Magazine article The Christian Century

Library without Books

Magazine article The Christian Century

Library without Books

Article excerpt

WHEN I TOLD a friend I was planning on visiting the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, he offered a warning. "There are no books. They really should call it the 'Billy Graham Experience.'"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The library is an experience indeed--both tackier and more interesting than I had imagined. The schmaltz has been well documented in critical reviews, which have duly noted, for example, the mechanized talking cow that greets visitors with stories of how cold young Billy's hands were before sunrise on the dairy farm near Charlotte where he grew up. (Rather oddly, the narrative is accompanied by an apparently black woman's voice singing about how God "owns the cattle on a thousand hills.")

But the physical artifacts of Graham's life have an eloquence that the cheesiness can't quite spoil. If you admire him at all, you will find something here to enjoy. I especially liked seeing the engagement ring he gave his wife, Ruth, paid for with a $65 honorarium for preaching at Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, and "with a diamond so small you need a magnifying glass to see it," as he wrote in a personal note on display.

But why isn't that ring on Ruth Bell Graham's finger, one wonders. Ruth lies at rest on the grounds of the library. A painful fight broke out in 2006 between the five Graham children over their parents' wishes for their final resting place. Ruth had always wanted to be buried near the Cove, a retreat center in the North Carolina mountains that she helped design. Her grave marker at the library is beautiful, and shows her famous spunk; its epitaph is from a highway sign she once saw: "End of Construction--Thank you for your patience." It also shows the Chinese symbol for righteousness, a tribute to her childhood in China as a daughter of missionaries.

The library seeks to guard a sense of reverence at the grave, but there isn't much reverence in the rest of the Disneyfied experience (Disney engineers helped design the $25 million facility). My parking pass invited me to "help park a soul in eternity" with a donation to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The library itself is built like an outsized barn, with a "dairy bar" for refreshment and "Ruth's attic" for souvenirs. Speakers pump hymns like "Just as I am" into your ears at all times, even outside. …

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