For Billy Graham, who has been preaching the Christian gospel around the world for 30 years, it seems a little strange that only now has he reached a new milestone -- he's held a crusade in each of the 50 states.
With the end of a four-state -- Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota -- crusade during June, Graham, has finally held meetings in all 50 states in addition to 64 foreign countries.
Graham, the pioneer of the modern crusade and considered by many the godfather of the contemporary television evangelists, does not appear to have been hurt by the 'holy war' scandal currently rocking fundamentalist and charismatic TV ministries.
The 'Peaks to Plains' crusade, in Cheyenne, Wyo., Fargo, N.D., Billings, Mont., and Sioux Falls, S.D., drew an average attendance of 19,700, considered good for sparsely populated areas with below average church membership and attendance figures.
'There is a tremendous spiritual hunger in these areas that I did not expect,' Graham said of the larger-than-expected crowds. 'I wish I could have spent more time in these areas.'
'There is confusion, disappointment, cynicism and almost a pathetic search for credibility and a deepening hunger to know the purpose and meaning of life,' Graham added.
Local church officials were also enthusiastic.
'This obviosuly has been the time for these crusades,' said the Rev. Art Grimstad, professor of religion at Concordia (Lutheran) College, Moorhead, Minn., the twin city to Fargo, N.D. 'This four-state outreach has resulted in attendance far exceeding our expectations.'
Graham has refused to be drawn in to bitter battle between the disgraced Jim and Tammy Bakker of the PTL television ministry and the Rev. Jerry Falwell who, at Bakker's request, took over the troubled ministry after disclosures of Bakker's sexual indiscretions forced the charismatic minister to resign.
The battle has raised a number of questions about the fund-raising methods of the fiscally aggressive television ministries as well as concern over the very nature of the ministries.
But the Graham organization, which adheres to strict guidelines on financial accountablity and, while a frequent user of television, does not use the medium to raise money.
Indeed, the Graham ministry offers some sharp contrasts with the television ministries.
For example, while most of the television ministries focus on a national following, Graham's crusades are locally grounded and centered on specific local communities.
And while, like commercial television, the TV ministries battle for viewers and ratings, Graham insists cooperation among the churches before he brings a crusade to town.
In the 'Peaks to Plains' crusade, for example, Graham officials estimated that more than 800 churches ranging across the theological spectrum from Roman Catholic and Episcopal to Assemblies of God and independent Baptists were involved in the year-long planning process preparing for the crusade.
Graham has refused to comment on the PTL scandal, but A. Larry Ross, crusade spokesman, said the four-state evangelistic thrust should send a signal.
'People will continue to support crusade evanelism when it is conducted with integrity in its method and its message,' he said.