KERRY HUBARTT COLUMN: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prayer at Billy Graham crusade launched their friendship

Kerry Hubartt

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first since the death of the Rev. Billy Graham last February.

The special connection between the two powerfully-used ministers of God is worth commemoration as well.

Much has been written since Graham’s death about his own commitment to racial equality and his relationship with Dr. King at a time when the civil rights movement was burgeoning.

Graham, for example, purposely integrated his ministry, and biographers write that he insisted on integrated crowds at many of his rallies. There are accounts of him personally removing ropes that had been put up in tents for meetings to divide whites from blacks in the audience.

According to a Christianity Today article on Graham after his death, Steven P. Miller, author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, told CNN that Graham’s efforts “contributed to the theological defeat of segregation.”

History also records, says the magazine story, that Graham “had a friendship with King, promoted integration, and tried to improve the church’s racial understanding in the midst of the civil rights movement.”

Graham first met King after having him invited to pray at a crusade in New York City in 1957. He also asked him to speak at a ministry retreat later on, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to help his team “understand the racial situation in America more fully.”

Graham reportedly posted bail for King when he was jailed in the 1960s for his activism in the civil rights movement. King acknowledged Graham’s part in addressing integration from a gospel perspective in his preaching, saying, “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.”

It was reportedly on July 18, 1957, that King prayed at the start of a crusade service at Madison Square Garden in New York. The following is the transcript of that prayer as taken from an audio recording (from the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University):

Let us pray. O God, our Heavenly Father, out of whose mind this great cosmic universe has been created, toward whom the weary and perplexed of all generations turn for consolation and direction, we come before Thy presence this evening thanking Thee for the many blessings of life. We come recognizing our dependence on Thee. We also come, O God, with an awareness. The fact that we have not always given our lives to that which is high and noble. In the midst of all of the high and noble aspects of justice, we followed injustice. We stand amid the forces of truth and yet we deliberately lie. We stand amid the compelling urgency of the Lord of Love, as exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, and yet we live our lives so often in the dungeons of hate. For all of these sins, O God forgive.

And in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, give us penetrating vision, broad understanding, power of endurance and abiding faith, and save us from the paralysis of crippling fear. And O God, we ask Thee to help us to work with renewed vigor for a war-less world and for a brotherhood that transcends race or color.

We thank Thee this evening for the marvelous things which have been done in this city, and through the dynamic preachings of this great evangelist. And we ask Thee, O God, to continue blessing him. Give him continued power and authority. And as we look into him tonight, grant that our hearts and spirit will be opened to the divine inflow. All of these things we ask, in the name of Him who taught us to pray.

Then King began the Lord’s Prayer, which the audience recited with him in unison. To that we add, “Amen!”

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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