back; the majestic mane of hair,
the broad forehead, the nose and
jaw are all tilted at their best an-
gle.
"My, my," he says. With his per-
mission, the audience sits down
aoain. There is more rumbling.
"We may never see another mo-
ment like this in southeastern
Michigan," he exclaims, exhorting
them to "fill the cars and come
on out here to Pontiac Stadium"
for the week-long crusade.
"How many bibles are there out
there?" he asks. "Just hold up your
bibles." And 40,000 bibles are lift-
ed un over 40,000 heads.
"My," Graham sighs. "I don't be-
lieve I've seen so many bibles in all
my life."
Now he tells the audience to read
along with him from the gospel of
Mark, and his preaching begins in
earnest. He walks away from the
microphone, but his voice remains
miraculously undiminished; a
cordless, tiny radio mike is clipped
to his lapel.
Graham holds the big soft bible
onen across one hand, and ele-
p'ntlv whins the other through
the air as he speakks:
"There's nothing wrong with be-
ing rich." he says reassuringly.
"The bible tells us there's a sac-
rednees in having property."
* * *
CRAHAM IS 57 YEARS OLD.
Born in Charlotte, N.C., he
has spent nearly 30 years carrying
his brand of down-to-earth reviv-
alism around the world - and
now heads a farflung empire that .
takes in as much as $20 million a
year.

He fs no stranger to Michigan.
Graham led his first crusade in
Grand Rapids in 1947; it wasn't a
red-hot success. But two years
later, in Los Angeles, his luck took
a sharp turn for the better. News-
paper magnate William Randolph
Hearst, attracted by Graham's
militant attacks on "godless com-
munism," gave the young revival-
ist some badly-needed media cov-
erage. The Los Angeles crusade
marked the beginning of big things
for Graham; since then, the road
has only gone upward.
Throughout his career, he has
associated himself with the fa-
mous and the powerful. A White
House favorite during the Nixon
years, Graham conducted the now-
historical "prayer breakfasts" for
Washington society, which ended
when Nixon resigned. Republican
vice presidential candidate Sen.
Robert Dole made an appearance
at the last of the Pontiac rallies.
Graham earns $39,500 a year ~
plus "expenses" - for his preach-
ing work. He has said he wants no
more than the salary of a success-
ful church pastor. The money is
paid him by the Billy Graham
Evangelical Association in Minne-
anolis, which coordinates his
worldwide activities.
According to Crusade officials,
the average amount of a contribu-
tion at one of these events is
somewhere around seven dollars. If

three-fourths of the audience
turns in its little envelopes, then,
tonight's haul alone will be $200,-
000 or so. Since the cost in rental,
services and personnel for the en-
tire Southeastern Michigan Billy
Graham Crusade will be an esti-
mated $550,000, three good nights
should take care of the whole
week's overhead.
All the rest, evidently, would be
gravy.
And that doesn't take into ac-
count the sums raised in local fund
drives by area churches and busi-
nesses months before the Crusade
arrived in Pontiac.
Everyone working for the cru-
sade tonight - the quiet, efficient
security people in dark suits and
walkie-talkies, the smiling ushers,
the press officers, the choir - all
gleam like the surface of a smooth,
well-oiled machine.
The Crusade was planned long
in advance by organizational ex-
perts. It is being pumped to the
limit for maximum media play: in-
terviews are arranged with Gra-
ham, newspeonbe get the best
seats in the house: film is made
for later TV broadcasts.
Yet, so far as anybody knows
(and many have sifted through
piles of ledgers to find out), the
Graham organization is as clean
as they come. The millions of dol-
lars flowing into its coffers flow
back out again just as quickly: to
distribute free literature, to organ-
ize new crusades, to run its radio
stations, organizational centers and
offices. Though Graham won't tell
exactly how much profit his gospel
machine pulls in, he has said the
figure is well under $100,000 a
year.
NOT EVERYBODY IS listening
to Graham in rapturous si-
lence.
"The young are turning to Christ
by the thousands!" he shouts con-
fidently - but at least 200 of them
are walking aimlessly around the
galleries at this very minute.
Groups of teenagers cluster aronnn

From the galleries you can look
down into the gigantic bowl of the
stadium; it is completely packed
with people on the side facing the
stage. Halfway down to the field a
little bald man, his head shining
under the lights, has raised his
arms out toward the stage below
him. He sits there, arms held out,
as if to catch and hold some pre-
cious, invisible stuff.
And why not? It might be there,
after all - in the air, unnoticed by
the casual and insensitive report-
er. Something mystical in a down
home steak-and-potatoes way,
beaming outward from that pile of
plastic plants and bunting. Some-
thing keeps them listening; some-
thing, indeed, has caught up that
little man in a peaceful ecstasy of
his own.
Graham is working himself up
into a fine political lather. "It
doesn't make a bit of difference
who gets elected this year," he
says, shaking his head. "Things
aren't going to change very
much."
Above him, the giant Billy Gra-
ham on the screen bobs'and whirls
and thrusts its fingers into the
crowd. And as though to lend vis-
ual balance to the mammoth im-
p,-e of Graham, a slogan glows
brightly on the Detroit Lions
scoreboard: "I am the Way, the
Truth, and the Life: John 14:6."
The scoreboard is flanked by two
giant packs of Marlboros.
Now Billy is calling to the multi-

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