"The Hope For America"

THEM THAT HONOR ME I WILL HONOR.

— 1 SAMUEL 2:30

Modeled after the Graeco-Roman style, its marble-covered iron dome rising 187 feet above the dignified landscape, the United States capitol has stood for two centuries overlooking the Potomac River in the heart of the District of Columbia. This classic structure, so symbolic of the true national spirit of America, was designed by architect William Thornton and was accepted by President George Washington in 1793 to be the housing centerpiece of the United States government.

    Beneath the majestic dome with its inscriptions and its balconies is the great central rotunda where American patriots of the past are honored. And there on Thursday, May 2, 1996, by action of the United States Congress, a special convocation of government figures and guests was held to honor two private citizens, Dr. and Mrs. William Franklin Graham.

    House Resolution 2657 had been approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on February 13. Then in May an audience of 700 members of Congress, diplomats, and spiritual dignitaries gathered to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Grahams. General George Washington was the first recipient of that honor as commander-in-chief of the embattled

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American military forces in 1776. Since then legislation to award the Gold Medal has been enacted only 113 times in the history of the republic. It is the highest honor the Congress can bestow on the nation's civilian population.

    The authorizing legislation recognized Billy and Ruth Graham for "outstanding and lasting contributions to morality, racial equality, philanthropy, and religion." Speaking before that vote on the floor of the House, Representative Floyd Flake of New York had said, "This represents for us an opportunity to say to the American people and to the world that it is important for persons to make commitments with their lives that express the very best of what it means to be not only citizens of this nation, but citizens of the world. No one has done that more effectively than Billy Graham, with Mrs. Ruth Graham, who stands beside him as the first lady."

    Speaking at the May 2 presentation were the vice president, the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House of Representatives. Said Vice-President Albert Gore, "You have touched the hearts of the American family. Over the last one-half century, few individuals have left such a lasting impact on our national life. Every American president since World War II has sought Billy Graham's counsel. Republicans and Democrats alike have relied on his moral sense and used his wisdom as a compass to help guide the ship of state. This man, who once dreamed of swinging a bat in baseball's major leagues, has filled stadiums from New York to Nairobi, from Tulsa to Tokyo, preaching the Gospel and sounding the cry for human rights, enlightened race relations, and the dignity of freedom."

    Said Majority Leader Robert Dole, "When the idea of awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to Dr. Graham was first raised, it received something rare in this building — unanimous approval. So too did the idea of honoring Ruth Graham, Billy's remarkable partner of fifty-three years and a distinguished communicator of God's power and peace in her own right."

    House Speaker Newt Gingrich, chairman of the event, referred to Dr. Graham as "one of the great civic leaders of the twentieth century." He told the audience that the man they were honoring had

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preached to more people than anyone in history — that 100 million people had seen him in person and two billion had watched him on television.

    Most of the Graham's five children, nineteen grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren were at the ceremony, together with evangelical Christian dignitaries and officials from the Southern Baptist denomination, to which Dr. Graham belongs.

    Historically the Grahams were the third couple ever to be honored with the Gold Medal. After receiving the award from Speaker Gingrich and Senate President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond, Dr. Graham addressed the assemblage on the subject, "The Hope for America." He opened with the words, "I would not be here today receiving this honor if it were not for an event that happened to me many years ago as a teenager on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina. An evangelist came to our town for a series of meetings.1 I came face to face with the fact that God loved me, Billy Graham, and had sent His Son to die for my sin. He told how Jesus rose from the dead to give us hope of eternal life."

    Describing his conversion and faith in Christ, Dr. Graham said, "That simple repentance and open commitment changed my life. If we have accomplished anything at all in life since then, it has only been because of the grace and mercy of God."

    The honoree then called the nation to renewal and repentance, and thanked God for America's heritage of freedom and abundant blessings. He said that the nation has many good qualities, but then asked if the first recipients of the Gold Medal award would recognize today the society they sacrificed to establish. "I fear not," he went on. "We have confused liberty with license, and we are paying that awful price. We are a society perched on the brink of self-destruction."

    Quoting from Psalm 23, Graham pointed to three causes of current national woes endemic in society: emptiness, guilt, and the fear of death "which haunts our souls." He said, "I believe the fundamental crisis of our time is a crisis of the spirit. We have lost sight of the moral and spiritual principles on which this nation was established —

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principles drawn largely from the Judeo-Christian tradition found in the Bible.

    "As we face a new millennium, I believe America has gone a long way down the wrong road. We must change roads, turn around, and go back. We must repent and commit our lives to God and to the moral and spiritual principles that have made this nation great, and translate that commitment into action in our homes, neighborhoods, and our society. If we ever needed God's help, it is now. If we ever needed spiritual renewal, it is now. And it can begin today in each one of our lives, as we repent before God and yield ourselves to Him and His Word.

    "What are you going to do?"

    At the close he added, "As Ruth and I receive this award, we know that someday we will lay it at the feet of the One we seek to serve. We are deeply humbled, and we thank you for all that it represents.We pledge to continue the task that God has called us to do as long as we live."

    That evening the Grahams were honored at a dinner sponsored by Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, which is depicted on the reverse side of the medal. The dinner was a benefit to launch the Graham Gold Medal Endowment for Children's Health, providing for the health needs of poor and needy children throughout the Appalachian Mountain region.

    At the dinner President Bill Clinton joined Paul Harvey, Kathie Lee Gifford, and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in recognizing the Grahams as "two of America's finest citizens and two of the world's greatest resources."

    Said the President, "I thank Billy and Ruth Graham for the ministry of their life and personal example. I thank them for countless

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personal gestures which indicate that as private people they are what they seem to be in public. I thank them for always doing things that will enable them to minister to people they may never know. As president, in my personal role as a citizen and a Christian, I am profoundly grateful."

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Note: The above brief excerpts from Billy Graham's message were taken by permission from press accounts in the Washington Times, May 3 1996, and a May 1996 issue of the Evangelical Press News Service report.

1. Twenty-four years later, in 1958, Billy Graham invited that evangelist to San Francisco to take part in Billy's crusade at the Cow Palace. I was present the evening Billy introduced Rev. Mordecai F. Ham. After more than forty years, I have forgotten what the time-honored gospel warrior said, except for his opening remark: "Every day I pick up the morning paper to find out what man is going to do. Then I pick up the Bible to find out what God is going to do!"

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