Although I respect Billy Graham, I had my doubts about visiting the Billy Graham Library. But we happened to be in Charlotte, NC and we happened to be close to the library and my wife happened to want to go and we happened to need to shelter our kids from the summer heat for a few hours before our flight left.
I was dragging my feet a bit about this visit because I know that Christian attractions like this can be sappy and over-the-top religious. Well-intentioned people can take the legacy of a man of God and turn it into something canned and rigid–retaining some of the form but losing the message. Or they can idolize the man’s wit, intelligence, charisma or other traits and lose sight of the God who was working through him.
Plus, I wasn’t sure how kid-friendly it was going to be. I had visions of my kids pulling books off the shelves by the fistful and knocking over glass figurines while a librarian looked over her glasses and shushed us.
But hesitations aside, we needed A/C, so off we went. Plus, free admission is hard to beat.
Come to find out it’s actually more of a museum than a library. (Billy Graham is still alive as of the date of this post and I guess it just doesn’t seem right to call it a museum.) There was no librarian shushing rambunctious kids. Instead, there were friendly tour guides to greet us.
I did find some of the religious tackiness I was afraid of. And there was a tendency to put Graham up on a pedestal. But the library does have his name on it after all, so a little lionizing is to be expected.
The tour of the library starts with a talking cow, which was by far the best part for our kids. It was all downhill from there as far as they were concerned. The rest of the tour mostly involved moving from room to room looking at memorabilia and watching video clips of Rev. Graham. None of these proved of huge interest to our five-and-under crowd. They wrestled, giggled and poked each other while the adults tried to reverently listen to Graham preach his heart out.
The thing is, the tour is a one way street–like golf. Drive, chip, putt and keep moving so the group behind you doesn’t overtake you. Once we got started, there was no turning back…not even for the potty it turned out.
The first inevitable potty request happened, and I and my son had to rush from room to room through other groups standing in solemn silence watching Graham thunder from the pulpit. Excuse us…sorry…potty emergency…my son didn’t mean to step on your toe…etc. Once we finished our business, we had to head back to rejoin our family. Excuse us…sorry to interrupt…coming through…don’t touch that!…etc. Wash, rinse, repeat for next child. Excuse us…coming through…
In between potty breaks and policing my kids, I was able to watch some videos of Graham and admire the memorabilia. I noticed that despite the distractions and interruptions, despite the fact that my kids were bouncing off the walls, and despite the fact that they were begging to go back and see the cow again, I could feel the Holy Spirit as I listened.
Fans would call his message clear and simple. Detractors would call it simplistic. What I know is that tears came to my eyes several times as Billy Graham’s voice rang out. Even in the maelstrom of Christian sappiness and potty emergencies, God was there in the preaching of the gospel.
I would definitely go back for another visit, although I think I might wait until my kids can appreciate more about the Billy Graham Library than a talking cow.
Graham explains the gospel on the big screen. Our kids play in the darkened foreground.
A statue of Graham in the library bookstore.
The only kids activity was a worksheet to fill out as they went through the tour. It was a bit tough for our preliterate two-year-old, but he gave it his best shot.