Rev. William Franklin Graham Jr, known as Billy Graham, renowned Christian evangelical pastor, died Wednesday at age 99, at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Born in 1918, to parents William and Morrow Graham, and the eldest of four children, Graham had been slowed by Parkinson’s disease since 1992 and other medical problems until his death.
He staged worldwide crusades and played a role as spiritual advisor to a number of U.S. presidents,
Shortly after his graduation with a Degree in Liberal Arts from Wheaton College in 1943, Graham became an evangelist pastor, preaching in small churches and tents on roadsides. His preaching style and his timbre voice eventually outgrew the churches and tents. He began preaching at rallies.
His breakthrough came at a 1949 Los Angeles crusade that was scheduled for three weeks but had to be extended to eight weeks due to the large crowds he attracted. His charismatic and heartfelt gospel sermons propelled him into an evangelical superstar.
The success of the Los Angeles crusade made Graham famous.
He rose to national prominence by preaching in some of the most famous venues in the world, such as Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden in New York, London’s Wembley Stadium and around the globe. He preached in Africa, China, North Korea, the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
The iconic evangelist preached to more people in live audiences around the world than anyone else in history, reaching hundreds of millions either in person or through television and satellite links. In the end Graham became the richest evangelist to ever live.
Graham’s devotion to Christianity began at age 15 at a revival crusade in North Carolina when he claimed to have made a commitment to Christ.
With his steely features and piercing blue eyes, Graham was a powerful figure whose preaching style included roaming the stage and hoisting a Bible as he declared Jesus Christ to be the only solution to humanity’s problems. In the 1960s, Graham was an ardent supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
He had strongly opposed segregation and had refused to speak to segregated audiences. Graham believed that the Bible is the infallible word of God and that that there is no spiritual or Christian basis for segregation, for we are all God’s children.
In his prime, Rev. Billy Graham thunderous, quick-burst speaking style along with his sincerity and devotion to Christianity sowed the seeds for his success. Not only did he preached and converted millions to Christianity around the world, he was also the spiritual advisor and counselor to twelve presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
His ties to the White House and his mentoring of presidents were mutually beneficial. His reputation was enhanced as preacher to the most powerful men in the world, while his spiritual counseling helped to boost the president’s popularity with religious inclined voters. He was considered the de facto White House chaplain to several U.S. presidents, most famously Richard Nixon.
He also met with scores of world leaders and was the first noted evangelist to preach in the former Soviet Union dubbed the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War.
However, six years after Graham and his wife Ruth were honored by Congress with the award of the Congressional Gold Medal in 1966, the evangelist pastor found himself the target of criticism in 2002 and following the release of tapes of 1973 conversations he had with Richard Nixon that were critical of Jews.
He was also criticized for opposing same sex marriage which he called an abomination. Billy Graham who had one of the largest ministries in history had managed to avoid the sex and financial scandals of other evangelical pastors including Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. He died with a pristine reputation.
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