Billy Graham: Preacher to millions, adviser to US presidents
Billy Graham: Preacher to millions, adviser to US presidents
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.
Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh get doves of peace from the Middle East
- A Dubai NGO has paired up with one in the UK to distribute toys made from upcycled refugee blankets
- It’s one initiative marking the UN’s International Day of Peace on Friday, at a time when the world is in conflict
DUBAI: Eight-year-old Anjuman, living in Camp 7 at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has received the most beautiful gift. “I am very happy to have received this dove. I like it so much,” she said.
She is among 150 children in the camp who have received “peace doves” from Dubai after winning an art competition organized in the camp.
To celebrate the UN-declared International Day of Peace on Friday, a Dubai-based NGO, NRS International, and a UK-based NGO, Empathy Action, have given wings to a message of hope, peace and reconciliation.
Both these organizations have come together to make dove toys (symbolizing peace) to distribute among children, who are among the first victims of conflict in any part of the world.
And while peace isn’t something the world often associates with the Middle East, there are plenty of ways in which countries in the region are trying to make the world a better place, from smaller initiatives such as the doves in Bangladesh to major efforts such as the peace deal brokered this week by Saudi Arabia between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The peace doves were handmade by women at NRS International’s factory in Pakistan. As many as 650 dove toys have been stitched and handcrafted from upcycled offcuts of refugee blankets and tarpaulins.
“Each dove, made from excess blanket material that normally keeps refugees warm, is a symbol of peace,” said Wieke de Vries, head of corporate social responsibility at NRS International. It is the leading supplier of humanitarian relief items such as fleece blankets to UN agencies and international aid organizations.
Sandy Glanfield, innovations manager at Empathy Action, said the doves will carry a reminder that for 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, a blanket or tarpaulin is a basic necessity to survive. “The passionate and skillful women who made the doves add the love into this story,” said Glanfield.
About 150 larger versions of peace doves have been distributed to Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh camps, with the support of the Danish Refugee Council.
S.M. Atiqur Reza, who is a child protection assistant at the council, said that the peace doves have put smiles on the faces of the children in the refugee camp.
“The children were so excited, and they loved these doves and making plans to take it back home (whenever they go back home).”
But in a world of conflicts, there is still much to be done. Anjuman is just one of nearly 25.4 million refugees in the world, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
Dr. Hadia Aslam, who sets up health care systems for refugees in Europe and the Middle East, is not hopeful about world peace in the near future.
“I feel we have desensitized entirely to any atrocity that happens now. Nothing shocks us. I do not see a future for peace, but I do see conflict. Our systems are geared to hosting this,” said the young doctor, who is the founder of a charity that has treated thousands of refugees in Europe.
For her, human rights violations by Israel are a major threat to world peace. “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I can categorically raise concerns about Israel’s human rights track record being astounding and the world silently watching. Their only motive is occupation and apartheid. There is no space for peace in such a place.”
Vidya Bhushan Rawat, a leading peace activist based in New Delhi, said that the biggest threat to peace is injustice and growing inequalities.” I don’t think that the world has become a peaceful place at the moment. There is a steady growth of right-wing politics the world over, where minorities and immigrants are considered a threat to the nation.
“To protect the only planet we have we need to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, gender disparity and superstition from our societies.”
Dr. Kamran Bokhari, director of strategy and programs at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, does not see peace becoming the norm any time soon.
“We constantly hear about peace talks. But seldom do these efforts produce actual peace. The rise of nationalism is undoing the internationalist order that we thought would gain ground after the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. Meanwhile, non-state actors are filling the vacuums left behind by weakening states, which suggests greater, not less, global conflict.”
Dr. Shehab Al-Makehleh also believes that the world is less peaceful now than it has been in a long time. “Right now, peacefulness is at the worst level of any time since 2012. By the end of 2017, 1 percent of the world population had been refugees and displaced,” said the executive director of Geostrategic media in Washington, DC.
He does not expect things to improve unless decision-makers in the international community give this matter attention as the world will be witnessing new economic and financial crises that could turn major countries into enemies.
“Unless the UN takes necessary measures that the world does not fall into anarchy due to populism and nationalism, the domino effect will cross borders, causing insecurity at all levels, toppling some regimes and changing borders with hundreds of thousands of people dying of poverty and terrorism,” Dr. Al-Makehleh said.
All the more reason to bring hope to children such as Anjuman. As Reza said of the Rohingya children in the camp: “They want peace. They say they want to go back home. They want to go to their schools and study. They find the camp is a very small place to live. They are really sad here.”