<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="http://b.scorecardresearch.com/p?c1=2&amp;c2=15743189&amp;cv=2.0&amp;cj=1&amp;&amp;c5=&amp;c15=">

Billy Graham pointed the way to God, not government

022518 SUNDAY Graham Editorial pic
The late evangelist Billy Graham transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history. (AP Photo, File)

“We don’t worship government,” President Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, “we worship God.”

The assembled conservatives cheered not only the sentiment, but the man Trump was honoring with the line: the great evangelist Billy Graham, who died last week.

“As a young man, Billy decided to devote his life to God,” Trump said. “That choice not only changed his life, it changed our country. Indeed, it even changed the world. Rev. Graham’s belief and the power of God’s word gave hope to millions and millions who listened to him with his very beautiful but very simple message: God loves you.”

Graham perhaps brought more people to Christ in the 20th century than anyone else. By some estimates, he preached to more than 210 million people in person, reaching hundreds of millions more through TV and radio. He counseled people big and small, from Joe Sixpack to every president from Harry S. Truman to Trump.

Graham was a close friend to world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II. He wrote in his autobiography, “Her official position [as supreme governor of the Church of England] has prevented her from openly endorsing our Crusade meetings. But by welcoming us and having me preach on several occasions to the royal family at Windsor and Sandringham, she has gone out of her way to be quietly supportive of our mission.”

In creating or awakening so many Christians, Graham improved millions of lives in a way government will never be able to do.

Faith makes America strong in a way no government ever could. It comforts and consoles in times of tragedy; liberal complaints about "thoughts and prayers" after tragedies should be understood as sneering, not insight.

For the most important things in life, the best safety net is a community based in churches, synagogues, and mosques. People from those communities comfort and help those in need, whether it is a family in mourning or bewildered new parents.

Government can’t replace what faith and faith communities provide. Too many politicians seem to believe the state is the source of all good, that we are not endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights but by our government with whatever rights it wishes to confer.

As a bulwark of local community, as the true source of rights, religion is the most important check on expansive government. As government grows, we become dependent on it, enfeebled, less than we could be.

We hope Graham's work lasts long. About a fifth of Americans have no religious identity and are missing the inestimable benefits it offers in this world and the next. Even among the 80 percent who profess a faith, more than half do not attend religious services often enough or consider religion important enough to be considered “highly religious.”

Graham is worthy of the honor he’ll receive on Wednesday and Thursday when he will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. His legacy should remind us that government need not, should not, and usually cannot solve our society's ills, big or small.