Billy Graham, world’s best known evangelist, dies at 99

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American evangelist Billy Graham, a spiritual advisor to a dozen US presidents, has died at age 99, US media reported, citing family sources. Graham died at his home on Wednesday morning from natural causes, a family spokesman said.

Tall and handsome, Graham, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, cut a charismatic figure as an evangelical preacher whose huge rallies found audiences on radio and television.

He preached to a long line of US presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and was featured in the recent mini series “The Crown” as a spiritual adviser to the young Queen Elizabeth II.

Graham had dealt with a number of illnesses in his last years, including prostate cancer, hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain) and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

 Graham spread his influence across the country and around the world through a combination of religious conviction, commanding stage presence and shrewd use of radio, television and advanced communication technologies.

A central achievement was his encouraging evangelical Protestants to regain the social influence they had once wielded, reversing a retreat from public life that had begun when their efforts to challenge evolution theory were defeated in the Scopes trial in 1925.

But in his later years, Graham kept his distance from the evangelical political movement he had helped engender, refusing to endorse candidates and avoiding the volatile issues dear to religious conservatives.

Graham’s standing as a religious leader was unusual: Unlike the pope or the Dalai Lama, he spoke for neither a particular church (though he was a Southern Baptist) nor a particular people.

Born in 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina, William Franklin Graham Jr. was the oldest of the four children of William and Morrow Graham. He was raised on a dairy farm, and little in his childhood suggested he would become a world-renowned preacher.

Then at 16, Graham attended a series of revival meetings run by outspoken evangelist Mordecai Ham. The two months he spent listening to Ham’s sermons on sin sparked a spiritual awakening in Graham and prompted him to enroll at Bob Jones College. When the conservative Christian school’s strict doctrine didn’t align with his personal beliefs, he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College of Florida) and joined a Southern Baptist Convention church. He was ordained in 1939.

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