“This is the Hour of Decision with Billy Graham, coming to you from Minneapolis Minnesota”
Billy Graham, has preached to more than 210 million people through a live audience, more than anyone else in history. Not only that, but Mr. Graham has reached millions more through live televison, video and film. This has led Billy to be on the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” from the Gallup Poll since 1955 a total of thirty-nine times. This includes thirty-two consecutive more than any other individual in the world, placing him as the most popular American for about forty years.
This essay is going to talk about Graham’s personal life, and what kind of family he grew up in and im also going to talk in detail about how he became an evangelist, because I feel it is very important yet interesting. His accomplishments in the fifties are uncomparable, so I will be including a considerable amount of information concerning that topic. Finally I will be talking about his personal achievements, books written, and how he has been a companion to some of the American Presidents.
William Franklin Graham Jr. was born in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 17, 1918. Graham was raised on a dairy farm by William Franklin (deceased 1962) and Morrow Coffey Graham (deceased 1981). In 1943 he married his wife Ruth McCue Bell, and had four children Virginia 1945, Anne Morrow 1948, Ruth Bell 1950, William Franklin, Jr. 1952, and Nelson Edman 1958. At age eighty, he keeps fit by swimming, playing with is nineteen grand children, and from aerobic walking, in the mountains of North Carolina, where he currently lives. (Billy Graham Best Sellers, 1999)
Billy Graham told Time Magazine in one article about his life before becoming a preacher.
“I lived on a farm. The only difference was I had to get up early in the morning and go milk cows. When I came back from school that day, I had to milk those same cows. There were about twenty cows I had to milk. By hand. That was before they had those machines. I loved being a farmer. But God called me to this work that I’m in now. I knew it was God calling. I said, “Yes. I will follow what God wants me to do.” And so I went to two or three schools to get education. Then I became a pastor of a church. Then I went into evangelism.” (Graham, 1999)
Graham got his first lesson of the worlds way of the mysterious God, while he was a teen working on his father’s farm. Graham’s father who was a working man had a calling to go out and to become a preacher, but because of the farm, he never got the chance to do so. Instead he tried to live his own passion through his son, Billy Graham. He was raised by two strict Calvinist parents, who showed him that hard work and honesty was the way all people should live in Gods World. Although Graham rejected these views by his parents, he was still influenced spiritually from his upbringing.
At age seventeen, Graham was in the position just like many other seventeen years old’s he knew. Graham was popular in high school with the girls, played sports such as basketball and baseball, but was lost on what his future would have in store for him. During this time an evangelist named Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte, to have a three-month revival. He never took too much to the idea, because he did not want to be stuck in a long and boring job that would make him sorry he was ever born.
When all of Graham’s options for summer nights ran out, he decided to go to the revival, and to see what it was all about. All the time keeping in the back of his mind how he grew up in such a religious family, and how his father always wanted him to take up preaching. One night Ham was speaking out against sinners, and Graham felt that he was talking directly to him, although he was considered a good kid. So to escape the direct gaze of Ham, he joined the revival choir.
Graham began to listen to Ham daily. He became captivated and breath taken by his holy words, and how he spoke of God as if he knew him personally. Graham felt he was now ready to follow Jesus and devote his life to God.
Like most high schoolers who lack direction once they graduate, Graham blindly enrolled at Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee for the simple reason that Jones’ preaching had once impressed his mother. If Graham did not know who he was prior to entering school, he soon learned that he was not meant to be a Bob Jones student. He found the discipline to be absolutely restrictive and the theology to be at odds with the notions of God that were swarming in his head (Frady 96).
They urged Graham and the rest of the young evangelists at the Jones school to practice their preaching. Graham was nervously waiting for a call from any church, to be asked to speak in front of the congregation. Finally the day came when he got a call from a small church near Palatka, which wanted him to give a sermon in the church. That night he rehearsed his message that he was going to use, that he timed to be about two hours long.
But being so young and eager, Graham stood up in front of the crowd that gathered to listen to his sermon, and his blurted the whole thing out in only ten minutes. The people were stunned, and many were asking themselves, was this man a real preacher or just an impostor.
This led Graham to have many doubts in his mind, doubts that he agonized over day in and day out. The stress was building on the young man’s shoulders and he was finding it hard to sleep at night, because he developed painful back aches. Late one night, when he could not sleep, he went for a walk in downtown Tampa to clear his head. Trying to preach wherever he went, so he could make himself feel that he was needed as a preacher, led him into trouble. He walked by a sleazy bar, and he protested to people inside, that they were living a life that was leading them to suffer in hell. The bar keeper did not think too kindly to that so he threw Graham across the street.
To add to his never-ending disappointments in life, Graham gave a sermon in front of his home crowd in Charlotte, and there was his family. They were so embarrassed that his sisters tried to hide themselves from the rest of the congregation by slouching in their seats, and putting books up to their faces to cover them up. This led Graham to decided he had to change his pointy finger “You are a sinner. Christ died to pay for your sins. But you much accept Christ to be saved.”(Wellman, 1999) From the urging of a good friend Graham left the Bob Jones school and enrolled in The Florida Bible Institute.
It has been said that in the Florida Bible Institute, Graham finally came to terms with his life. He realized that he was supposed to be a preacher, because this group focused on the beloved God rather than a vengeful one, and Graham finally found his purpose for his existence.
After graduation from the Florida Bible Institute, Graham enrolled at Wheaton College, which is considered the Harvard of Christian colleges. It was at this college that he received training in the fine art of the pulpit and also where he met his future wife, Ruth Bell. It was now he made a promise to himself that someday he would be heard by every Christian on the green world that God created.
Following graduation from Wheaton Graham entered what could be considered a transition state that lay somewhere between formal education and the great preacher as whom we know him. During this time he amassed several personal skills that would benefit him once he began his own ministry, and also made contacts with people that would later work for or with him. Immediately following graduation he took a pastorship at Western Springs Church near Chicago. He left this job to travel with Youth for Christ, an evangelistic movement geared especially for young people and returning servicemen. Youth for Christ was different in its approach than other evangelistic movements in that it focused on the benevolence of God rather than the God who was quick to invoke wrath. The message was displayed with upbeat music and flashy clothes. Graham stayed with them from 1945 until 1948, and there is no doubt that what he learned influenced him in his own ministry. To this day, Graham will tell you that he sees God as a loving father rather than a harsh judge. (20/20)
It was in the Youth for Christ, preaching from one place to another, that he became known as a very charismatic speaker. Graham now had matured, from the young boy who was full of doubts, to a man that could speak to large masses of people, who were often left in silence.
From 1947 until 1952 Graham was the president of Northwestern Schools, which was a system of Christian colleges in Minnesota. He changed Northwestern Schools, to be like another Wheaton, in order to train more evangelists. It was his time at this school that Graham developed administrative skills that would later help him in the formation of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
But Graham left the Youth for Christ, in order to obey his urge to preach to the masses of the world. Graham thought the best way to accomplish this was to go on his own and try to reach as many people as he could with the message of God.
In 1949 in the city of Los Angeles, a group of men who called themselves “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” had invited Graham to come and hold meetings there, because they were impressed with his ability to speak to a crowd. When at first Graham had questioned the invitation, they found more money and more church support. Apparently things were pulling together to bring Graham to Los Angeles. He came and on September 25 opened a series of meetings that not only left the city of Los Angeles changed forever, but vaulted Graham’s previously unassuming ministry into a national spotlight and into the decade of the fifties. The meetings began slowly with little press coverage and relatively low attendance. Empty seats were easily seen in the early nights in the Canvas Cathedral, a tent erected specifically for the crusade. The tide turned, however, when Stuart Hamblen, a well known radio celebrity invited Graham to be a guest on his show. Having boasted earlier to Graham that with his endorsement he could fill the tent, Graham was eager to accept the invitation. In many ways he was not far off in his boasting. Hamblen was well known up and down the West Coast for his popular radio show, heard every afternoon for two hours. Especially once news of Hamblen’s own conversion at one of the meetings reached the airwaves, people came to see what was so great that everyone on the radio was talking about. A second media break came when Randolph Hearst, owner of newspapers across the country including two major ones in Los Angeles, inexplicably told his papers to “puff Graham.” They did, and when Hearst’s papers “puffed Graham,” of course Hearst’s competitors papers followed suit. Soon the Los Angeles campaign was being talked about and read about nationwide. The crusade was extended from its original intended length of three weeks to a length of eight weeks, at which point the tent was still being packed, but the organizers physically could not continue. On November 20, nearly two months after it began, the crusade closed. (Bucheimer, 1999).
Graham has been said to be “The Man of the Fifties,” because with the help from the media, and a little help from God, his fame grew and so did peoples faith for the almighty God. But the fifties took their toll on Graham and his health. He traveled to countless American cities, as well as many foreign lands, among them Australia, Indian, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and most of the European countries. This left Graham feeling tired and worn out.
So Graham looked to the words of the bible for inspiration. “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”(Mark 16:15) This would revitalize his energy and send him back out to the world, with his bible in hand to preach to all Gods Children.
The fifties held some of Graham’s greatest accomplishments, although they have often been overlooked. World War II had just gotten over and the world’s weaponry had changed into nuclear warfare, with the dropping of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not only that, but the Russians began a nuclear arms race with the United States. This had put pressure on the American public, and they lost all their sense of security. The thought of death, and war with all of its pain and suffering, creped into the nightmares of the American citizens and now they looked to religion for salvation. Graham introduced religion in a way that was friendly, and refreshingly honest. The United States public was ready for a religious revival, and Graham would lead the way.
In the nineteen fifties the world seemed to rotate on an axis called communism. Everyone was talking about it, and America was frightened. In the culmination of their fright appeared most noticeably in a man named McCarthy. McCarthy claimed to have lists of names of people that secretly held allegiances with the communist party, lists that often contained names of many high-ranking public officials and celebrities. The media, was so important to the fifties, picked up on McCarthy’s “blacklists” and ran them in the papers. In the attitudes of the fifties, if it were in print, it was infallible truth. As a result, not only was communism a force from overseas to fear, it was a force within our own boundaries threatening to tear apart the post war threads that tenuously held the nation together. Billy Graham was not immune to what was going on. When he spoke about communism, he spoke as a person not completely removed from the attitudes that were prevalent in the nation. He, too feared communism. In a message delivered as early as 1947 he stated, Communism is creeping inexorably into these destitute lands, into wartorn China, into restless South America, and unless the Christian religion rescues the nation from the clutch of the unbelieving, America will stand alone and isolated in the world. (Frady, 1999)
Graham became caught up in fear that he may embrace the nation. He led strong single minded attacks on communism, and he felt he was beginning to make head way when in 1954. Graham boldly announced “Either communism must die, or Christianity must die, because it is actually a battle between Christ and anti-Christ.”
Graham later said, “…men like Senator McCarthy have gone too far; false accusations can be dangerous,” but none the less he supported canceling the Fifth Amendment that is the protection for witnesses brought before a committee.
The way Graham saw it, whatever was necessary to rid American borders of communism was just that; necessary. How else did Graham intend to deal with Communism? Naturally, since he felt “No man with Christ in his heart can be a Communist,” Graham saw the best way to deal with this menace as being religious revival; a turning back to old fashioned Christian ideals that he saw as part of “an old fashioned Americanism.” He stated often, “The United States needs a spiritual revival, or we’ll be licked before the Communists get here.” Did religious revival have anything to do with the passing of this American red scare? Arguably, it did not. McCarthy was condemned by the Senate, a fact that Graham was none too happy about, saying it hurt the dignity of American statesmanship. With McCarthy’s passing went the bulk of the substantial evidence for Communism in this country, and Americans returned to simply fearing other countries as we entered into the Cold War era. Graham had, however, spoken out against communism on a moral basis and his voice had been heard across the nation.(Craig, 1999)
It seemed now that Graham was drawling people from all parts of the world, with people from all different walks of life, and with different denominations. But Graham noticed that while he was reaching many people he was only one man, and that did not seem like enough. He came to the decision to use the media to his advantage and share the lord’s messages to people over the air waves.
Graham decided to entered a new realm that was changing the face of the fifties, the radio. The radio in the fifties was a new powerful way to transmit information to normally inaccessible people such as the elderly and sick people. Graham started with a small Christian show called Songs in the Night in a station in Chicago. He was well received in Chicago and later he started his hour long radio show that still is running to this day “The Hour of Decision.” At its peak, the show was heard on twelve hundred stations coast to coast by millions of people.
Due to the immense reviews for his radio show, Graham decided to venture into a new form of communication, with a television show. “The Hour of Decision” television show opened a new window of the public, because people could now not only hear him but it seemed like they were in a service with him. The TV show lasted from 1951 until 954.
Throughout all of his public and televison appearances, his popularity grew, and he had a vision for film to be a way to spread the gospel. But in times when films were considered the work of the devil, Graham looked at it by saying “…thousands of unconverted will come to a film that will never hear a preacher.”
Graham was a man of the media, a man who knew what people watched, listened to, and wanted to read. Graham saw the media as a way of ensuring that many people heard the gospel in order that they might believe. For, according to the verse, how can they believe if they have not heard? By using the media, Graham allowed people to hear, and in the fifties people were definitely listening to the media. (Bucheimer, 1999)
Billy Graham’s faithful wife Ruth knew exactly where her place was in the family because she rarely traveled with him on his crusades, instead she stayed home. She was a hard working housewife who had to give all of her attention to her four children to pick up for Billy’s absence. Ruth Graham was a very wise woman and a very devoted Christian, who Billy consulted often asking for her advice. Being the man of the household, Graham was never told he was making the wrong decision, because after all Ruth thought she was just a housewife, and had no say in the decision making.
Finally, allow me to offer as a hypothesis that the Billy Graham’s evangelical movement was welcomed into the fifties because the faith that it offered was a rebellion against the norm, not unlike the Beat movement or the jazz music that was springing up around the country. The beatniks, for example, were rebelling against social stereotypes and complacent normalcy. Jazz musicians were rebelling more or less against ordered form and melody in music in order to express emotion, quite often the emotion of pain or hurt. The faith that was talked about at Billy Graham crusades was an alternative to society as well. The pain that many people felt was replaced by hope in God. The injustice that many either hated or felt victim to was eased knowing that in God’s eyes all are equal. People left out of the loop of affluence came seeking consolation that their treasures awaited them in heaven. Crowds gathered at Billy Graham crusades looking for what they felt their lives were lacking. What Graham offered was peace, a peace of soul that was lacking in the fifties.(Blumhofer 1989)
If you sit down and look at some of the awards that Billy Graham has achieved, you may wonder how a man as busy as he is could have the time to even except them all. Some of them have included Clergyman of the Year from the National Pilgrim Society, Distinguished Service Medal of the Salvation Army, Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame award 1981, Congressional Gold Medal, highest honor Congress can bestow on a private citizen, 1996. He feels his most impressive award is Sylvanus Thayer Award from United States Military Academy Association of Graduates at West Point (The most prestigious award the United States Military Academy gives to a U.S. citizen), 1972 because few people have ever received this award.
Graham also figured he could reach many people’s hearts through his achievements as an author. So in 1952 he started writing a weekly article that was being published in five hundred thousand newspapers across the United States.
He has written eighteen books, and all of them have become best sellers. His most successful book he wrote was “Just As I Am” which was written in 1997. It got one of the highest award that you can receive for a book, the triple crown. This book was based on his 60- year career of being a preacher, from his beginning and the struggles he endured, to the triumphant man that exists today.
Of his other books, “Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1983) was listed for several weeks on The New York Times best seller list; “How to Be Born Again” (1977) had the largest first printing in publishing history with 800,000 copies; “Angels: God’s Secret Agents” (1975) sold one million copies within ninety days; and “The Jesus Generation” (1971) sold 200,000 copies in the first two weeks.
Billy Graham has had many relationships all over the world with world leaders. His biggest relationships have been with United States presidents. Most of these presidents used Graham’s popularity with the people of America to pass on important ideas and statements to them. Eisenhower and Kennedy were the first of the presidents to consult Graham on major public issues, and they embraced Graham’s opinions as high as they held their own.
Nixon, Ford and Johnson increased the consulting of the evangelist preacher and was proclaimed “America’s Pastor.” Nixon once told Graham “When you went into the ministry, politics lost one of its potentially greatest practitioners.”
They have said that Billy Graham’s finest moment was when he showed up to the side of President Bush, to fight against Iraq, and put an end to the war in that part of the world. His presence showed that the Gulf Crusade was, if not Christian, than at least biblical.
When Graham was asked Which president has most influenced Rev. Graham’s life and which president has most surprised him he took a while to answer.
“Very difficult, because I’ve had the privilege of knowing nine or 10 and I’ve known several of them very well including the present president. I couldn’t answer that question because each has influenced me to a certain extent. I suppose I was closer to a few than I was to others. And the first president that I knew was Eisenhower, and before he became president he asked me to come to Paris where he was the head of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). I went to Paris and got acquainted with him, and then when he was nominated, he asked me to come to his hotel in Chicago because he thought I could help him write speeches. I think he was soon disillusioned, but he did accept some suggestions I made on religious matters because he did want a spiritual message in his speeches to the American people. Eisenhower was a very religious man.”(Graham 99)
On the other hand, not all presidents considered Graham as high as others have in the past. President Harry Truman called Graham a “counterfeit”. Some people have said that one statement may have lost him his re-election attempt the following year, because the people thought so very highly of Graham.(Harold Bloom, 1999) One anonymous reporter even stated after Truman lost the election “You don’t run for office among us by proclaiming your skepticism or by deprecating Billy Graham.”
Graham has never been accused of intellectualism, profound spirituality or social compassion. He has not been like other religious leaders whose biggest goals are to eliminate taxes, and the right for woman to have an abortion. But why doesn’t he make a stand with the other leaders, even if they are in agreement on a particular issue? Well Billy Graham doesn’t want to be seen by the public to be affiliated with religious leaders, who have different beliefs on other social concerns then him, because they may think him to have the same beliefs as they do.
Over his career, Graham is one of the few men never to have been caught up in any kind of scandals, whether they are financial, or sexual. This has kept Graham’s image as a pure wholesome man with nothing but the love of God to share with all the people of the world.
Today at age eighty, Graham has been slowed down because he is stricken with Parkinson disease. Although he has had an amazing life that has led him around the world countless times. It has been said he has been in every country at one time or another, from the smallest African villages to large cities such as New York City spreading the word of God. His popularity has grown with every word spoken from Billy Graham’s silver tongue, and he now feels he has accomplished his goal that he promised himself from the start, that someday he would be heard by every Christian on the green world that God created.
“Until we meet this way again may God bless you in a real, real good way”
20/20. Interview with Billy Graham. NBC. May 2, 1997.
America Online Transcript
July 6, 1999
Billy Graham Best Sellers
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/subst/lists/best/author-details/graham-billy.html/002-37359 /002-2055019-4556631.September 26 1999
Billy Graham Evangelistic association. http://www.billygraham.org/billygraham.asp. September 27 1999.
“Brief Biography of Billy Graham.” Billy Graham Center Archives http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/bio.html. 25 September 1999.
Bloom. The Preacher Billy Graham. http://www.pathfinder.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/graham01.html. September 29, 1999
Frady, Marshall. Billy Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1979.
Graham, Billy. Just As I Am. San Francisco: Zondervan. 1997.
O’Donnell, Bro. Cornelius, O.P. “A Graham of Faith: Inquiring into the Life and Preaching of Rev. Billy Graham.” 2
Nov. 1995. http://digidesk.p52s.hioslo.no/niwg/bgraham.htm. 16 October 1999.
Sam Wellman.Heros Of History.http://www.heroesofhistory.com/.September 28 1999
Scharpff, Paulus. History of Evangelism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966.
“The Billy Graham Center Story.” http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/bgcstory.html (9 October 1999).
Time 100: Heros and Icons.http://www.pathfinder.com/time/time100/heroes/index.html.September 23 1999
“What is a Billy Graham Crusade?” http://www.asheville.com/crusade1.html. 21 October 1999