George Burnham: The Billy Graham Team's Sense Of Humor

  • Monday, October 24, 2022
George Burnham
George Burnham

George Burnham was the religion editor for the Chattanooga News Free Press during the 1950s.  He was assigned to cover the 1953 Billy Graham Chattanooga Crusade at the Warner Park Field House and became good friends with Rev. Graham.  The evangelist took Mr. Burnham with him on several overseas trips.  His stories were not only printed on the front page of the News Free Press, but also distributed by the wire services (AP and UPI) in the United States.  His daughter, Lynn, has shared with us several of his original stories. Mr. Burnham died unexpectedly in 1962.  “Sense of Humor” was written sometime in the mid 50’s.  

“Sense of Humor” – George Burnham

A sparkling sense of humor seems to be one of the balance wheels that keeps members of the hard-working Billy Graham evangelistic team on an even keel.

They are serious when the occasion calls for seriousness, but when a light word is needed to break the tension; somebody usually comes up with it.

Once, after Billy had delivered a lengthy sermon on the inspiring courage it took for Daniel to enter the lion’s den, his aide, Dr. Paul Maddox, chief of chaplains for the European Theater during World War II, said:

“I want to tell you something, Billy, those lions weren’t scared either!” 

A woman in the audience became hysterical with mirth once when the Rev. Grady Wilson, associate evangelist, told about the old southern preacher who began reading his text one Sunday morning, without realizing that some playful boys had glued several pages of his Bible together. 

The preacher read:
“When old Noah was 120 years old, he took unto himself a wife.” Then, turning what he thought was one page, he continued:
“She was 140 cubits long and 40 cubits wide, built out of gopher wood and covered with pitch inside and out.”

The preacher stopped at this point and said, “Now brethren, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that in the word of God, but if the Bible says it, I believe it.”  Scratching his head, he said, “That just goes to prove another Scripture passage that says, “We are most fearfully and wonderfully made.”

On another occasion Grady Wilson told a group about the chicken thief who was converted and joined a church.  He said:

“This fellow had made a trade out of stealing chickens; He didn’t know how to do anything else.  After his conversion he searched the Bible for scriptural authority so he could continue stealing chickens.  In the New Testament he found a verse that said: “Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labor with his hands that which is pleasing under the Lord.”  With a little ingenuity and changes of punctuations, the chicken thief found his authority.  He quoted the verse thusly: “Let him that stole steal, no more let him labor with his hands.“

Lee Fisher, another aide who helps Billy on research, was sitting nearby and felt compelled to go to her aid when none of the Scots made a move.  She was a big woman, with many extra pounds of distinction, and Lee had a hard time lifting her from the chair.  He glanced frantically around, pleading with his eyes for help.  The Scots sat unmoved, concentrating on the speaker.  He finally got the portly woman up in his arms to take her out, and almost dropped her before another member of the Graham team came to his rescue.

As soon as the meeting was over Billy found Lee, who seems to have a knack of getting into embarrassing situations and said:

“Well, Lee you’ve done it again. I was doing fine up there; Had all my thoughts under control when I looked up and saw you staggering around with Lady Whatchamaycallit in your arms.  I lost track of everything I was going to say.”

Billy, usually one of the most flawless of speakers, has his off moments.
During one sermon, while trying to say, “Hail fellow, well met, he said, “Fail mellow, hell met.” In an attempt to straighten it out he made it worse—“Hail mellow, well fat.”

On another occasion, he tried to say, “Six of one and a half dozen of the other,” but he said, “Six and a half-dozen of one or another.”

A lady in Texas once protested to Grady Wilson about his use of the words “old maid’ in a sermon.
He begged her pardon and promised in the future he would refer to them as “unplucked jewels.”
The lady then opened her Bible and showed Grady her Biblical reference for never marrying.  She had circled in red pencil part of one verse, which read;
“I would not have you ignorant, brethren.” She ignored the comma?

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