Evangelist Billy Graham Was One of a Kind

If you ask anyone in the U.S. who Babe Ruth was, just about everyone will respond that he was a baseball player. Even people who don’t care about sports.

And if you ask anyone who Elvis Presley was, they will reply that he was a singer. Even those who couldn’t name one of his songs.

The same is true about Billy Graham. Even those who have no interest in religion realize he was an evangelist who preached for many decades.

As I’m sure you know by now, Mr. Graham passed away on Wednesday at his North Carolina home. He was 99 years old. He would have reached the century mark in November.

Popular Rallies Extended

Graham began his career in 1939 at age 21. He was ordained a Southern Baptist clergyman at that time.

Four years later, he graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. That’s where he met his wife, Ruth McCue Bell. She had spent the first 17 years of her life in China as a missionary kid.

Mr. Graham’s first-ever rally – where he preached to stadiums full of people – was held in Los Angeles in 1948. It was supposed to be a three-week campaign, but was so popular they extended it to eight weeks.

His 1957 rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City ended up running for four months. Due to the crowds that kept showing up.

Nobody Preached to More People

According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history.

The association estimates that he spoke to approximately 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.

Of course, hundreds of millions more watched him preach on television, in videos, on film and in webcasts.

And an untold number of people read his books and watched his videos and webcasts.

Consistently Among the ‘Most Admired’

Here’s what I think is interesting about Billy Graham. And it goes way beyond those statistics I just mentioned.

He would repeatedly show up in polls regarding the world’s “10 Most Admired People.”

Now, you’d expect famous athletes to be on that list. And popular musicians. And well-liked politicians. And philanthropists who make huge donations to worthy causes.

But for a religious leader to be included in that type of list, well, that just doesn’t happen too often.

Held to a Higher Standard

Once someone puts himself or herself out there as a spokesperson for a religion, the media starts sniffing around for skeletons in the closet.

They usually find them. And many people enjoy those kinds of revelations more than they do the biblical book of Revelation.

In fact, we’re all probably guilty of that. We like to see people knocked off their pedestals.

Everyone is human, including religious leaders. But when we fail, few notice. When they fail, everybody notices. And we call them hypocrites.

Graham Was the Genuine Article

Now, Billy Graham would have been the first to admit he was far from perfect. He never tried to convince anyone he was above what he preached about.

But throughout decades of preaching around the world and drawing millions of people to his rallies, we rarely heard anything negative about him.

And believe me. There would have been plenty of media who would have loved the chance to expose him as a fraud, had he been one.

The only “negative” things I recall being said about Billy Graham came from his preaching about controversial issues. He never shied away from preaching what he believed to be biblical truth about those issues. Even if it was unpopular to many.

He Stayed the Course

The issues have changed since Billy Graham started preaching. And the way Americans look at those issues has changed over time. But Billy Graham didn’t change.

Some would say that’s because he refused to adapt to the times. They’d say he was stuck back in the early 1900s when he was born.

Others would say it’s because he believed the Bible doesn’t change, so why should he?

Regardless, he stuck to his guns. And he let people respond to his message or ignore it, as they saw fit.

Adviser to the Nation’s Leaders

Of course, Billy Graham did more than just preach to huge crowds. Many U.S. presidents invited him to the White House for consultation and prayer. From Harry S. Truman all the way to Barack Obama.

They recognized him as a consistent, level-headed man who knew his Bible inside and out.

They knew he would advise, not insist. They knew he’d console, not criticize. They knew he’d pray, not rave.

And they knew he would keep confidential information to himself. They didn’t have to worry about the next day’s newspaper headlines after meeting with him.

Never Another Like Him

Mr. Graham also had a popular radio show called “Hour of Decision.” And he published a magazine called Decision.

He also wrote 33 books, including his autobiography titled Just As I Am.

His most recent book, titled Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, And Our Life Beyond the Now, was published in 2015.

There will never be another Billy Graham. He was one of a kind.

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