Billy Graham, who passed away Wednesday, February 21 at age 99, rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most influential religious voices of the 20th century. He preached to American presidents and reached an estimated 2.2 billion with the gospel.
Coming from a fundamentalist background, his was a more inclusive and welcoming view of evangelicalism. “The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches,” he said in the early 1950s.
Although Graham was not a social activist and said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press that he regretted that he didn’t battle for civil rights more forcefully, as early as 1953, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades. And in 1957, he invited Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to present a public prayer at Madison Square Garden as part of Graham's evangelistic campaign. He introduced him to the assembly saying, “A great social revolution is going on in the United States today. Dr. King is one of its leaders, and we appreciate his taking time out of his busy schedule to come and share this service with us tonight.” Graham also refused to visit apartheid South Africa.
At a convention of evangelists from 140 nations in 1983 with the Cold War still raging, Graham urged the elimination of nuclear and biological weapons. He told audiences in Czechoslovakia, “we must do all we can to preserve life and avoid war.”
He lived by a code of ethics, which included his pledge to church sponsors that all donations would be used for crusade expenses with any excess going to his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, from which he drew a modest salary.
For 50 years, from 1956 to 2006, Graham ranked among the 10 most-admired men in the world in annual Gallup surveys.
He is survived by his sons, the Rev. William Franklin III and the Rev. Nelson Graham, three daughters, Virginia Tchividjian, Anne Graham Lotz and Ruth Graham McIntyre, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.