Opinion by Molly Worthen, special to CNN
(CNN) - Under ordinary circumstances, Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch are probably not in the habit of attending the birthday parties of elderly Christian preachers in the North Carolina mountains.
But they were both among the hundreds of well-wishers at the party on Thursday marking Billy Graham’s 95th birthday.
Graham spent his career leading revivals around the globe, following a long tradition of evangelists who have traveled far and wide to urge sinners to accept Christ. But his birthday guest list shows that he is no ordinary preacher. He is a cultural icon, the most famous face of traditional Protestant Christianity.
“We need Billy Graham's message to be heard, I think, today more than ever," former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin told the crowd.
MORE ON CNN: Billy Graham turns 95 at star-studded birthday
What, exactly, is that message—and what accounts for its mass appeal? Now that Billy is 95, I wonder: is there anyone who can fill his shoes?
Graham rose to success in the God-fearing years of the early Cold War. In 1949, the year of Graham’s first big revival in Los Angeles, President Harry Truman told Americans that “the basic source of our strength as a nation is spiritual. ... Religious faith and religious work must be our reliance as we strive to fulfill our destiny in the world.”
Five years later, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. By the end of the decade, 65% of Americans belonged to a religious institution, and 90% told pollsters they believed in God and the power of prayer: they were ready to hearken to Graham’s call.
Tall, handsome, “like Gabriel in a gabardine suit” according to Time magazine, Graham appealed to Americans’ hunger for spiritual direction.
His sermons contained just the right mix of patriotism and reproof. He urged Americans to stand strong against “godless communism” but also criticized American hubris.
“We have an idea that we Americans are God's chosen people, that God loves us more than any other people, and that we are God's blessed,” he told an audience in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1958. “I tell you that God doesn't love us any more than He does the Russians.”
Graham urged his listeners to acknowledge their sins and embrace Christ; to quit making excuses and go to church. But he abandoned the strict fundamentalism of his youth for a less doctrinaire theology.
His crusades mobilized hundreds of volunteers from local churches—not just evangelical churches, but liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic parishes as well.
Graham had plenty of theological quarrels with these collaborators.
He accepted the assistance of New York Catholics during his crusade there in 1957, but three years later he helped organize Protestant ministers to oppose John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
However, when it came to evangelism, he was a broad-minded pragmatist - outraging hard-line fundamentalists, who demanded strict separation from other Christians.
He replied to his critics: “The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?"
One member of Graham’s circle coined the term “neo-evangelical” to describe this attitude. They were all conservative evangelicals who had left fundamentalism to lead a revival of both the soul and the mind. They formed the National Association of Evangelicals to unite conservative Protestants. In 1956 they founded the magazine Christianity Today, an “evangelical, theologically oriented” alternative to liberal periodicals, Graham wrote.
Secular journalists quoted Graham as a capable spokesman for the evangelical point of view. Graham’s visits to the White House gave the impression that he was a Protestant pope, possessing Christian wisdom and a valuable imprimatur. Graham seemed to represent an American evangelical consensus.
But from the beginning, this consensus was more apparent than real.
Far more conservative Protestants stayed out of the National Association of Evangelicals than joined up. They thought of themselves as Baptists or Mennonites first, and “evangelical” second, if at all.
Some evangelicals rejected the idea that Christians must experience the radical “born-again experience” at the heart of Graham’s crusades: they believed that conversion is sometimes slow and incremental. Others objected to the conservative politics of Graham and his colleagues.
I have spent the past few years researching the stories of these different evangelical communities, ranging from pacifist Mennonites to tongues-speaking Pentecostals. I found that even if they disagreed with Billy Graham, they had no choice but to take him seriously.
They often defined their own beliefs against his ministry. Graham and other neo-evangelicals helped other Christians understand themselves more clearly. As a result, the fissures and tensions that have always divided the evangelical world are deeper than ever.
Billy Graham has no successor.
In today’s age of fragmented evangelicalism and social media-savvy churches, there is no individual who can represent American evangelicalism to the world. Every believer has his own favorite Christian blog, her own like-minded Twitter network. And evangelicalism’s golden age seems to be ending. The biggest denominations, booming during the height of Graham’s career, are now stagnating or losing members.
Graham’s career ranged well beyond American shores, and conservative Protestantism is flourishing in the Global South. Some evangelists there command crowds that rival or exceed Graham’s biggest crusades. For more than 50 years, the German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke has preached throughout Africa to audiences that range in the hundreds of thousands.
But evangelists making their careers in non-Western societies face different challenges than Graham did. They are trying to reach people who worry not about the threat of secular liberalism, but the fate of their unbaptized ancestors or witchcraft in their villages. In the Global South, the label “evangelical” implies similarities to American religion that don’t exist.
Billy Graham may be an icon of an era that has passed, a Christian coalition that was never as harmonious as it seemed.
His own message, however, remains the same. In his message on Thursday —perhaps his final sermon — he warned that “our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening.”
Molly Worthen is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of "Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism."
As a Mennonite I have been deeply influenced by Billy Graham's preaching. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior because of his preaching.
Happy Birthday Billy.
you look up to him because he is wealthy and powerful.
If you are looking for a champion of true conservative family values you need look no further than the church that proudly follows America's pastor Billy Graham. When other liberal congregations tried to tear apart the fabric that held the south together in the 1800's, slavery, this church was on the front lines leading the attack. Liberals hate amerika. After those abolitionist liberal commies put all those african immigrants out of work, the libs turned their sights to other job-killing causes: like abolishing child labor. Now they are at it agin'. Libtards want quaaaaars to be counted as full humans too. ONce agin' liberals want people who ain't like us to take all our jobs. That is why I endorse the Southern Blabtists. I dare say, we can send enough of them to washington to bring back slavery and restore amerika to what our founding slave-holders intended.
Yew no us sew well. The racism in our hearts is just a special kind of our Patriotic Christian Gawwwwds luv. Stoopid libtards can't never understand that gawwwd made people different fer a reason. Some of his chilluns (hint: tha year-round-tanned wuns) are supposed to serve the natural-born leeders amung us (hint: white folks). Hope this message gets thru to sum of you stoopid libtards. Oh, and bein' quaaaar is a choice. Yew kin wake up one mornin' and say: I think I'll try bein' quaaar today. Then if you don't like it, yew kin change back the next day. My pastor tole me thats how it works. Gawwwd never made nobody quaaaar, that's fer shure. Southern Blabtist forever.... woohoo... go team Amerika
My Southern Blabtist pastor sez yew are sew right. Liberals are soooo stoopid... their crazy ideas about changin' things. They are tew stoopid to see that change is always bad becuz everything that iz iz exactly the way gawwwd wants it. It's like they think gawwwd gave them brains to think up things fer themselves.... how stooopid kin yew git? Take slavery fer instance. It is what made amerika grate and is what gawwwwd intended fer the dark folks on accounta' they'uns jest aint as smart as folks like me and my church. So what did libtards dew? They fought against slavery... fought against gawwwds will . Now all those black folks iz outta werk in Deeetroit and its all becuz libtards took away their slave jobs. Stooopid.
I use the same aftershave but I never heard 'o peeple goin' around touting it like they wuz part of an exclusive club. Yew must be from California.
Graham is a believer. Atheists are non believers. Both sides are wrong. It's like democrats versus republicans. Hello, independents? Nobody knows the answers, but a smart person knows to consider all possibilities that are not dubious. that probably discounts most religions, haha.
We get it. You are too afraid to make a choice and you want people to think that your indecision makes you special.
No, I've made my choice(s) without securing hard evidence. And I ain't afraid, neither. I'm looking forward to new challenges.
You put a lot of importance in belief. Belief: When people don't understand something, some of them will make up $hizzle to try explaining it. If enough people believe the shizzle, some of them will promotes the idea... for money (self-appointed religious 'authorities' like Billy & (Tweaker) Son. It's human nature. When someone believes any of this shizzle it is because they don't understand something but they will accept easy answers when they shouldn't. That is belief. Believers are innocent victims of shameless shysters who make lots of money without doing honest work.
We still have people like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes but I don't think there will ever be another Graham. People don't really want to be preached to anymore.
Who wouldn't like Joel's 'Bling Jeeezus'? Gawwwwwd wants yeeeewwwwww to have a big ole Caddy in the driveway. He promises vast riches if yew will only give ten percent of what yewwwwww make to me. "Oh lord won't you buy me a.... mah friends all drive...."
Take mah love offering sweet Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus. I'll gladly give ten dollars a week if you are sure I'll get me a pimped-out Caddy before Christmas. I could sure use a new big-screen tv too. Thanks oh great god of material riches.
Is this Bling Jeeeezus copyrighted? I smell opportunity outside the door... with a big stanky pile of money that Osteen only wishes he could have...
I personally prefer the shyster televangelist who refers to viewers donations as seeds... and sending him money, naturally, is how you 'plant a seed fer Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus' ... I laugh my adze off every time I think about his face (it looks like he can barely keep from laughing) . This codhead is the most shameless huckster I've ever seen. He makes Franklin 'Pay me my millions' Graham look like a saint. I hope Mr. Seedy doesn't go to the next level and demand to have private audiences with the young females in his 'flock'... you know, talk to them about spillin' his seed and such...
LOL... Now I want to see that televangelist... what is his name?
I'd hate to give the televangelist con any advertising; but his last name has 2 syllables - the first one rhymes with "cur" and the last one rhymes with "c.ock".
HAPPY VETERAN'S DAY On Monday.
"Happy Veteran's Day" is not an expression I would use. November 11 is a deeply significant day of remembrance for people in countries like Britain and France where the enormous sacrifice of servicemen and women who paid with their lives is commemorated.
In the US such remembrances are a mockery of their intent. Memorial Day has become a day for picnics and barbeques and Veterans Day is not recognized by most companies as a paid holiday.
Say rather, "remember the sacrifices made by veterans and their families, tomorrow is Veterans' Day".
You have Memorial Day and Veterans' Day confused.
Memorial Day falls on the last Monday in May, and it was originally about commemorating the fallen soldiers of the Union Army during the Civil War, then it became about commemorating the fallen soldiers of the United States Armed Forces altogether.
Veterans' Day falls on November 11, and is about paying tribute to the living men and women of United States Armed Forces who served while remembering the fallen ones.
p.s. Misplaced the apostrophe in Veterans the first time around; one of my pet peeves.
As a fundamentalist christian, that Graham was basically conservative is a given. He also opposed Catholicism, Judaism, and Mormonism. But his talent was crusading with a fairly innocuous and mild religious message in general by today standards. Graham tried to not offend, alienate, and divide people.
Since his retirement his organization has taken a decidedly and extreme turn to right wing politics under his son Franklin. This article fails to notice that, and even cluelessly points to Trump, Murdock, Palin, all extremists right wingers and dividers as illustrious guests reflecting Graham's popularity. The author is obviously so tone deaf as to not recognize the birthday party as not being reflective at all of how Graham conducted his ministry in the least.
Glory be to God Almighty, the Father, Son (Lord Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. There is no one who is the Perfect Shepherd but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that no one can replace nor assume His position.
Influential preachers are only imperfect humans, they come and go, God bless them, but we as Christians shall never get carried away thinking that they are the reason, ONLY Jesus Christ Himself Is The Way.
I have listened to many preachers including Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, John Hagee, Joel Osteen, Andrew Wommack, etc., God bless them all, but I never took anyone of them as the way to Christ but witnesses to Him. Every individual Christian believer has a direct relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ Who Is The Way.
Happy 95th Birthday Dr. Billy Graham.
And your real name is Jimmy Swaggart?
OK. You spend a lot of time listening to shysters. I have some land I think you should buy. In ten years it'll be worth a thousand times what I'm asking for it. It'd keep it myself but Swaggert's gawwwwwwd commanded me to sell it. "He" also said you should buy it. Call me.
Let's see......by convincing people they should worship his pretend friends or they will burn forever? Yeah, great guy that one.
Jee, why would you ridicule the heart-felt beliefs of someone else, beliefs that do not hurt you in any way? That is just mean and makes you out to be a bully.
The Cult of Graham has a long history of the most vile racism, of hurting the innocent. They actively promoted and endorsed slavery. They did it for money... the wealty plantation-owners gave large donations to the church for promoting slavery. It's a historic fact.
That's just not true. My darkies all run off with Mr. Graham and his medicine show. That man was a snake from way way back, and he was no friend of honest people who worked honest men out in the cotton. We gave them three good meals a day and Mr. Graham pulled them away with his fancy lies.
The author of this article must be a comedian. Nixon's notorious tapes brought out that Graham is anti-Semitic. Most of Graham's following is in the backwoods of the deep South.
Graham has a huge world wide following.
And as for the Nixon tapes, he has apologized and asked for forgiveness for bowing to peer pressure in front of a President. If you know anything about Billy Graham he has a deep love and affection for Jewish people.
You are the worst kind of cult follower... the kind that keeps it going. What a sick thing to be.
Yep. A bigotted jew-hater just says he regrets revealing what he really believes and you're not troubled that you are the member of a bigotted racist cult that endorsed slavery. You can only be an So.B (southern Blabtist).
The Cult-of-Graham very publically endorsed slavery and encouraged its ignorant, easily misled southern cult-members to wage the Civil War and protect the plantation owners lifestyles. You can't get find any more vile behaviour than that until Hitler came along (and by Grahams anti-semitic remarks to Nixon you can imagine how he might have admired Adolf as much as many So. B's (southern Blabtists) do even today (and this comes from those that I have to work with).
As everyone knows, graham is a wealthy con. That is not the definition of a respectable religious figure.
$70,000 a year salary,drives a paid for ten year old Volvo and lives in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. Not exactly a flamboyant lifestyle for a man who's been on the most admired people list of America over 50 years. A rich con? You sir,should be ashamed of yourself for such a comment
Graham has access to vast riches. Don't be so naive and grumpy.
So, plugging your ears and saying la-la-la-la-la... ah caint entertain no ideeee-ers that make my cult-leader out to be what he really is? Good fer yeeeewwww.
Look up the value of his 'cabin'... liar.
And you too, grumpy2. Turn that frown upside down and acknowledge that graham is wealthy, powerful, well-travelled, well-fed, well-cared for public figure.
He has a personal net worth estimated at $25M.
"Graham is a wealthy con"
You clearly don't have any idea what you are talking about. In terms of wealth he is clearly middle class.
He is however a first class person. ;)
This is a very thoughtful article and a reasonable tribute to a very influential man who has reached the milestone of being 95 years old.
I liked the references to the fact that Graham occasionally pushed back against stricter fundamentalists and the nonsensically egotistical notion of divine American exceptionalism with quotes like:
“I tell you that God doesn't love us any more than He does the Russians.”
Graham should be remembered for not joining the Moral Majority stating, perhaps a little disingenuously considering his life's work, that religion should not be involved in politics.
Having said that this is not a balanced article, and perhaps that is only just and that upon his death a more balanced approach can be written.
There is no mention of his doc.umented anti-semitism. Despite comments that he was a pragmatist and "inclusive" he never believed Mormonism was a 'valid' form of Christianity. The stunt pulled in the 2012 election cycle by Franklin Graham greatly diminishes whatever legacy Billy Graham has.
Whether you agree with Dr. Graham or not, he left a mark on the second half of the 20th century.
I know people, now atheists, that were paid by him to be healed, during his early days in Minneapolis.
Griping and complaining about the life and legacy of a 95 year old guy on his birthday.Although Graham would have too much dignity and class to ever say it himself: What a bunch of losers.
I know you are, but what am I?
Yea, I'll admit it. I'm probably a bigger one for saying it. I should try harder to be nice. But still, if it was my dad on his 95th birthday... just saying.
Plenty of bad people manage to reach old age. For instance, do we respect the Nazi war criminal who manages to elude capture until he is 95? Age does not grant automatic respect.
Personally, I'm indifferent toward Billy Graham. I don't know if he's good or bad. I just think he was selling a product he has no way to deliver.
He made disparaging remarks about Jews with Nixon, probably thinking no one would ever find out
And he regretted it and apologized.
He regretted getting caught.
You cannot know what he regretted.
exactly... shameless hypocrites, Southern Blabtists... they always show a second face in public... I've lived with them all my life. Everything else about the South is pretty sweet though... and thankfully So. B. 'bodycounts' are dropping.
Forgiveness is an important tenet of Christianity, but the man was an anti-semite – at least up until the 1970s.
Perhaps he truly saw the error of his ways, and it is not surprising for someone of his background that he would have thought that way, but nevertheless the facts are the facts.
A whole bunch of Convservateies don't like TAXES, but regular weekly contributions to enrich TV engangelists are just Fine. . .
I'll never forget seeing this nitwit speak, what a joke. If our thoughts become reality and the Christ followers are able to dream a little dream of an afterlife, Hell is coming for this man.
So then... Socialism had nothing to do with Billy's rise to pastor-ship..?
Socialism?? Wth are you talking about?
Societies make up Life's pedestals of power and socialisms distinguish the one's wantonly seeking pedestal powers... For, without social backing there would be no pedestals of power from which to stand upon let alone be conditioned into becoming... Religious perceptions are born and bred out from family socialisms and their intertwining social sanctities,,, Therefore is it not socialism the rooted fabrics of all humanoid mannerisms within power wielding stands of prowess..?
Lionly is not using the Crox News definition of socialism...
He gave up on the 10 commandments to support future God Romney,his politics trump his religion. That is why Nixon directed his stooges to pump him up with his war support...ajust because he is very old does not make him a quality person.
On the other hand, just because you're not old does not make you a quality person, baboon.
Badly squeezing in your religious slur reveals that you aren't quality on 2 counts.
I won't say what I think your future holds, though it's pretty obvious.
Your ad hominem attacks prove your religious hypocrisy. And your Pascal's wager argument is another logical fallacy. You really are quite ignorant and one of the worst witnesses in da xtian world.
Excellent point... the Graham PR machine (and Franklin has already shown he will stoop even lower) will exploit any opportunity to get free media coverage. Wise elderly sage? or evil jew-hating money-grubbing fraud who parts old ladies with their grocery money?
The first three commentaries sum it up quite well. Next topic!!!
"How Billy Graham became an American icon"
P. T. Barnum was right!!!
When I was a kid, it never failed that the Billy Graham-Preach-O-Rama preempted the show I actually wanted to watch. It never failed.
It's probably for the best. I always ended up doing something else, like reading a book, rather than wasting my time watching TV.
Billy Graham made millions from stupid deluded sheeple. He should get a spot in the con artist hall of fame.
Actually his ministry was always audited and passed with flying colors. You don't know what you are talking about. He took a moderate salary and was nothing like many of the tele-evangelists of today.
So why is he so rich after spending a life following Jesus's example?
"It makes me sick that it's hard to distinguish an honest leader that preaches a cause, that's made and not based on the profit they'll receive from telling the world. What line divides you from the seeders who sow without growing believers. You point and you judge forgetting that their faith is molded by your lead."
Your comments are an absolute JOKE when you call someone "childish" for picking and choosing from the Bible and not picking and choosing what you want to pick and choose.
Who said he was rich? Everything I know and read about him says he and his family live a very modest life. His salary was never large. His log cabin house in NC is modest. Where do you get figures for a net worth of $25 million???
Who says I pick and choose? I don't pick and choose but thanks for the lie. It was humorous when I read it.
The only "lie" here was when you called someone "childish" for ACCURATELY quoting the Bible.
Grow up. Face reality.
I can't see how anyone can accu.mulate a net worth of $25 million on a "modest" salary.
But, as you say, he is less rapacious than the current flock of televangelists who make a mockery of tax-exemption for churches. Joel Osteen is half Dr. Graham's age and has a net worth of $40M.
For the latest salary issues with the Grahams see:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Concerns about his rising financial compensation during tough economic times have prompted evangelist Franklin Graham to temporarily give up future contributions to his retirement plans at the two Christian charities he leads.
As president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, he receives two full-time salaries and two retirement packages. Last year his total compensation from the two Christian ministries was $1.2 million.
The size of Graham's total 2008 compensation - $535,000 from Samaritan's Purse and $669,000 from Charlotte, N.C.-based BGEA - drew questions from nonprofit experts. They doubted that one person - even the energetic, globe-trotting Graham - can do two full-time jobs when those positions are head of organizations that employ hundreds and spend hundreds of millions around the world.
As head of the Boone, N.C.-based Samaritan's Purse, Graham earned more last year than any other leader of an international relief agency based in the United States. That includes eight with larger budgets, according to data compiled by Guidestar, a group that monitors non-profits.
Graham, 57, and his two boards of directors pointed out that most of his 2008 compensation came not from increases in his salaries, which have remained flat in recent years, but from accelerated contributions to his retirement. The boards said they were playing catch-up - Graham received no retirement during his first few years at the two organizations - and were hoping to satisfy his goal of working for free when he reaches age 70.
In addition, Graham and the boards said, nearly half of what he received last year from BGEA - $300,000 - was deferred retirement money that had been committed and reported over three previous years. Under new IRS rules, which have affected other nonprofit CEOs, the money had to be re-reported as a lump sum in 2008, the year Graham became vested. "
Reminds me of the old joke: I'll toss the collection up into the air, and what the lord wants, he'll keep...
In fariness, this is about Franklin Graham, not his father.
Billy G. is paid $400,000/yr. for showing up at his birthday party every five years. (guidestar.org)
counterww, your claims are totally non sequitur to my point. It is irrelevant that Graham's accounting passes any test. The con is what he is promising, and never has to deliver on.
If there is a hereafter, Billy G will soon have some 'splainin' to do... not to mention the money trail...."Mr. Graham...our audit shows 500 million dollars are missing from the collections received..."
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