Billy Graham, the Best of America to the World

Billy Graham with U.S. presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton

Billy Graham (1918-2018) was a Baptist evangelist whose worldwide crusades and role as a spiritual adviser to 11 U.S. right-wing and left-wing presidents from both political parties made him one of the best known religious figures of the world and the best representation of the U.S. Christian spirituality.

The best of America to the world is American evangelicalism, which has been a powerhouse inundating the nations with the Gospel for 200 years.

No other U.S. leader represented so finely the original Christian essence of America as Graham did. No one represented so excellently U.S. integrity, virtue, character, goodness and generosity as he did. And, above all, for 80 years he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the same Gospel that made America great in the past, the same Gospel that has been rejected in Hollywood and in the current American mainstream culture.

He was known as “America’s Pastor.”

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He wrote 27 books, which included numerous best-sellers. Among them were his memoir, “Just As I Am,” released in 1997. His 1983 book “Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was on the New York Times best-seller list several weeks. In 1977, “How to Be Born Again” was released with the largest first printing in history, more than 800,000 copies. The book followed “Angel’s God’s Secret,” which sold more than 1 million copies in 90 days.

Graham also launched World Wide Pictures, producer and distributor of more than 130 films.

He was regularly listed in polls as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.”

In 1996, Graham received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award Congress can bestow on a private citizen.

More than anyone else, the magnetic, Hollywood-handsome Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States.

His Christian crusades took him from the frenzy of Manhattan to isolated African villages. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website, he preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.

The BGEA 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.

“My one purpose in life,” he said, “is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.”

“I have found that when I present the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with authority and simplicity, quoting the Word of God, He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart,” he said.

In 1957, he said, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ.”

His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today. His stand on abortion and homosexuality, the most divisive issues in the U.S. culture, was conservative. He said,

“I do not feel the church as an organization should become involved in political matters… However, when political issues also have moral and spiritual dimensions… we have a responsibility to speak for the truth. I believe things like abortion are morally wrong… we have a responsibility to take a stand.”

“The serious student of the Bible cannot dismiss homosexual behavior simply as an alternate lifestyle. Nor can it be argued that homosexuals were ‘born this way’ or that such behavior is an illness.”

Yet, Graham avoided addressing these issues forcefully. In his biography “Billy Graham: His Life and Influence” (Thomas Nelson), David Aikman said,

“He has refrained from speaking out against homosexual behavior, and indeed even on the question of abortion has sometimes sounded distinctly equivocal. When asked on ABC’s Good Morning America show in September 1991 about his views on abortion, he responded, ‘There is a Christian position, I think. But I’m not prepared to say what it is.’ … When Bill Clinton won the presidential election in 1992, Graham was invited to lead prayers at the inauguration the following January, as he had done at almost every inauguration since 1952. Many evangelicals criticized him for doing so, on the grounds that Clinton was a liberal on moral issues and that he and his wife were pro-choice on the divisive abortion issue. Graham responded that he felt an obligation to pray for Clinton, even if he did not agree with everything the president said.”

Yet, his family legacy is impressive. His son Franklin Graham is a powerful conservative voice in America, speaking forcefully against abortion and the homosexual agenda. He has been a treasure for the U.S. conservative movement.

Billy Graham, a registered Democrat, also was noted for developing influential relationships with 11 presidents, from Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Dwight Eisenhower to Republican George W. Bush and to Democrat Barack Obama, who in April 2010 visited Graham at his mountaintop cabin in North Carolina. He consulted and prayed with all of them, but was careful not to endorse any candidate.

Graham described Republican Ronald Reagan as the president to whom he was closest.

George W. Bush recalls that at a time when he was a cynic and a heavy drinker with many questions about faith, Graham had an “enormous influence” on his life.

“Billy Graham helped me understand the redemptive power of a risen Lord,” he said in a Fox News Channel interview.

Graham also developed a friendship with Democrat Bill Clinton.

Clinton recalled attending a Graham crusade in Little Rock, Arkansas, when he was 13 and becoming so moved he sent a portion of his allowance to Graham’s ministry for years afterward.

Graham presided over the graveside services for Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1973 and spoke at the funeral of Republican President Richard Nixon in 1994.

On September 14, 2001 he led a national prayer service at Washington National Cathedral after the 9/11 attacks.

In 1979, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority gathered strength, Graham refused to join.

“I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice,” he explained. “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.”

“I have failed many times and I would do many things differently. For one thing, I would speak less and study more and I would spend more time with my family… Becoming involved in strictly political issues or partisan politics inevitably dilutes the evangelist’s impact and compromises his message. It is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier,” he said.

Graham developed a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr., who credited him with helping reduce tensions between blacks and whites in the South.

“Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the civil rights movement would not have been as successful as it has been,” King said.

Graham’s integrity was credited with salvaging the reputation of broadcast evangelism in the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, who were Assemblies of God ministers.

In 1948, he resolved, to avoid pitfalls of earlier evangelists, never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share of the “love offerings” at his crusades, he drew a modest salary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He said,

 “We determined to do all we could to avoid financial abuses and to downplay the offering and depend as much as possible on money raised by local committees in advance. … From that day on, I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife… We were determined to cooperate with all who would cooperate with us in the public proclamation of the Gospel and to avoid an anti-church or anti-clergy attitude.”

When he began his ministry, he took up the cause of fighting communism, preaching against its atheistic evils, and he called communists “Satan worshippers.” But in May 1982 he went to Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, to discuss world peace and nuclear disarmament at a conference run by the state-controlled church.

Many evangelicals criticized his trip to the Soviet Union. But Graham explained his actions.

“I learned that there are two sides to all these questions,” he said.

“Freedom is relative,” he said. “I don’t have freedom in the United States to go into a public school and preach the Gospel, nor is a student free in a public school to pray, or a teacher free to read the Bible publicly to the students. At the same time, we have a great degree of freedom for which I am grateful.”

“People of the West have various forms of democracy based on a belief in God as well as on a general acceptance of moral law. However, in practice we are beginning to resemble the Marxists, who have little respect for moral law or religion,” he said.

Graham had an opportunity that no pope ever had: He preached the Gospel in the Soviet Union.

“How marvelous it was to stand in a place like the Soviet Union and talk about the coming kingdom and to tell them that Communism will not win. I told them capitalism would not win either; it’s the kingdom of God that is going to win,” he said.

Billy Graham walked with and ministered to the leaders of the world. During his ministry years, he ministered to everyone, from royalty to the lowest of the low. He was a friend of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. The Queen of England loved his visits.

When Jim Bakker, a televangelist of the Assemblies of God, was in prison for fraud, Graham visited him, threw his arms around him and said, “Jim, I love you.”

Bakker remembered the visit:

“The day before, I had heard that he had been voted one of the top three most respected men in the world, and now he was in my prison, comforting me… The week I was released from prison, I was sitting in the Graham home eating chicken dinner. That first Sunday out of prison, I was surrounded by the Graham family.”

Graham was not afraid of touching the “untouchables,” even among evangelicals. Oral Roberts University (ORU), founded by charismatic televangelist Oral Roberts, was officially dedicated by a message of Graham in 1967.

In August of 2009, Roberts, who was one of the pioneers of the prosperity gospel, reflected on his friendship with Billy Graham:

“Billy was the most generous man in the ministry I’ve ever met. He accepted me as a brother. He said he fell in love with my ministry. I counted him the No. 1 evangelist in the world. We became very close friends.”

Upon hearing of Oral Roberts’ passing in December 2009, Graham said, “Oral Roberts was a man of God and a great friend in ministry. I loved him as a brother. We had many quiet conversations over the years.”

One recognized that he needed the other. Graham was also a friend of televangelist Rex Humbard. Their work was equally important. My mother understood the Gospel for the first time in her life by hearing Graham and next she was spiritually encouraged by the preaching of Rex Humbard and Pat Robertson. All of these American preachers were present on Brazilian television, some daily.

When Graham died in 2018, President Donald Trump said,

“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

Hollywood superstar Chuck Norris said, “My family’s hero: Billy Graham.”

Former U.S. president Barack Obama said,

“Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”

Former U.S. president George W. Bush said,

“A great man, a humble servant, and a shepherd to millions has passed on.”

Former Republican President George H.W. Bush said,

“Billy Graham was America’s pastor. His faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world. I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. He would come to Maine to visit with Barbara and me, and he was a great sport. He loved going really fast in my boat. I guess you could say we had that in common. Then we would come home and talk about life. He was a mentor to several of my children, including the former president of the United States. We will miss our good friend forever.”

Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter said,

“Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of The Reverend Billy Graham. Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve.”

Graham ministered to everyone, from presidents to common people, from whites to blacks, from left-wingers to right-wingers.

He was indeed a Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was the best of America to the world.

With information from WND (WorldNetDaily), FoxNews, Associated Press, Charisma News, Billy Graham in Quotes (Franklin Graham, Thomas Nelson), Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (David Aikman, Thomas Nelson), DailyMail and Franklin Graham.

Portuguese version of this article: Billy Graham, o melhor dos Estados Unidos para o mundo

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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