Originally posted August 26, 2010
Was Elvis a Christian? Let me check my device. Yes, I have 38 Gospel songs by Elvis Presley on my gadget. And that’s not them all. He recorded over 80 Gospel tracks during his career. If nothing else, the King of Rock and Roll knew many lyrics that were based on Bible truths. But knowing and singing beautiful hymns does not make one a Christian.
Those who knew Elvis said he not only knew and sang hymns he actually loved Gospel songs. After concerts, late at night, Elvis and his friends would sing classic Christian songs such as ‘In the Sweet By and By’. But loving Gospel songs does not make one a Christian. On the left below is Elvis making an appearance in 1972 at a Gospel Concert.
Elvis is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. (1) But being in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame makes no one a Christian.
Elvis’ career accomplishments are staggering and his name lives on. For five years in succession Elvis was the top earning ‘deceased’ celebrity in the world – grossing well over $40 million a year according to Forbes. (2)
Elvis started singing hymns as a child, attending church with his mother. At the age of 13 he moved to Memphis with his family and started his career in 1954. He would eventually become known as the King of Rock and Roll or simply ‘The King’.
There are many stories about Elvis’ respect for Christ. One such story goes like this: One night at a concert fans unfurled a massive banner while Elvis was singing. The banner read: “Elvis is King!” Elvis stopped in the middle of his song and clearly stated in the microphone: “There is only one king and He is Jesus Christ,” or something to that effect. Some say it is an urban legend others say it truly happened.
I was only a child when my eldest brother brought home Elvis’ Gospel album His Hand in Mine. On the cover, young Elvis was sitting at a piano bench looking back towards the camera. The album disappeared. The tempo and perhaps the controversial budding rock star were just too much for my father. Eventually it was located under the living room carpet.
It was a sad day when Elvis died. He was pronounced dead at 3:30PM, August 16, 1977 at the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Age 42.
I would love to think Elvis is in Heaven. In fact, I would like to think that all who are reading this story will be in Heaven.
Donnie Sumner (above, next to Elvis on back left), in his autobiography “In the Shadow of Kings” devotes a chapter to the question: Was Elvis a Christian? Sumner sang with Elvis for years as a member of The Stamps and later The Voice. Here is a lengthy excerpt from Chapter 27 of Sumner’s book:
Elvis was the most diligent searcher for “eternal life” truths I have ever known in the secular world. He constantly read books like “The Bible,” “The Immortal Life,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” and numerous volumes he held dear that taught Eastern religions. It appeared to me that he had an insatiable longing for informative truths as they relate to life after death.
I recall one night when Elvis motioned for me to follow him and I did. After leaving Linda and all the guys in the living room, we found ourselves in his bedroom. He sat on the bed with his back to the head board and I sprawled out across the foot of the bed, on my side with my head propped up by my bent arm and said, “What ya’ need, boss?”
His response shall always be the memory of a door that I once had opened before me and one that I failed to walk through. I was in no way a professing believer at the time and the question Elvis asked me took me totally by surprise. It is not within my power to return again to that point and redo it properly but I can tell you now, what was said.
“What does ‘being saved’ mean?”
I was astonished that Elvis would ask “me” such a question and I said to him in response, “Far out boss, why you askin’ me such a question? Do I look like a preacher?”
“Seriously,” he said, “I was watchin’ this show on TV and they were talking about when they got “saved” and I knew your dad was a preacher and I figured if anybody here would know, you would.”
Realizing, then, that he was seriously trying to determine what “being saved” really was, I made a brief attempt at trying to explain it, the way that I had been taught as a child, in a less than an ecclesiastical rendering.
I said to Elvis, “Well, the way I understand it, if you believe the story that Jesus really came as they say He did and that He died for sins the way they say He did and the other stuff they say, like, He rose from the dead, went back to Heaven and that He’s coming again some day: If you really truly believe all of that and discount any other way to be right with God as you and I believe Him to be, then you are saved and “being saved” is just a way of saying that you are a “born again believer.” Then, in a jesting after thought, I said, “How’s that ‘my son’.”
Elvis then asked, “Well, what happens then?”
I was really getting into it by then and answered him, “Well if you accept by faith the fact that all of this is true and ask the Spirit of Jesus to take control of your living, He will and He’ll help you do stuff like make the right decisions and be a better kind of person.” I said to him, “I’ve heard my daddy say, lots of times, “If Jesus wasn’t walking with me, I don’t think I could make it.” I then concluded my “redneck” message with the comment, “But the best part is, when you die you go to heaven instead of hell!”
Elvis’ short comment was, “Cool!” He then added, “Sometimes life is hell! Maybe I’m already there!”
A couple more non-essential statements were made and we returned to the living room.
“Was Elvis a ‘Christian’?”
That answer lies between Elvis and God and “those two” alone.
I left Elvis eleven months before His death and I am now certain that the act of becoming a part of the family of God and thereby, at some point, a receiver of an eternal life in His presence only requires a split second choice to do so. Elvis had numerous seconds in which to do so after my leaving if he had not done so prior to my resignation.
“Was Elvis a ‘Christian’?”
He was my true friend and I hope so. I know that I am and I would love to see him again someday!
In this picture, Elvis is singing the well known hymn: “How Great Thou Art” on his very last tour the year he died 1977.
Elvis has been gone since 1977. What about you? If you were to die this year and people asked: “Was he a Christian?” or “Was she saved?” what would the real answer be?
It is not good enough to love singing songs about Christ. You must have a conscious, memorable moment in your life when as a sinner you responded to Christ and accepted Him as your personal Saviour. No other religious experience or behaviour counts when it comes to getting to Heaven.
For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son
that whosoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.