In my world–among my people–he was as ubiquitous as Elvis and as universally beloved. In the world at large he was, after Martin Luther King, the most famous American Christian leader of the twentieth century.
I’ll leave the debate over his significance and the good vs. the bad to others. Of course he was not perfect. He walked with kings a little too often for the common touch not to wear off now and again. He should never have abetted Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism even in private (some ways, doing it in private was worse, especially when he clearly did it to curry favor rather than from shared conviction). Even in old age, he should have been more resolute in the face of Islamic terror after 9/11. He was a bit soft on our own fundamentalists, too–soft enough to let them not only tie themselves up in party politics but become confused in the public mind not just with Evangelicals (of whom they are a small minority) but with Protestants (of whom they are but a fraction) and finally, all Christians (of whom they are a fraction of a percent). Some (not all) of this is on his head and one could go on.
But against all that, and without even mentioning his legion of good works, I’ll say this: There are very few televangelists of any era I can count on to be with “my people” on the last day.
Him I can count on.
So, just this once….