RIP Billy Graham

Evangelist Billy Graham is dead at 99. Via ABC:

Billy Graham, one of the world’s most famous Christian evangelists, has died, a family spokesman said today. He was 99.

Graham died at his home this morning, the spokesman said.

Graham leaves a long legacy in American Christianity, and really Christianity as a whole, with his televised features speaking about Jesus and God’s love for others. Graham really eschewed politics, getting to know every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He helped create the National Day of Prayer, and had an influence, in one way or another, with almost every Christian from 1949 to now.

One thing which is quite interesting is how Graham was transpartisan, choosing to meet politicians on a human level, versus an issue by issue level. Christianity Today, a magazine Graham founded, detailed his relationships with presidents last May, with an interesting note on how Graham probably learned as many lessons as the presidents.

President Harry Truman was furious. Billy Graham had revealed the content of their private conversation to the media, going so far as to perform a “reenactment” of their prayer time on the White House lawn at the media’s request. It was the first time Truman had invited Graham to the White House, and it would be the last…

Graham’s meeting with Truman was the first of many encounters with American leaders over a span of more than 50 years. His blazing misstep with Truman, however, was a hard lesson he never forgot: When the world is watching, trust between a president and his spiritual advisors becomes even more fragile…

When Watergate came to light, [Graham] was blindsided. He had held Nixon in such high regard for so many years that it was difficult for him to reconcile the character of the man he knew with that of the man heard on the tapes.

“Never, in all the times I was with him, did he use language even close to that,” wrote Graham. “I felt physically sick and went into the seclusion of my study at the back of the house. Inwardly, I felt torn apart.”

I never got to see Graham speak live, although I did see a tape of one of his sermons in school. There’s no doubt the man cared about spreading the Gospel to those he was shepherding. My teachers definitely respected him, and I think my parents did too.

What happens with Graham’s legacy is going to be interesting. There was a public spat over where Ruth Graham would be buried, and Newsweek noted in 2011 that Graham’s family was like any other family: imperfect.

Billy Graham has not lived a faultless life, but he did act carefully to protect his legacy and the significance of his reputation. In private, aware of his own human weakness, he instructed his ministry staff never to leave him alone in a room with a woman who was not his wife. In these last years, he speaks frequently of Ruth and of his yearning to go home to heaven to see her. His children have not been so cautious. Bunny, Gigi, and Ned are divorced and remarried. Ned, whose ministry builds and encourages Christianity in China, has spent time in rehab for prescription drugs, and Franklin admits to having had an appetite for alcohol as a younger man. Among Graham’s 19 grandchildren, at least three have become Christian preachers. But according to a 2008 story in The Columbus Dispatch, there has been drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and eating disorders in that generation as well. Gigi and Ruth have made ministries out of helping families endure such struggles.

“I’m just not comfortable being thought of as coming from a wonderful family,” says Gigi. “We’re not exempt from some of the problems that everyone has. We’re empathetic to, sympathetic to, all the problems that people have today. We support one another, love one another when we’re going through some of the things we’re going through.” Franklin sees these family troubles somewhat differently. He and his siblings “don’t see each other that often. I think some of them have made bad choices in life, but I’m responsible for my life. I have to stand before God and give an accounting of my life.” He pauses, then adds, “I love my sisters and would do anything I could to help them.

Graham will probably be remembered the same as Saint John Paul the Second: a man who cared for others, and worked towards bringing spiritual peace, throughout the storms of life. He will be missed.