The loss of Dr. Billy Graham leaves an enormous void in our public life. He was one of our greatest faith leaders, called to a life of service to God and fellow man. He shared a message of respect, inclusion, grace, forgiveness, unity and love that made our nation a better and stronger place.
Today our country is at a crossroads – it is polarized politically, racially, religiously and socially, creating chasms that some believe will never be bridged. This is a frightening prospect and reminds us to consider King David’s words in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
No matter your race, religious affiliation, gender, political party or socioeconomic status, we are all in this together. New Mexico has the potential to be one of the greatest states in the union if we reject the temptation to be separated by our differences and choose to be united by what we have in common. Responding to Dr. Graham’s passing, President Barack Obama tweeted, “Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many – and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.” Sadly, some expressed outrage at these remarks. Perhaps they were unaware that in 2010, President Obama traveled to North Carolina to meet with Dr. Graham at his home. Dr. Graham met with every president prior to President Obama dating back to President Harry Truman. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also respected Dr. Graham’s work. Dr. King, who devoted his life to fighting inequality and spreading a message of unity, once said, “Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been.” Why did President Obama’s words create such an unfortunate controversy? Presumably, those who were upset strongly opposed Dr. Graham’s stance on some social issues. President Obama had his differences with Dr. Graham on matters of politics and policy but still recognized his contributions to our country and its people. That ability to set aside differences and recognize the good work and character of others is exactly what makes our nation great. I appreciate President Obama’s courage in honoring a man with whom he did not always agree. It should be an example to people of all political stripes. That,I believe, is the lesson we should learn from Dr. Graham’s passing.
New Mexicans will always have differences, but we should remember the things that unite us, like our love for our children, our hope they can be healthy and successful, and our collective desire to create a better state for our families, friends and neighbors.
President George W. Bush was also greatly impacted by Dr. Graham’s life and mission. “God’s work within me began in earnest with Billy’s outreach,” Bush wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Feb. 16. “His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk – and the start of the end of my drinking. I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit. That strength came from love I had felt from my earliest days and from faith I didn’t fully discover until my later years.”
Dr. Graham’s message of forgiveness, love and grace helped a fallible man overcome a struggle millions of Americans battle. It ultimately helped President Bush become a better man. At the end of the day, we can all learn a positive lesson from Dr. Graham’s service and hopefully be inspired help each other become better citizens, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters – better humans.
Cangiolosi is chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party and an executive at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.