Evangelist Billy Graham passed away Feb. 21, with no cause of death officially disclosed.
Born in a Charlotte, North Carolina farmhouse in 1918, William Franklin Graham would become the most famous Christian evangelist in the world, preaching to hundreds of millions of Christians in the United States and abroad beginning in the 1940s.
Over six decades – beginning in 1947 after graduating from a Baptist seminary – he held rallies in sports stadia (calling them crusades) and preached on television and radio. His revival meetings in Los Angeles in 1949 attracted national attention after William Randolph Hearst covered the eight-week crusade in his newspaper chain and magazines. Eight years later he filled Madison Square Gardens nightly for 16 weeks.
In 1950, Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which included the weekly radio broadcast “Hour of Decision,” televised specials, a syndicated newspaper column called “My Answer,” World Wide Pictures (which produced and distributed more than 130 films), and two magazines (Decision and Christianity Today. He retired in 2005 and his son Franklin now runs BGEA.
BGEA says Graham spoke to live audiences of 215 million people and hundreds of millions more through various media.
Graham also had the ear of presidents, calling Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon friends, but serving as a “spiritual adviser” to every president from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. Through a spokesman, Graham said in 2008 he would not advise Barack Obama because of the president’s pro-abortion position, although he indicated he would pray with the president if asked.
Graham’s website quotes him saying, “life is sacred, and we must seek to protect all human life.” He also wrote in 2012 that, “my heart aches for America” over the millions of abortions that occurred. That same year, he purchased an ad in the Wall Street Journal encouraging Christians to vote according to Biblical principles, specifically mentioning candidates who “protect the sanctity of life.”
Regarding abortion and euthanasia, Graham has said “only (God) has the right to take away” because “life is a sacred gift from God.”
But Graham was not always so outspoken about abortion. In 1997, he told the New York Times he preferred to avoid issues that divided people and wanted to focus on bringing Jesus to the masses. The next year, The Interim reported that “to maintain a singular focus on preaching a simple message of salvation, Graham has rarely taken advantage of his prestige to speak out on politically controversial matters,” including abortion. Yet that same year, Graham expressed “disappointment” with president Bill Clinton’s veto of a partial-birth abortion ban.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes said he recalls Rev. Ken Campbell had to convince Graham to speak out about abortion prior to a crusade the evangelist held in Ottawa in the late-1990s.
Graham helped found Care Net, the largest network of crisis pregnancy centres in the world.
Later in his career, Graham condemned the homosexual lifestyle and gay activism, saying in 2014, that America was “just as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were, and as deserving of the judgment of God,” adding that God “would spare us if we were earnestly praying, with hearts that had been cleansed and washed by the blood of Christ.”
Upon his passing he was praised by Vice President Mike Pence for his Christian witness and Graham became the fourth private citizen in U.S. history to lie in honor in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.