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The List: Top 10 facts about Rev. Billy Graham
The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelical preacher whose sermons have been broadcast to a lifetime audience estimated at 2.2 billion, celebrates his 95th birthday Thursday. He recently released his 32nd book, “The Reason for My Hope: Salvation,” and this month he is expected to give his last sermon via video. Mr. Graham was a spiritual mentor to President Eisenhower and President Nixon. The List takes a second look at the famous evangelist.
- 10. Beginnings — Mr. Graham is the son of a dairy farmer who was converted at a tent revival at age 16. After graduating from the Florida Bible Institute, Mr. Graham, earned a bachelor’s degree at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met the woman who was to become his wife. In 1949, the Baptist preacher opened his crusade career in Los Angeles and made Christian revivalism respectable again. In 1954, he launched his first overseas crusade in London.
- 9. Embraced civil rights — After preaching at segregated meetings early in his ministry, Mr. Graham removed the ropes separating the black and white sections of the audience. He invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he met at a crusade in New York City in 1957, to speak at a rally and later posted bail for King. Mr. Graham was in Australia when King was killed. “I felt his death would be one of the greatest tragedies in our history,” Mr. Graham said.
- 8. Media savvy — Mr. Graham’s crusades were detailed with heartwarming testimonies and hymns, often sung by George Beverly Shea. His brand of Christianity emphasized individual salvation. At the climax of all his crusades was the altar call. In 1969, he appeared on a TV special where he bantered with Woody Allen about theology. “I hope I can convert you to agnosticism by the end of the show,” Mr. Allen said.
- 7. Wide reach — By the time he retired in 2005, Mr. Graham reportedly had preached in person to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries. He preached to a crowd of 1,120,000 in Seoul in 1973. His biggest crowd in the U.S. was 250,000 during a one-day 1991 rally in New York City’s Central Park. His 1990 Hong Kong crusade was telecast to 103 million people in 33 countries.
- 6. Detractors — President Truman didn’t like Mr. Graham and called him a “counterfeit.” Columnist George Will once called him “America’s most embarrassing export.” Atheist essayist Christopher Hitchens called him an “avid bigot as well as a cheap liar” after Mr. Graham made remarks about Jews and the media in Mr. Nixon’s office that were secretly recorded in 1972 and revealed in 2002. Mr. Graham apologized in print and in person to Jewish leaders.
- 5. Endorsed Mitt Romney? — Mr. Graham has avoided political endorsements but was featured in full-page ads last year urging Americans “to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.” His son Franklin Graham endorsed the Republican presidential candidate, but some critics had doubts. “He may not see or hear as well, but his mind remains sharp as a razor,” Franklin Graham told the Charlotte Observer. “He’s been active in politics since the 1940s. People need to remember that.”
- 4. Influential Southerner — A committee of 20 historians, journalists and public intellectuals in 2001 ranked Mr. Graham as the fourth most influential Southerner of the 20th century. Mr. Graham was outpolled by King, William Faulkner and Elvis Presley. Christian historian Grant Wacker said, “Between 1955 and 2006, he won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s roster of ‘Ten Most Admired Men’ 50 times, trumping his closest rivals, President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, who appeared ‘merely’ 31 and 27 times.”
- 3. Woman behind the great man — Mr. Graham had five children with his wife, Ruth, to whom he was wed for almost 64 years. They were married in Montreat, N.C., about 100 miles northwest of Charlotte, on Aug. 13, 1943. She died at age 87 in 2007. Ruth McCue Bell was born June 10, 1920, in Huai’an, China, to Presbyterian medical missionaries and spent her first 17 years in China. She could match her husband verse for verse in biblical quotations and counseled him to steer clear of politics.
- 2. Preacher to presidents — Mr. Graham counseled every president since Truman up to George W. Bush. He was especially close to Eisenhower, became part of Nixon’s inner circle of advisers and was close to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Truman was the one president who never succumbed to his charm, and he never clicked with Jimmy Carter. Mr. Graham prayed at the inaugurations of Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who as a 13-year-old attended one of Mr. Graham’s integrated 1959 crusades in segregated Little Rock, Ark. Pastor Rick Warren wore Mr. Graham’s black Homburg hat when he prayed at President Obama’s inauguration.
- 1. Last crusade — Mr. Graham’s last U.S. crusade was on July 26, 2005, in New York City’s Flushing Meadows before a crowd of 90,000. During a three-day period, as many as 242,000 people came to see the evangelist, including 12,000 who attended a children’s crusade. His final 25-minute crusade sermon focused on the second coming of Christ. “The Bible says today is the accepted time, today is the day of salvation. …” Mr. Graham said. “But there will come a time when it will be too late for you.”
Sources: Charlotte Observer, News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.), Church History, billygraham.org, The Washington Times
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