NEW YORK — Billy Graham, the nation's premier evangelist, is refraining from comment, at least for now, on the furor involving TV preachers Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and others.
A spokesman for Graham, besieged with requests by reporters for comment or interviews, issued a statement late Wednesday:
"This is a difficult time for Christians to make judgment. There may be more to come out of these situations, and Mr. Graham prefers to reserve comment at this time."
Graham, who has carried his crusades around the world, generally has avoided criticizing other people, particularly fellow preachers, throughout his career.
Turns Other Cheek
Even when attacked--and that has been frequent in his nearly 40 years of ministry--Graham has avoided hitting back.
However, he has repeatedly warned evangelists he has trained to firmly maintain their integrity so that they do not reflect badly on the cause of Christ.
He has particularly warned them against two pitfalls--the potential traps of misused money and sex--saying they not only can destroy a ministry, but also can stigmatize the cause.
Both those lures are involved in the furor over Bakker. Last week Bakker quit his TV program and resigned as head of the PTL ministry, saying he had been blackmailed over an admitted sex affair.
Bakker later said that he had resigned to thwart a "diabolical plot" to take over his $172-million PTL empire. Bakker's lawyer said the figure behind the plot is Swaggart, who runs a multimillion-dollar television ministry in Baton Rouge, La.
Among prominent evangelists, Graham and black TV minister Fred Price are the only ones subscribing to independent auditing and public disclosure rules set by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Graham is known to be a friend of at least one player in the present upheaval over TV preachers, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who was named by Bakker to take control of PTL.
But Graham has kept his distance from the ministries of Bakker and Swaggart, especially in regard to Swaggart's frequent anti-Catholic statements. Swaggart has called Catholicism a non-Christian superstition.
Graham's ministry has always been strongly ecumenical, appealing to a broad spectrum of Protestants as well as Roman Catholics and receiving support from both in many parts of the world.