William Franklin "Billy" Graham Jr., KBE (born November 7, 1918) is an American evangelical Christian evangelist, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, who rose to celebrity status in 1949 reaching a core constituency of middle-class, moderately conservative Protestants. He held large indoor and outdoor rallies; sermons were broadcast on radio and television, some still being re-broadcast today.
Graham was a spiritual adviser to several American presidents; he was particularly close to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson (who was considered to be one of Graham's closest friends) and Richard Nixon. He insisted on integration for his revivals and crusades in 1953 and invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach jointly at a revival in New York City in 1957. Graham bailed King out of jail in the 1960s when King was arrested in demonstrations.
Graham operates a variety of media and publishing outlets. According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior". As of 2008, Graham's estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion.
Graham has repeatedly been on Gallup's list of most admired men and women. He has appeared on the list 55 times since 1955 (including 49 consecutive years), more than any other individual in the world.Grant Wacker reports:
By the middle 1960s, he had become the "Great Legitimator". ...His presence conferred sanctity on events, authority on presidents, acceptability on wars, desirability on decency, [and] shame on indecency....By the middle 1970s, many deemed him "America's pastor".
William Franklin Graham, Jr. was born on November 7, 1918. He is the eldest of four children born to Morrow Coffey (1892–1981) and William Franklin Graham, Sr. (1888–1962). Graham grew up on a family dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, with his two younger sisters and younger brother. He was raised in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church by his parents and is of Scottish descent. In 1933, when Prohibition in the United States ended, Graham's father forced him and his sister Katherine to drink beer until they got sick, which created such an aversion that both avoided alcohol and drugs for the rest of their lives.
After Graham was turned down for membership in a local youth group because he was "too worldly", Albert McMakin, who worked on the Graham farm, persuaded him to go and see the evangelist Mordecai Ham. According to his autobiography, Graham was converted in 1934 at age 16 during a series of revival meetings in Charlotte led by Ham.
After graduating from Sharon High School in May 1936, Graham attended Bob Jones College, then located in Cleveland, Tennessee. After one semester, he found it too legalistic in both coursework and rules. At this time, he was influenced and inspired by Pastor Charley Young from Eastport Bible Church. He was almost expelled, but Bob Jones, Sr. warned him not to throw his life away: "At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks.... You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily."
In 1937, Graham transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida). (Today's Florida College is now located at that site in Temple Terrace, Florida.) In his autobiography, Graham wrote of receiving his "calling on the 18th green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club", which is immediately in front of today's Sutton Hall at Florida College. Reverend Billy Graham Memorial Park was established on the Hillsborough River directly east of the 18th green and across from where Graham often paddled a canoe to a small island in the river, where he would preach to the birds, alligators, and cypress stumps. Graham eventually graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois with a degree in anthropology in 1943.
It was during his time at Wheaton that Graham decided to accept the Bible as the infallible word of God. Henrietta Mears of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (Hollywood, California) was instrumental in helping Graham wrestle with the issue. He settled it at Forest Home Christian Camp (now called Forest Home Ministries) southeast of the Big Bear area in Southern California. A memorial there marks the site of Graham's decision.
On August 13, 1943, Graham married Wheaton classmate Ruth Bell (1920–2007), whose parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China. Her father, L. Nelson Bell, was a general surgeon. Ruth Graham died on June 14, 2007, at the age of 87. The Grahams were married 64 years.
Graham and his wife had five children together: Virginia Leftwich (Gigi) Graham (born 1945; an inspirational speaker and author); Anne Graham Lotz (born 1948; runs AnGeL ministries); Ruth Graham (born 1950; founder and president of Ruth Graham & Friends, leads conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada); Franklin Graham (born 1952), who serves as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and as president and CEO of international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse; and Nelson Edman Graham (born 1958; a pastor who runs East Gates Ministries International, which distributes Christian literature in China).
Graham has 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. His grandson Tullian Tchividjian, son of Gigi, is senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Ministry - Career
While attending college, Graham became pastor of the United Gospel Tabernacle and also had other preaching engagements.
Graham served briefly as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois, not far from Wheaton, in 1943-44. While there, his friend Torrey Johnson, pastor of the Midwest Bible Church in Chicago, told Graham that his radio program, Songs in the Night, was about to be canceled due to lack of funding. Consulting with the members of his church in Western Springs, Graham decided to take over Johnson's program with financial support from his congregation. Launching the new radio program on January 2, 1944, still called Songs in the Night, Graham recruited the bass-baritone George Beverly Shea as his director of radio ministry. While the radio ministry continued for many years, Graham decided to move on in early 1945. In 1947, at age 30, he was hired as president of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota - at the time, the youngest person to serve as a sitting president of any U.S. college or university. Graham served as the president from 1948 to 1952.
Initially, Graham intended to become a chaplain in the armed forces but, shortly after applying for a commission, contracted mumps. After a period of recuperation in Florida, he was hired as the first full-time evangelist of the new Youth for Christ (YFC), co-founded by Torrey Johnson and the Canadian evangelist Charles Templeton. Graham traveled throughout both the United States and Europe as an YFCI evangelist. Unlike many evangelists, he had little formal theological training. Templeton applied to Princeton Theological Seminary for an advanced theological degree and urged Graham to do so as well, but he declined as he was already serving as the president of Northwestern Bible College
Graham scheduled a series of revival meetings in Los Angeles in 1949, for which he erected circus tents in a parking lot. He attracted national media coverage, especially in the conservative Hearst chain, although Hearst and Graham never met. The crusade event ran for eight week - five weeks longer than planned. Graham became a national figure with heavy coverage from the wire services and national magazines.
Since his ministry began in 1947, Graham conducted more than 400 crusades in 185 countries and territories on six continents. The first Billy Graham Crusade, held September 13–21, 1947, in the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was attended by 6,000 people. Graham was 29 years old. He called them crusades, after the medieval Christian forces who conquered Jerusalem. He would rent a large venue, such as a stadium, park, or street. As the sessions became larger, he arranged a group of up to 5,000 people to sing in a choir. He would preach the gospel and invite people to come forward (a practice begun by Dwight L. Moody). Such people were called inquirers and were given the chance to speak one-on-one with a counselor, to clarify questions and pray together. The inquirers were often given a copy of the Gospel of John or a Bible study booklet. In Moscow, in 1992, one-quarter of the 155,000 people in Graham's audience went forward at his call. During his crusades, he has frequently used the altar call song, "Just As I Am".
Graham was offered a five-year, $1 million contract from NBC to appear on television opposite Arthur Godfrey, but he turned it down in favor of continuing his touring revivals because of his prearranged commitments. Graham had missions in London, which lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City mission in Madison Square Garden in 1957, which ran nightly for 16 weeks.
Graham spoke at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Urbana Student Missions Conference at least nine times: in 1948, 1957, 1961, 1964, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1984, and 1987.
At each Urbana conference he challenged the thousands of attendees to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ for the rest of their lives, often quoting a 6-word phrase written in the Bible of an heir to the Borden milk fortune, William Borden, who died in Egypt on his way to the mission field, "no reserves, no retreat, no regrets".
Graham also held evangelistic meetings on a number of college campuses: at the University of Minnesota during InterVarsity's "Year of Evangelism" in 1950-51, a 4-day mission at Yale University in 1957, and a week-long series of meetings at the University of North Carolina's Carmichael Auditorium in September 1982.
In 1955 he was invited by students to lead the mission to Cambridge University, arranged by the CICCU, with the London pastor-theologian John Stott as his chief assistant. This invitation was greeted with much disapproval in the correspondence columns of The Times.
In 1950, Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) with its headquarters in Minneapolis. The association relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1999. BGEA ministries have included:
- Hour of Decision, a weekly radio program broadcast around the world for more than 50 years
- Mission television specials broadcast in almost every market in the US and Canada
- A syndicated newspaper column, My Answer, carried by newspapers across the United States and distributed by Tribune Media Services
- Decision magazine, the official publication of the association
- Christianity Today was started in 1956 with Carl F. H. Henry as its first editor
- Passageway.org, the website for a youth discipleship program created by BGEA
- World Wide Pictures, which has produced and distributed more than 130 films
In April 2013, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started "My Hope With Billy Graham", the largest outreach in its history, encouraging church members to spread the gospel in small group meetings after showing a video message by Graham. "The idea is for Christians to follow the example of the disciple Matthew in the New Testament and spread the gospel in their own homes." The video, called "The Cross", is the main program in the My Hope America series and was also broadcast the week of Graham's 95th birthday. In an email interview with WND, Graham wrote that "we are close to the end of the age".
Civil rights movement
During a 1953 rally, Graham tore down the ropes that organizers had erected to separate the audience into racial sections. He recounted in his memoirs that he told two ushers to leave the barriers down "or you can go on and have the revival without me." He warned a white audience, "we have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride."
In 1957, Graham's stance towards integration became more publicly shown when he allowed African American ministers Thomas Kilgore and Gardner Taylor to serve as members of his New York Crusade's executive committee and invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he first met during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to join him in the pulpit at his 16-week revival in New York City, where 2.3 million gathered at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Times Square to hear them. Graham recalled in his autobiography that during this time, he and King developed a close friendship and that he was eventually one of the few people who referred to King as "Mike," a nickname which King asked only his closest friends to call him. Following King's assassination in 1968, Graham mourned that America had lost "a social leader and a prophet".
Despite their friendship, tensions between the Graham and King emerged in 1958 when the sponsoring committee of a crusade which took place in San Antonio, Texas on July 25 arranged for Graham to be introduced by that state's segregationist governor, Price Daniel. On July 23, King sent a letter to Graham and informed him that allowing Daniel to speak at a crusade which occurred the night before the state's Democratic Primary "can well be interpreted as your endorsement of racial segregation and discrimination." Graham's advisor, Grady Wilson, replied to King that "even though we do not see eye to eye with him on every issue, we still love him in Christ." Graham and King would also come to differ on the Vietnam War. After King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech denouncing U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Graham castigated him and others for their criticism of American foreign policy.
By the middle of 1960, King and Graham had reconciled and traveled together to the Tenth Baptist World Congress of the Baptist World Alliance. In 1963, Graham posted bail for King to be released from jail during the civil rights protests in Birmingham. Graham held integrated crusades in Birmingham, Alabama, on Easter 1964 in the aftermath of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and toured Alabama again in the wake of the violence that accompanied the first Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.
Graham's faith prompted his maturing view of race and segregation; he told a member of the KKK that integration was necessary primarily for religious reasons: "there is no scriptural basis for segregation", Graham argued, "The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross."
The friendship between Graham and John Stott led to a further partnership in the Lausanne Movement, of which Graham was founder. It built on Graham's 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin.[clarification needed] In collaboration with Christianity Today, Graham convened what TIME magazine described as "a formidable forum, possibly the widest–ranging meeting of Christians ever held" with 2,700 participants from 150 nations gathering for the International Congress on World Evangelization. This took place in Lausanne, Switzerland (July 16–25, 1974), and the movement which ensued took its name from the host city. Its purpose was to strengthen the global church for world evangelization, and to engage ideological and sociological trends which bore on this. Graham invited Stott to be chief architect of the Lausanne Covenant, which issued from the Congress and which, according to Graham, "helped challenge and unite evangelical Christians in the great task of world evangelization." The movement remains a significant fruit of Graham's legacy, with a presence in nearly every nation.
Graham's visibility and popularity extended into the secular world. He created his own pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair. He appeared as a guest on a 1969 Woody Allen television special, where he joined the comedian in a witty exchange on theological matters. During the Cold War, Graham became the first evangelist of note to speak behind the Iron Curtain, addressing large crowds in countries throughout Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, calling for peace. During the Apartheid era, Graham consistently refused to visit South Africa until its government allowed integrated seating for audiences. During his first crusade there in 1973, he openly denounced apartheid. Graham also corresponded with imprisoned South African leader Nelson Mandela during the latter's 27-year sentence.
In 1984, he led a series of meetings in the United Kingdom summer, called Mission England, using outdoor football (soccer) grounds as venues.
Graham was interested in fostering evangelism around the world. In 1983, 1986 and 2000 he sponsored, organized and paid for massive training conferences for Christian evangelists from around the world; with the largest representations of nations ever held until that time. Over 157 nations were gathered in 2000 at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At one revival in Seoul, South Korea, Graham attracted more than one million people to a single service. He appeared in China in 1988—for Ruth, this was a homecoming, since she had been born in China to missionary parents. He appeared in North Korea in 1992.
On October 15, 1989 Graham received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Graham was the only minister, functioning in that capacity, to receive one.
On September 22, 1991 Graham held his largest event in North America on the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park. City officials estimated more than 250,000 in attendance. In 1998, Graham spoke at TED (conference) to a crowd of scientists and philosophers.
On September 14, 2001, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Graham was invited to lead a service at Washington National Cathedral, which was attended by President George W. Bush and past and present leaders. He also spoke at the memorial service following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. On June 24–26, 2005, Billy Graham began what he has said would be his last North American crusade, three days at the Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in New York City. But on the weekend of March 11–12, 2006, Billy Graham held the "Festival of Hope" with his son, Franklin Graham. The festival was held in New Orleans, which was recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Graham prepared one last sermon, My Hope America, released on DVD and played around America and possibly worldwide between November 7–10, 2013, November 7 being his 95th birthday, hoping to cause a revival. It was aired on several networks including FOX News.
Graham has had Parkinson's disease since 1992. Graham has also had hydrocephalus, pneumonia, broken hips, and prostate cancer.
Graham said that his planned retirement was because of his failing health. In August 2005, Graham appeared at the groundbreaking for his library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Then 86, he used a walker during the ceremony. On July 9, 2006, he spoke at the Metro Maryland Franklin Graham Festival, held in Baltimore, Maryland, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
In April 2010, Graham, at 91 and with substantial vision and hearing loss, made a rare public appearance at the re-dedication of the renovated Billy Graham Library.
There had been controversy over Graham's proposed burial place; he announced in June 2007 that he and his wife would be buried alongside each other at the Billy Graham Library in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Graham's younger son Ned had argued with older son Franklin about whether burial at a library would be appropriate. Ruth Graham had said that she wanted to be buried not in Charlotte but in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, where she had lived for many years; Ned supported his mother's choice. Novelist Patricia Cornwell, a family friend, also opposed burial at the library, calling it a tourist attraction. Franklin wanted his parents to be buried at the library site. At the time of Ruth Graham's death, it was announced that they would be buried at the library site.
Graham has preached Christianity to live audiences of nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories through various meetings, including BMS World Mission and Global Mission. He has also reached hundreds of millions more through television, video, film, and webcasts.
Graham is a registered member of the Democratic Party. In 1960 he was opposed to the candidacy of John F. Kennedy because he was Catholic, and worked "behind the scenes" to encourage influential Protestant ministers to speak out against him. Graham met with a conference of Protestant ministers in Montreux, Switzerland during the 1960 campaign, to discuss their mobilizing congregations to defeat Kennedy. He did not comment publicly on the election. According to the PBS Frontline program, God in America (2010), Episode 5, Graham also organized a meeting in September 1960 of hundreds of Protestant ministers in Washington, D.C. to this purpose; Norman Vincent Peale led the meeting. This was shortly before Kennedy's speech on the separation of church and state in Houston, Texas, which was considered to be successful in meeting concerns of many voters.
Graham leaned toward the Republicans during the presidency of Richard Nixon whom he had met and befriended as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower. He did not completely ally himself with the later religious right, saying that Jesus did not have a political party. He has given his support to various political candidates over the years.
He refused to join Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in 1979, saying: "I'm for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left. I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future."
According to a 2006 Newsweek interview, "For Graham, politics is a secondary to the Gospel.... When Newsweek asked Graham whether ministers—whether they think of themselves as evangelists, pastors or a bit of both—should spend time engaged with politics, he replied: 'You know, I think in a way that has to be up to the individual as he feels led of the Lord. A lot of things that I commented on years ago would not have been of the Lord, I'm sure, but I think you have some—like communism, or segregation, on which I think you have a responsibility to speak out.'"
In 2012, Graham publicly endorsed the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Shortly after, references to Mormonism as a religious cult ("A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.") were removed from Graham's website. Observers have questioned whether the support of Republican and religious right politics on issues such as same-sex marriage coming from Graham—who no longer speaks in public or to reporters—in fact reflects the views of his son, Franklin, head of the BGEA. Franklin has denied this, and says that he will continue to act as his father's spokesperson rather than allowing press conferences.