MONTREAT – Billy Graham established a precedent early in his ministry during America’s days of racial segregation by only proceeding with a crusade if blacks and whites could sit together in the audience.
Graham’s standard resonated with Fred Luter during a July 26 visit with the evangelist at his home in Montreat, N.C. Graham applauded Luter’s election as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Dr. Graham was really excited about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he was real excited that the convention had elected an African American president,” Luter said. “He’s always been one who believed in the different ethnic groups. There was a time when he wouldn’t even have his crusades in a town if other ethnic groups were not included. He wanted to make it inclusive, so he was really excited about [the election].”
While race relations was not the main topic of the informal meeting, Luter said Graham did mention his support of racial equality in South Africa.
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter, left, visited Billy Graham at the evangelist’s home in Montreat, N.C. Luter received an invitation through Don Wilton, right, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Graham is a member.
“[We talked about] when he went to Africa to help end Apartheid there and how he got a chance to meet Nelson Mandela,” Luter recounted. “He even mentioned the fact that [Mandela] just made a birthday. He said, ‘He’s 94 and I’m 93. He’s got one year ahead of me.’”
Luter, who preached at nearby LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, visited Graham as the guest of Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Graham is a member. Luter and his wife Elizabeth spent 45 minutes with Graham, Wilton and family members.
“First of all I was just kind of amazed that when I walked in the house … he was sitting at the kitchen table, and it was like you were walking on Mt. Sinai and there’s Moses just sitting there,” Luter said. “You know it was just incredible. [He had] just beautiful white hair and just sitting there with family members and friends around. It was just really a surreal moment for me.”
Graham remembered meeting Luter during the March 2006 Celebration of Hope crusade in New Orleans.
“Bro. Wilton said, ‘Dr. Graham, I have the president of the Southern Baptist Convention,’ and Dr. Graham just said, ‘Oh yeah, I know Fred.’ He was very personable,” Luter said. “I sat down next to him and he congratulated me on being elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and of course, from that point on, I just … raved about him and what a fan I’ve been of his for years.”
Luter said Graham’s mind is still clear and full of details. Graham autographed for the Luters a copy of his latest book, “Nearing Home,” and spoke of growing old.
“He talked about … how much he missed his wife Ruth and how difficult it was growing old,” Luter said. “He never thought he would grow this old, but he’s sharp. His mind is still sharp. I was just amazed at how mentally focused he was.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)