On the 99. The Modesto Manifesto

The year was 1948.  The preacher was Billy Graham.  Already stirring up enthusiasm for his prayer meetings, this evangelist was on the verge of becoming an internationally known religious figure.  Something happened that year in Modesto, California that would set the foundation for his ministry

Site of where the Billy Graham Crusade in Modesto, California was held in 1948.  Photo from The Newvine Personal Collection

Billy Graham had a connection to the Central Valley.  His right-hand man, Cliff Barrows was from Ceres, Stanislaus County.  With the Graham organization staging Crusades in several US cities, it made sense that a similar event take place Central California.  Thanks to the community ties of Cliff Barrows, a decision was made to run a Crusade event in Modesto.

I wrote about that 1948 Modesto Crusade in my book 9 from 99-Experiences in California’s Central Valley

For that book, I spoke with Cliff Barrows by phone from the Graham ministry offices in North Carolina.  He told me Modesto was more than just a tune-up for the upcoming Los Angeles Crusade.  It was a time when Billy Graham and his closest aides met to write what would become the guiding principles for the organization.

“The book Elmer Gantry was popular at the time, so there was a lot of skepticism over traveling preachers,” Cliff Barrows told me in 2010.  “Billy asked the three of us to think about the pitfalls that other evangelists had encountered.”  

Over several days at the Rock Motel on Highway 99 north of McHenry Avenue in Modesto, the four discussed barriers to the success of any ministry.  Their goal was to create a set of guidelines for the ministry to adopt in an effort to help them overcome the barriers.

While the Modesto Crusade was underway nightly, Graham and Barrows, along with associates George Beverly Shea and Grady Wilson met during the day to work out the ministry’s new rules of conduct.  

They produced a document that featured four points, and how the new organization would conduct itself in these four areas.  Billy Graham credits Cliff Barrows with naming the document the Modesto Manifesto.  

The Manifesto’s four pillars are as follows:

  1. Integrity.  Honesty to one another and to the people served.
  2. Accountability.  To each other, to themselves, to the organization, and to its’ finances.
  3. Purity.  In life and in heart.  In relationships with members of the opposite sex.  This led to the promise that no member of the Graham organization would be in a room alone with a person of the opposite sex other than their spouse.
  4. Humility.  A promise to honor each other, to engage the local faith community as the crusades moved throughout the nation and throughout the world.  This tenant also includes the promise that the organization would not seek excess publicity for what they were doing.

After the Modesto Crusade in 1948, the Graham team focused on Los Angeles where in 1949 where they would take the evangelist’s message to a bigger audience.

The Los Angeles Crusade is considered to be the turning point for the Billy Graham ministry as it became a nationwide, soon-to-be worldwide evangelical organization.  

An estimated 26,000 people attended the Modesto Crusade over ten nights in 1948.

The work by Billy and his three close associates helped create the guiding principles of Graham ministry.  You won’t find a historical sign in Modesto marking either the creation of the Manifesto or the location of the 1948 Central Valley Crusade. 

The Rock Motel where the Manifesto was drafted no longer exists.  You can drive to the intersection of Burney Avenue and La Loma Avenue and find the approximate location of the 1948 Modesto Crusade. 

But you can take some comfort in knowing that the Modesto Gospel Mission, started with a portion of the donations raised at the 1948 Crusade, continues to serve hundreds of families and others through a variety of programs that have developed over the years. 

The mission serves 150,000 meals every year, provides 4,600 overnight accommodations annually, and now operates with a yearly budget of over two-million dollars.  An investment of five-thousand dollars made nearly sixty years ago has paid dividends to thousands of people in need.

That’s a pretty respectable legacy from the Billy Graham Crusade of 1948.  And the Modesto Manifesto continues to guide the organization well into the new century.  Billy will turn 98 in November 2016.  

In 2018, the faith communities of Modesto will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Central Valley Billy Graham Crusade, and the seventieth anniversary of the Modesto Manifesto.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He wrote about Modesto and several other Central Valley communities in the book 9 from 99-Experiences in California’s Central Valley