Saturday, June 16, 2007

Who will fill the great men's shoes?

In the comments about Ruth Bell Graham below, Paul brought up something that's been nagging at me ever since. Who, he asks, will our children look up to as the great men of God?

That's a really good question. In our lifetime (Paul and I are about the same age, and I guess most of my other readers are close, too), there have been a few men we could point to who were genuine men of God. Billy Graham is an obvious one. So is John Paul II. Both of these men were uniters in the true sense; they were loved by their own co-religionists and respected by those outside their own folds. They brought honor to the name of Jesus even among unbelievers. Both of them held true to their vows - one in marriage, one in celibacy - resisting that temptation that so often brings down clergymen of charisma. Both of them remained solid in the teachings they embraced, not watering down nor shifting themselves to be more acceptable to others. Both of them spoke the truth in all things, and both of them were quick to come publicly to the side of sinners. And despite (or perhaps because of) their differences between the two, they became close friends and brothers in the Lord.

I'm not trying to lionize Graham and John Paul here. There are any number of others out there whose work in the Lord's fields has yielded a strong harvest. But I chose those two examples because (a) they were the sort of men a Christian could imitate without hypocrisy, and (b) they're gone. Well, John Paul the Great is, and Billy Graham is likely to follow his wife at any time.

When we came of age in the 70s and 80s, my two examples were already old men, and well-established in the world. but who will there be for our children? When our kids come of age in this decade and the next, whom will they have to look up to? Are there men (and women) out there whom they can take as Christian role models? Ones who don't play to the cameras, who take vows and commitments seriously, who love Jesus more than they love political influence?

I can think of a few people who I think will have an impact in their elder years (assuming they stand firm), but I don't know if they'll ever be highly visible enough to inspire a generation. One who leaps to mind is Fr. Frank Pavone. He's obscure now, but I'll bet he won't be in ten years or so. I'd also like to see Frederica Mathews-Green come to the forefront more. She's the epitome of a faithful Christian feminist, the sort of woman I wouldn't mind my daughters emulating. It may be that Franklin Graham will be a fit successor to his father, but that's a huge shadow to escape.

Readers, can you think of anybody that you think can fill such huge shoes? We're not looking for divisive political figures here; there's a reason Billy Graham is respected outside the faith and Pat Robertson isn't. I'm especially curious to hear from the non-Christians out there. What Christian leader would you single out as the genuine article?

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