51: Bernice A. King

51: Bernice A. King

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 51 •

Minister, lawyer and speaker, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., CEO of The King Center

Billy Graham was a weekly staple on television when I was in my teens and early twenties. I remember being amazed at how many people responded to his message. I grew up in a church of maybe 1,200 to 1,500 people, which was considered a mega-church back then, but I never saw hundreds of people come to the altar and give their life to Christ like they did for Billy Graham.

Even as a teen, I could relate to Dr. Graham’s simple message. It was easy to understand, regardless of your age, your education or your pain. It appealed to all people, and it was a lesson I kept in mind as I went into ministry. When I was being trained as a theologian, I was taught to preach someone else’s notions and interpretation of God. A lot of times, words and phrases were used that seemed complex for the average person to relate to and understand. I wrestled with finding balance between my theological training and exposure and the simplicity of presenting the Gospel in a manner that was easy for people to grasp — like Billy Graham.

My father, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a trained theologian who loved using big words. He was gifted in blending the intellectual, philosophical and theoretical with the practical and emotional, and as a result, the simplest person understood him. Very few people can use big terms but still be understood. Like my father, Billy Graham helped me understand the importance of simply communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so even a little child can understand. It amazed me that he talked simply about the Gospel and Who Christ was and what Christ does for your life, and then gave people the simple invitation to respond. It wasn’t pounded over their heads that they’d go to hell if they don’t do this or that. His message was more welcoming and inviting. It was appealing to the average person, and people from different age groups responded to his message. Now, every time I speak, my mind is on, “How can I reach the youngest person in the audience?” Thanks to my father and Billy Graham, I came to know that at the end of the day, it’s in the simplicity of the message.

Yes, the way Dr. Graham presented his message fascinated me, but more importantly, he came across as genuine, authentic, and down to earth. He had a special way of presenting himself that drew people. With Billy Graham, there was no pretension. Like my father, there was congruency between the message and the messenger. That’s what made the difference. It came out of his heart and spirit. He was truly a vessel for God. His message came through clearly, and people took it as the real deal.

From time to time, ministers were invited to some of my dad’s marches and demonstrations. My mother told me that my father had reached out to Dr. Graham, but he felt that he could also be effective by continuing to do what he was doing — preaching about social harmony and refusing to allow his crusades to be segregated by race. He and my father were both committed to improving race relations in the South. And they did. Billy Graham’s approach to ministry continues to inspire me today.

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