Billy Graham

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Billy Graham (born William Franklin Graham, Jr.; November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018) was a preeminent evangelical preacher of the Southern Baptist church and one of the Greatest Evangelists of all time. Active for over 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 with decisions for Christ. [1] At his death, President Trump tweeted: "“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.” Billy described his own purpose in life as: "My one purpose in life," he said, "is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ."


Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham came to salvation at age 15 during an evangelistic crusade by Mordecai Ham. (Ham's use of the song Just As I Am as the invitation hymn would later lead Graham to do likewise.)

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 (Graham grew up attending a Presbyterian congregation). He transferred in 1940 to Wheaton College in Illinois, graduating in 1943 with a major in anthropology.[2] 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.


Graham's message caught fire in the 1950s, after he was heavily promoted nationwide by William Randolph Heart's newspapers in connection with a Crusade 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. Between this and his willingness to work with churches from other denominations, fundamentalists largely withdrew their support, and to this day Graham is nearly universally reviled within the fundamentalist movement.

His audiences

The Crusade in Charlotte, NC, Sept 21-Oct 26 1958, drew a combined audience of 490,387 people of whom 19,560 stepped forward to proclaim their conversion

He attracted massive turnouts in the United States, Britain, and Australia.[3] 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 lifestyle.[4]

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)[5] The Jesus Generation (1971), Angels: God's Secret Agents (1975), and How to Be Born Again (1977).

Youth appeal

Revival in Detroit in 1946

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.[6]

Fox News reported "The BGEA [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] put his lifetime audience at nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, with "hundreds of millions more" viewing him on television, video, film and webcasts."


Graham counseled every United States President from Dwight D. Eisenhower through Donald Trump.[7] He also had a widely distributed syndicated column, which is still in publication with reruns of prior columns.

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.[8]

Graham voted for Donald Trump in 2016.[9]


While many conservative Christians look highly upon Graham because of his evangelism efforts, some Christian evangelicals have also criticized him for promoting a watered-down Christianity. For example, some point out several statements Graham made that deny key Christian doctrines such as faith in Christ alone for salvation. Also, Graham was considered (especially by fundamentalists) a member of the ecumenical movement and treated Roman Catholics as spiritual equals (even entrusting them with new believers). On top of that, he reportedly made numerous unbiblical, watered-down statements such as supporting abortion in the case of rape. Also, he was a 33° Mason, which "take[s] sworn oaths to a pagan demonic god."[10]

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.

Later life

His son Franklin took over his father's role and is now in charge of the day-to-day runnings of the Billy Graham ministry.[11][12] Franklin continues Billy's mission of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom to the farthest ends of the earth. [13]

On June 14, 2007, Graham's wife of over 60 years, Ruth Graham (formerly Ruth Bell), passed away. They had five children together and 19 grandchildren.

"There would have been no Billy Graham as we know him today had it not been for Ruth" -- T.W. Wilson (longtime friend)

Graham died on February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.[1] Upon his death, numerous figures,[14] including Ken Ham,[15] Tony Perkins,[16] and U.S. President Donald Trump,[17] spoke highly of Graham.

Of the living presidents, only President Trump attended the funeral.

  • Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush visited the library prior to the funeral.
  • President George H.W. Bush had been unable to travel for some time due to his advanced age and poor health, while President Carter could not attend as his wife Rosalynn had recently undergone surgery.
  • President Obama did not visit or otherwise pay any respects.

Further reading

  • 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)

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Multiple references:
  3. Judith Smart, "The Evangelist as Star: The Billy Graham Crusade in Australia, 1959." Journal of Popular Culture 1999 33(1): 165-175.
  4. 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.
  5. Online edition
  6. 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
  8. 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
  9. Multiple references:
  10. Johnson, Christopher J. E. (July 17, 2013). Wolves in Costume: Billy Graham. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  14. Klukowski, Ken (March 4, 2018). Exclusive: Christian Leaders Praise Billy Graham and Explain the Gospel He Preached. Breitbart News. Retrieved March 4, 2018.
  15. Ham, Ken (February 21, 2018). Evangelist Billy Graham Passes Away at 99. Answers in Genesis. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  16. Berry, Susan (February 21, 2018). FRC’s Tony Perkins on Billy Graham: ‘Example of Servant-Leadership Will Continue to Inspire Christians’. Breitbart News. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  17. Spiering, Charlie (February 21, 2018). Donald Trump Remembers Billy Graham as an ‘American Hero’. Breitbart News. Retrieved February 21, 2018.