Monday, July 30, 2007
Ruth Bell Graham - Woman of Conviction but not Convention
Ruth Bell Graham died last month at the age of 87. She was the steady, guiding force in and the love of Billy Graham's life. It's not easy being married to one of the most influential men in the Christian faith but from the moment they met she knew it was her calling.
Ruth was born in China while her parents were Presbyterian medical missionaries. She wanted to be a missionary and follow in their footsteps but all that changed when she met a young, charismatic, Baptist with the nickname "preacher". When she married Billy she knew she'd be expected to remain in the background and silently support her evangelical husband. And that was alright because she never wanted the spotlight.
But Ruth was not the run of the mill preacher's wife. She helped her husband compose sermons, listening while he ran over the text for ways to more concisely present the message. She wrote poetry and was an accomplished artist. She was the author of 14 books and raised 5 children mostly on her own while Billy traveled the world spreading the gospel.
Even though Billy was a Baptist, she never renounced her Presbyterian faith and remained active in her home church in Montreat, North Carolina. She is reported to have once rode on a motorcycle during one of the Billy Graham Crusades. On another occasion she ripped a large sign from a protestor's hand at an anti-war rally and was nearly arrested.
They were married in August 1943. From the beginning, the marriage was what Billy Graham has called “happily incompatible,” full of tenderness and friction. Ruth’s role, as she saw it, was both to support and to challenge her ambitious, charismatic husband—and she did so unflinchingly.
When their son Franklin was wearing his hair fashionably long in the 1970s, Ruth reminded the boy’s aghast father that hair was not a moral issue. When over lunch at the White House in 1964, Lyndon Johnson wanted Billy to help him choose a running mate, Ruth kicked her husband sharply under the table. “You should limit yourself to moral and spiritual advice,” she said, “not political advice.” These acts may seem small but for the wife of a powerful Christain figure they were steadfast and true. She understood that as a preacher's wife she was expected to sacrafice but that did not mean she was subserviant to anyone but God. It seems that her husband also understood this often misinterperated biblical doctorine because he valued and sought her counsel as his most trusted friend and confidant for 64 years.
Of his marriage to this remarkable woman Graham said, “I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth." And in a statement issued after her death, “Especially for these last few years ... We've rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven."
May all women strive to be as convicted, steadfast, and unconventional in the pursuit of their beliefs as Ruth Bell Graham.