William Franklin Graham 7 November 1918 - 21 February 2018
Billy Graham was an evangelist preacher who was one of the first to preach behind the Iron curtain and even in china in North Korea. Born in rural North Carolina, the oldest of four, to dairy farmers. His upbringing was a strict Presbyterian affair. His family lost their savings in the great depression and his childhood was meagre. Treats including rearing a calf to take to market or his cherished home made radio. At 16 he dedicated himself to Southern Baptist mission and through part time work as a Brush salesmen he adapted the hard sell for Christ. He was ordained in 1939. During his studies in Illinois he met his future wife, Ruth McCue Bell. She was the daughter of a missionary and had lived in China until she was 17. They married in August 1943.
Billy was a charismatic and powerful preacher and he quickly developed a fine reputation. After a brief stint with the first Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois; he joined Youth for Christ, a missionary group which reached out to returning servicemen. In 1949 when he was invited to preach in Los Angeles he featured on a radio show. The appearance swelled his attendance and the Revival was extended for a further five week. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst encouraged papers to provide coverage of Graham’s sermons and a Christian superstar was born.
Many attribute the rapid rise of Graham to the post war climate in America. Graham was extremely critical of “Godless Communism”. He was clear that either Christianity or Communism must die and as the cold war intensified more people turned to him for comfort.
The demand for his message led to the start of Televangilism with Billy Graham. At first with a radio show then moving to TV he not only reached millions of Americans, but millions more around the world. The Organisation set up to assist in the spreading of the word, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association began to arrange “crusades” to all corners of the globe. Carefully planned ministries where Graham would hold huge revival meetings in cities across the world. His message and showmanship caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II and Graham was to develop a close relationship with her and many world leaders throughout his life. He was an outspoken critic of US race relations and often spoke of the colour blindness of love, he refused to preach in South Africa until after the fall of apartheid.
His critics said he often avoided the political complications of the age, but maybe this is why he had the ear of so many world leaders. He once stated that there was more religious freedom in Russia than in England because England had an established Church. A view which not only irked the Anglican community but was also strongly refuted by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He advised Presidents through the decades and was awarded an honourary Knighthood in 2002.
His warmth, sincere belief and conviction made him a powerful figure not only in the shaping of Christian America but the world. A man who is possibly responsible almost single handed for the revival in Christian faith through the 20st century and whose dedication to his message meant he held the confidence of some of the most powerful people in the planet.