Arguably the greatest American religious leader in the last century, Rev. Billy Graham’s passing has left an enormous crater in America’s soul that will be hard to fill.
Those who knew him — even those who disagreed with him — described him almost universally as a consummate gentleman, a Christian with an undivided heart who served the Lord and His people with little trace of self-interest.
The celebrated evangelist died on Wednesday at the age of 99 after suffering from cancer and other ailments. Graham’s sermons were broadcast and televised for over 60 years.
Graham took advantage even of his death to preach the Christian faith. “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead,” he confidently proclaimed. “Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Having served as spiritual adviser to every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower, Billy Graham truly deserved the moniker of “America’s pastor.” Over the course of his fruitful career, he was named to the Gallup Organization’s “Top Ten Most Admired Men in the World” 56 times, more than any other person.
In his abundant travels, Graham visited every continent, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to more live audiences than anyone in history — an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries and more than one billion people through the media.
Billy Graham was a hero of the pro-life movement, valiantly defending human life from conception to natural death.
Writing to a single young woman considering abortion, Graham said it “would be wrong for you to end the life of the little child who is growing inside you. I know it’s common today to think of abortion as a simple answer to an inconvenient problem–but it is actually a far more serious issue. Your child isn’t simply a mass of tissue; he or she is a human being in God’s eyes. God told Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart’ (Jeremiah 1:5).”
President Ronald Reagan presented Rev. Graham with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, calling him “one of the most inspirational spiritual leaders of the Twentieth Century.”
“As a deeply committed Christian, his challenge to accept Jesus Christ has lifted the hearts, assuaged the sorrows and renewed the hopes of millions,” he said. “Billy Graham is an American who lives first and always for his fellow citizens.”
On learning of Graham’s death, President Donald Trump praised his impact on the world.
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
Not long ago, the New York Times and other liberal media pilloried Vice President Mike Pence for following the “Billy Graham rule,” never dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In fact, Rev. Graham chose never to be alone with a woman other than his wife — not in an automobile, not in an elevator, not anywhere at all. He did this not because he was afraid of women, but because he was an acute observer of the human condition and believed it was better to avoid temptations than fight them.
Graham was also able to bridge racial differences, never preaching a crusade anywhere — not in the South, not in South Africa—unless people of all races were allowed to attend.
In recent years, Billy Graham’s son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who followed in his father’s footsteps as an evangelical pastor, has stepped up as a leading Christian leader in his own right, constantly calling on the “better angels” of our nation in times of moral confusion.
Billy Graham, rest in the peace of the Lord whom you served so well.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.