Billy Graham (born William Franklin Graham, November 7, 1918) is a preeminent evangelical preacher of the Southern Baptist church. Active for more than 60 years, Billy Graham was originally known for tent revivals and soon became known for city "crusades" in large auditoriums. One of the most well known Christian preachers of his time, Mr. Graham has inspired over 215 million people in 185 countries around the world.
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham began his studies for the ministry at Bob Jones University. But he was unhappy with its confining creed and moved on to become one of 75 students at Florida Bible Institute in Dunedin (now Trinity Bible College), where he stayed two and a half years. There he came into contact with well-known evangelists including Gypsy Smith, William Evans and others. Success in the pulpit led Graham to baptism by immersion and ordination as an evangelist in the Baptist Church. He transferred in 1940, to Wheaton College in Illinois, graduating in 1943 with a major in anthropology. Despite fully accepting the Bible as the infallible word of God, Graham did not repudiate the theory of evolution that he was apparently taught at Wheaton.
In 1944 Graham went on the road for the Youth for Christ movement and loved the traveling life so much that in the years ahead he spent little time at home, in Montreat, North Carolina, with his family. Moving to Minneapolis, he was chosen as the successor to William Bell Riley and served as president of Northwestern Schools (now Northwestern College), 1948-52 while continuing his revivals.
His message caught fire in the 1950s, after he was heavily promoted nationwide by William Randolph Heart's newspapers in connection with a series of events that Graham held in Los Angeles. The mass circulation national magazines (much more important in those days than today), including Life, Time, Look, and Newsweek put Graham on their covers a dozen times. Advertising experts gave Graham awards two years in a row for being the most publicized person in America. In the era of Jim Crow, Graham reached across racial lines and sought integrated audiences.
He attracted massive turnouts in the United States, Britain, and Australia. Audiences responded to his authenticity and the message of self-help. Most of the people at his revivals have already been saved and are church members. For those who are not members, his staff arranged ahead of time for local ministers to steer people into membership in local churches. Graham did not attempt to build his own megachurch, and until late 2008 was a member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Surveys of attendees show they are more educated and of higher income and occupational prestige than area residents. They attend church more frequently and are more conservative on religious beliefs than comparable samples. The thesis of the middle-class respectability of the Graham movement is substantiated by these data. The persistance of revivalism is interpreted as a functional reaffirmation of a threatened life style.
A master of television, he turned this medium into the cornerstone of his $40 million international conglomerate, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headquartered first in Minneapolis and now in Charlotte, North Carolina. It coordinated his weekly radio broadcasts, a weekly newspaper column, a movie studio, a publishing house, a monthly magazine, and a mail-order distribution of religious objects. He wrote 30 inspirational books, most of which became best-sellers, such as Peace with God (1953) The Jesus Generation (1971), Angels: God's Secret Agents (1975), and How to Be Born Again (1977).
Graham studied his audiences closely and realized in the late 1960s that he was no longer reaching enough young people as he had in the 1940s. In 1971, Graham came to the realization that a new nationwide spiritual awakening was on the way. He believed that such a revival was necessary, and he saw the emerging Jesus Movement as the harbinger of that revival. Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association placed an evangelical spin on youth culture. Their efforts to give legitimacy to the Jesus Movement demonstrated evangelicalism's uncanny ability to harness popular movements for the furtherance of its own mission. Graham's interest in and support of an evangelical youth culture grew, perhaps, out of his own personal struggles with his son, Franklin. For those who believed that the Jesus people were proof that one could be a hippie and a Christian, Graham gave their position prestigious support.
He was a close advisor to numerous presidents, and helped the Republican party attain respectability and dominance in the South, his major base of support.
Graham was a tireless foe of left-wingers and Communists. His support of the Vietnam War (1965–73) was unstinting, though later he said, "I was like a babe in the woods, [on that issue]. I didn't know what was really going on."
During his career Graham significantly modified his views on race relations, Communism, America's role in God's plan for the world, and nuclear war. His Southern fundamentalist background helped him to take conservative positions on public issues. His ever-increasing ecumenical and global contacts, however, enabled him to break out of these constrictions and even build bridges to Roman Catholic and Jewish communities. Graham first broke with his Southern background over the issue of race and integration; he cooperated with presidents Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson in working for improvements in civil rights. He gradually moved away from his hard anti-Communist position as his travels to the Soviet Union have forced him to reevaluate his views on Communism. He began to warn against the nuclear arms race By 1980 he thought of his view of a Christian America as a civil religion.
Now 90 years old, he has only recently retired for good after previously continuing to pop up from time to time to headline more events. He is now writing a book on growing older at 90 and that even if the body is no longer strong, that the spiritual journey to God still can be.
In 2002, tapes emerged showing Graham engaging in anti-Semitic discussions with President Nixon, a rare stain on Graham's legacy. In response, Graham gave a sincere apology and sought forgiveness.
On June 14, 2007, Graham was parted from his wife of over 60 years, Ruth Graham (formerly Ruth Bell). They had 5 children together and currently have 19 grandchildren. Billy Graham looks forward to seeing her again soon when his work is done and God calls him home.
"There would have been no Billy Graham as we know him today had it not been for Ruth" -- T.W. Wilson (longtime friend)
- Bruns, Roger. Billy Graham: A Biography (2004) excerpt and text search
- Graham, Billy. Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (1997, 2007) excerpt and text search
- Long, Michael P. The Legacy of Billy Graham: Critical Reflections on America's Greatest Evangelist (2008) excerpt and text search
- Martin, William. A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story. (1991). 735 pp.
- Miller, Steven P. Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009)
- Judith Smart, "The Evangelist as Star: The Billy Graham Crusade in Australia, 1959." Journal of Popular Culture 1999 33(1): 165-175.
- Donald A. Clelland et al. "In the Company of the Converted: Characteristics of a Billy Graham Crusade Audience." Sociological Analysis 1974 35(1): 45-56; Frederick L. Whitam, "Revivalism as Institutionalized Behavior: An Analysis of the Social Base of a Billy Graham Crusade." Southwestern Social Science Quarterly 1968 49(1): 115-127.
- Online edition
- Larry Eskridge, "'One Way': Billy Graham, the Jesus Generation, and the Idea of an Evangelical Youth Culture." Church History 1998 67(1): 83-106. 0009-6407
- Richard V. Pierard, "From Evangelical Exclusivism to Ecumenical Openness: Billy Graham and Sociopolitical Issues." Journal of Ecumenical Studies 1983 20(3): 425-446. 0022-0558