Billy Graham: Preacher to millions, adviser to US presidents

Evangelist Billy Graham
Updated 21 February 2018
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Billy Graham: Preacher to millions, adviser to US presidents

WASHINGTON: Rev. Billy Graham, the influential Southern preacher who became a spiritual adviser to several US presidents and millions of Americans via their television sets, died Wednesday. He was 99.
The one-time backwoods minister who eventually became the world’s foremost Christian evangelist, spread a message of spiritual redemption at tent and stadium revival meetings, in a career that spanned decades.
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead,” President Donald Trump tweeted in tribute. “There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
The Southern Baptist preacher was close to the family of President George W. Bush, who once said that a private meeting with Graham in 1985 helped him quit drinking.
More recently he was portrayed in the Netflix drama series “The Crown” as giving counsel to the young Queen Elizabeth II as she confronted the burdens of rule.
“Billy Graham is the closest thing to a national pope that we shall ever see,” journalist Garry Wills once wrote in The Washington Post.
His death was confirmed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the religious organization headed by his son.
Graham was a pioneer of “televangelism” to convert souls to Christianity as television got off the ground in the 1950s.
Born on Nov. 7, 1918, he was raised as one of four children on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Graham had a spiritual awakening in 1934 that changed the course of his life. He subsequently attended the Florida Bible Institute, now Trinity College of Florida, and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1939.
In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Minneapolis, Minnesota and launched a weekly “Hour of Decision” radio program.
His ministry led him to preach the gospel around the country — and the world.
Over the course of his career, he was consulted by presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. For a time he was Richard Nixon’s chaplain and golf partner. President George H.W. Bush invited him to pray at the White House in 1991 for guidance through the first long day of the Gulf War.
But of all the US leaders — almost all of whom have described themselves as practicing Christians — Graham found only Jimmy Carter to match him in dedication to his faith.
“Carter alone among the presidents... taught the Bible throughout his life, wrote books of religious meditations, and needed no help with Scripture or its challenges,” wrote authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in a Graham biography, “The Preacher and the Presidents” published in August 2007.
Graham also has been credited with helping hasten the end of segregation in his native south by refusing to preach to segregated audiences after 1953.
Graham and his wife Ruth Bell Graham — the daughter of a missionary surgeon who grew up in China — had five children.
These include Anne Graham Lotz, a Christian author and speaker, and two sons, who like their famous father became ministers.
One son, William Franklin Graham III is now the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, now headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
His wife Ruth, although married for nearly 64 years to the world’s most famous Baptist preacher, remained a lifelong Presbyterian. She died in June 2007 at the age of 87.
Seen as a comforting presence during times of crisis, Graham led a national prayer service for the September 11, 2001 attacks. He also presided at graveside services for president Lyndon Johnson in 1973 and spoke at Nixon’s funeral in 1994.
His participation in a record number of presidential inaugurations underscored his legendary political connections. He was the author of 31 books, most of which have been translated into several languages.
His most recent include “The Heaven Answer Book” (2012) and “Nearing Home” (2011).
While he never snagged the top spot, Graham was on Gallup’s list of most admired men more than any other — 55 times since 1955, the polling institute said in December 2011.
Among his many honors, he was presented with an honorary knighthood in 2001 and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.
“My greatest comfort comes from knowing that I belong to Christ, and that no matter what happens, he will never leave me or forsake me. He will be with me as long as I’m on this Earth, and some day I will go to be with him in heaven forever. I look forward to that day,” he once told the Minneapolis Tribune.
Graham had his detractors: noted Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr challenged his preaching as far too simple and not reflecting the complexity of human existence.
And one-time associate Charles Templeton, a former evangelist turned atheist, wrote: “I disagree with him profoundly on his view of Christianity and think that much of what he says in the pulpit is puerile nonsense.”
But he added: “There is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust.”
No other religious figure in America has had Graham’s impact. Through a newspaper column, he answered thousands of questions about spirituality.
Unlike other high-profile evangelists, Graham managed to escape sex and money scandals by keeping a meticulous watch over his staff and finances.
“My greatest fear is that I’ll do something that will bring disrepute on the Gospel of Christ before I go,” Graham said in a 1991 interview.
He suffered from a host of ailments late in life, including Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. In 1995, weakened by illness and old age, he turned over operation of his ministry to his eldest son.


US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

Rescuers carry a man who was injured in an attack on a restaurant by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 46 min 57 sec ago
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US military, aid group at odds over Somalia civilian deaths

  • The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians

WASHINGTON: There is credible evidence that US military airstrikes in Somalia have killed or wounded nearly two dozen civilians, an international human rights group said Tuesday, charging that the Pentagon is not adequately investigating potential casualties.
US Africa Command officials immediately disputed the allegations laid out in a report by Amnesty International, and insisted that the military has investigated 18 cases of possible civilian casualties since 2017 and found that none were credible.
The seemingly contradictory information underscores the complexities of military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab group in Somalia, involving airstrikes by several allied nations in hostile, remote locations that are difficult to access safely.
The report came the same day that a Somali intelligence official and two local residents said a US drone strike on Monday killed civilians.
The Somali official said the drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants and apparently hit another vehicle that may have been carrying civilians. The official was not authorized to talk with the media and did so on condition of anonymity.
Residents concurred with the official’s assessment.
Mohamed Siyad, an elder in Lanta Buro, a village near the farming town of Afgoye, Somalia, told The Associated Press that four civilians including employees of a telecom company were killed.
“They were known to us — they had nothing to do with Al-Shabab,” he said by phone.
Another resident, Abdiaziz Hajji, said that the drone destroyed the vehicle. “Bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” he said. “They were innocent civilians killed by Americans for no reason. They always get away with such horrible mistakes.”
In a rare move, US Africa Command on Tuesday mentioned those possible casualties in a press release about the strike and said officials will look into the incident. But, more broadly, US defense officials said casualty allegations in Somalia are questionable because Al-Shabab militants make false claims or force local citizens to do the same.
Amnesty International, however, said it analyzed satellite imagery and other data, and interviewed 65 witnesses and survivors of five specific airstrikes detailed in the report. The report concludes that there is “credible evidence” that the US was responsible for four of the airstrikes, and that it’s plausible the US conducted the fifth strike. It said 14 civilians were killed and eight injured in the strikes.
“Amnesty International’s research points to a failure by the US and Somali governments to adequately investigate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia,” the report said, adding that the US doesn’t have a good process for survivors or victims’ families to self-report losses.
US Africa Command said it looked at the five strikes and concluded there were no civilian casualties. In the fifth case the command said there were no US strikes in that area on that day.
The group’s report and Defense Department officials also agreed that the strikes usually take place in hostile areas controlled by Al-Shabab militants. And those conditions, the report said, “prevented Amnesty International organization from conducting on-site investigations and severely limited the organization’s ability to freely gather testimonial and physical evidence.”
US defense officials told reporters that American troops were on the ground at strike locations in a very limited number of cases. Even in those instances, they said, US troops ordered strikes to protect local Somali forces they were accompanying, and there was little opportunity to investigate possible civilian casualties at that moment.
Still, the rights group concluded that the US military’s insistence that there have been zero civilian deaths is wrong.
“The civilian death toll we’ve uncovered in just a handful of strikes suggests the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US role in Somalia’s war is actually a smoke screen for impunity,” said Brian Castner, a senior adviser at Amnesty International.
US officials countered that they have access to information not readily available to nonmilitary organizations, including observations from people on the ground at the site and post-strike intelligence gathering from various electronic systems. Those systems can include overhead surveillance and data collected through cyber operations and other intercepted communications and electronic signals.
The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
They said the US rigorously assesses targets in advance to make sure no civilians will be hurt or killed.
The officials noted that Kenya and Ethiopia also conduct airstrikes in the region, but provided no details. There are 500 to 600 US troops in Somalia at any time.
The pace of US airstrikes in Somalia has escalated during the Trump administration, from 47 in all of 2018 to 28 already this year. So far more than 230 militants have been killed in 2019, compared to 338 killed in all of 2018.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump approved greater authorities for military operations against Al-Shabab, allowing increased strikes in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali forces.
Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who heads Africa Command, told reporters in a recent interview that Al-Shabab controls about 25 percent of the country and the key effort is to help the government regain control of its land.
“The intention is to keep the pressure on that network,” he said.
He said there are three categories of strikes: ones to target senior Al-Shabab leaders, ones to take out training camps or involve Daesh militants in the north, and ones aimed at helping the government increase security and regain control of the country. He said the last group involves the most strikes.