From USA Today
The world’s best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99.
From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America’s pastor.
Graham retired to his mountain home at Montreat, N.C., in 2005 after nearly six decades on the road calling people to Christ at 417 all-out preaching and musical events from Miami to Moscow. His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations.
Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called “crusades.” Even now, anywhere a satellite, radio, TV, video or podcast can reach, his sonorous voice is probably still calling someone to Christ.
“He was so real, he made Christianity come true,” observed Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “He was homespun, historical and newsworthy all at once. He could span the times from Christ to today, from the globe to you, all in one sentence.”
Grant Wacker, a Duke University professor of Christian history, says Graham represented, “what most decent churchgoing people thought and ought to think.”
He never built a megachurch, set up a relief agency, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Yet he redefined American Protestant life by popularizing Christianity’s core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith.
Graham was, however, drawn to power. Eventually, he met, prayed with, comforted and joked with 12 U.S. presidents, and Graham learned to walk a tightrope.
He found a fine balance that allowed him to become America’s pastor, Democrat or Republican. North or South.
When President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light, Graham called for forgiveness. Clinton told Peter Boyer of The New Yorker, “He took sin seriously. But he took redemption seriously. And it was incredibly powerful the way he did it.”
Former president George W. Bush has said it was a conversation with Graham that turned him from his drinking ways when he was young.
“I’ve never called him on a specific issue but his influence is bigger than a specific issue, as far as I’m concerned. He warms your soul,” Bush told an ABC 20/20 special on the preacher and politics.