Giants in the Land? the Religious Landscape Has Been Markedly Changed by Billy Graham and John Paul II

Article excerpt

DID A POLITICALLY shrewd and theologically sophisticated Polish pope trigger the collapse of communism? Did an energetic and telegenic southern evangelist foster the resurgence of evangelical Christianity in the post--World War II era? These are extreme claims to make for any person. The fact that they can even be considered in the case of John Paul II and Billy Graham is a measure of these leaders' visibility and impact

Mainline Protestants--and writers in this magazine--have not always had good things to say about John Paul or about Graham. Many have found Graham's social-political alliances dubious, and are wary of the mass evangelistic meetings that remain his signature ministry. They have been disappointed by John Paul's enforcement of his church's stance against women's ordination and birth control.

Yet, looking back on the two men's careers, now in their twilight--both are slowed by Parkinson's disease--their accomplishments, as well as the points of common Christian concern, are perhaps more visible. In John Paul's case, one notes his vigorous efforts to avert war between nation states, his theological defense of human rights and human dignity, and his critique of both communism and consumer capitalism.

While the pope's record on ecumenism is mixed, he has continued to keep doors open and to encourage dialogue. "We must three ourselves to overcome every barrier with incessant prayer, with persevering dialogue and with a fraternal and concrete cooperation in favor of the poorest and most needy," he told an audience of pilgrims during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. …