Thursday, February 22, 2018



The warm stories about the passing of that legendary evangelist Billy Graham skip over that an important figure in his formative years had been Charles Templeton, a true renaissance man who  dominated the media of his home city of Toronto several decades ago.
Chuck Templeton was successful in just about everything he did, from his first job as a sports cartoonist to his last days as a TV commentator/inventor/writer/personality before Alzhemier's wiped him out in 2001.
In a strange deal that would take pages to outline, I as Editor got Templeton to write a column for me in exchange for the Sun running excerpts from one of his books and giving him valuable publicity.
Templeton, despite a major career in radio, TV and as managing editor of the Toronto Star, had never written a  column, and so he set to his new task by bugging me about what actually a columnists did (I had written thousands of columns at that point) and becoming a charming and fascinating friend.
Finally he decided that I wasn't paying him enough to justify all the extra time he was spending agonizing over the words. He had books he wanted to write with Rev. Robert Schuller (once one of the most famous tele-evangelists preaching from Crystal Cathedral) and there were inventions to patent like the one about a teddy bear that you put in the microwave so it would be nice and toasty beside the baby.
We met to hash it out at Winston's, then one of the best and most noted restaurants in the land, and stayed from noon into the evening. And, of course, as Templeton had once been one of the most famous evangelists in the world before he stunned the same world by becoming an agnostic, and my mother had been a Toronto Bible College grad and missionary, we argued religion.
Finally we got to Billy Graham, who Templeton had hired as the first preacher when he founded Youth for Christ. In my youth, it was one of the most famous Christian organizations in North America.
David Smith, the retired Liberal senator/lawyer with a father and brothers who were ministers, recalls Templeton preaching at the old Varsity Stadium, dressed in gleaming white from collar to shoes, at a Youth for Christ rally that was the top attraction that day in the city. He dominated the stage.
Many books and biographies recall Graham and Templeton preaching their way through Europe in a  tour before the famous crusades that Graham and local churches organized throughout the world from London to Seoul that attracted millions of worshippers. Graham finished each service with a renowned altar call in his distinctive baritone, and hundreds of "sinner"s would come forward to pray and be born again in front of the stage while a massed choir sang a muted and haunting Just As I Am.
During the long lunch at Winston's, Templeton reminisced about the early days. "We got into Paris one Saturday and we were so tired from jet lag that we couldn't sleep. So Billy called my room and said let's go for a walk. We strolled around the Arc de Triomphe in the evening and Billy got energy back and became quite enthusiastic. You know, Chuck, he said, this is really a friendly city. "They say people in Paris aren't, but look at all these pretty young women smiling at us."
Chuck said he stopped him right there, incredulous that his friend could be so naive. "Billy," I said,
''they're prostitutes, hookers, they're looking for business."
Templeton told me that Billy just didn't believe him, so he urged Graham to watch what happened. And  men approached the "friendly" women, and then they left the circle, presumably to the little hotels that cluster near the Arc. Graham finally conceded that just maybe Templeton was right. But his was an approach of love. He always wanted to think the best of people.
I asked Templeton, who had been the best man when Graham got married in 1943 to the love of his life, Ruth, whether he had left any mark on his old friend as they went their separate ways, Graham to become the main preacher of the United States, pastor to presidents, Templeton to become a leading figure in Toronto.
"I told him to stay away from love offerings. You know, it was common at revival meetings, whether in the old tents or downtown churches, for the collections to go to the preacher. I said that would raise too many questions, too many opportunities for critics to say that evangelism was just another way to make a lot of money. So I told Billy to put himself on a modest salary and never make any secret about what he was getting paid and what his expenses were. So he did that his entire life."
When I as a fallen Baptist watch the old telecast of a Billy Graham crusade, or listen to the hymns of the Gaither Gospel Hour, I go back decades to the tent-and-sawdust world when in the sweltering heat outside some town in Southern Ontario the insects would buzz around the bare bulbs and the visiting evangelist would preach fire-and-brimstone warnings that made the book of Revelation seem like a page in the local weekly.
Graham led the way with an upraised Bible from the outskirts of towns to the downtown of cities and the capitals. Some evangelists had done it before in explosions of publicity and then flamed out, but Graham lasted because his message was of salvation, not of solicitation, and his Canadian friend was one reason for that success even as he lost his faith.


Bono said...

Another great read, John. Thankfully I am (just) old enough to remember Templeton .

Kevin Sheldrick said...

Charles Templeton was Billy Graham's fellow evangelist who actually later sadly gave up on Christianity, with reasons outlined in his autobiography "Farewell to Gold" that look to me lightweight and relatively easy to counter in the light of current creationist work, e.g. how all the animals could not possibly have fitted on the Ark, etc.