- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

The Rev. William Franklin Graham avoids few extremes in his quest to remind people about their relationship with God.
The evangelist is motivated by 40 million AIDS victims, "their cells being destroyed one at a time" and each sufferer "a soul precious to God." He wishes he had reached nihilistic grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, who "blew his head off" at age 27 in Seattle in 1994 because wealth, sex and drugs gave him no peace.
"I just think, 'What if Kurt knew about a God in heaven who really does love him?'" the son and heir to the Billy Graham legacy said in an interview here. "There are millions of kids today like Kurt a great, talented kid who don't see any reason for living."
Such contrasts of life and death, being saved or lost, are the evangelist's stock in trade. And in the 21st century, Franklin Graham says it will be no different for him, a year after succeeding his father as head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
"The gospel of God's forgiveness is a wonderful, beautiful story for every generation," said Mr. Graham, 49, after wrapping up a three-day Washington conference on churches and the international AIDS crisis. "And it's by grace through faith. You don't have to pay for it."
Since 1979, Mr. Graham has been president of the relief agency Samaritan's Purse, with a $150 million budget, and now is the top officer of BGEA, with $105 million in annual revenue.
In November, the Baptist minister announced that the evangelistic organization will move from its Minneapolis home of 50 years to a 60-acre headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., near his home in Boone.
"Some of the staff will begin moving from Minneapolis as early as this summer," said Mr. Graham's spokesman, Mark DeMoss, who forecast a completion date of the headquarters in early 2004. "They were really landlocked in Minneapolis, and that was a big reason for the move."
The city preservation laws curtailed expansion of the Graham ministry's historic BGEA building, a four-story brick structure.
Franklin Graham officially began following his father's footsteps in 1989, when he preached at a stadium in Juneau, Alaska. Since then, he takes to mass-audience pulpits about five times a year for what he prefers to call "festivals," not crusades.
His father, 84 and suffering from Parkinson's disease, will preach next in Cincinnati in mid-June, where Franklin will stand by as backup evangelist. The father also will use "festival" for the first time mainly because "crusade" grates on post-September 11 Muslim sensitivities in the United States.
The son dropped the term in 1989. "I don't like 'crusade,' and never have," Franklin said, his voice similar to his father's, his look most like him when smiling or expressive. "If you crusade for something, it sounds like you're fighting. Festival is what nonchurch people understand. There's beer festivals, music festivals. They have flower festivals, movie festivals."
As Franklin made plain in his 1995 autobiography, "Rebel With a Cause," it was not easy being a famous preacher's son. To find himself, he detoured into cigarettes, alcohol, skepticism, motorcycles and unchaperoned dates before adult seriousness sank in. His own conversion to Christ came at age 22.
His first Christian employment was in relief work, flying food in by airplane and seeing the extremes of human suffering as a staffer with Samaratin's Purse, founded by evangelical leader Bob Pierce. Such practical experience makes Franklin, associates say, a more hands-on manager than his father.
His lunge into the AIDS issue shows a different kind of boldness as well. "There's a lot of people not happy in me being involved in a conference about HIV/AIDS," he said, referring to much of conservative Protestantism.
The plague of a mostly sexually transmitted disease "is difficult to talk about in church, and even the home and workplace," he said. "I don't like discussing it in mixed company in my office, but we have to talk about it. We have to put in on the agenda as a nation and as churches."
But labeling him "social activist" is incorrect, he said.
"I'm not more social-service centered," the self-described "minister of the Gospel" said. "But I look out at a world that is dying and a world that is sick, and I'm not going to ignore it. I'm going to do as our Lord did, healing people, feeding and clothing them, so that I can tell them about God's son, Jesus Christ."
Though many things make the son different from the father, Franklin said the audience and the message don't change. His beginning point is not necessarily that "the grave awaits us all" but that sin is ever-present.
"Every message has the same ingredient when you are preaching evangelistically." he said. "The fact is we are sinners before God, and it doesn't matter if you're 12 years old, 50 years old or 80 years old."
The target is the individual who may sense this reality, he said, having preached now at festivals in more than 90 locations here and abroad. "That person is sitting in the audience, empty in a way that can't be filled by drugs, sex, fame or fortune," he said. "That person wants happiness and peace in his heart, and wants to stand before a holy God."


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