Billy Graham, ‘America’s pastor,’ laid to rest in Charlotte in his ‘last crusade’

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CHARLOTTE — Billy Graham, the Protestant preacher known as “America’s pastor,” was remembered at his funeral Friday under a large white tent evoking his first “Canvas Cathedral” revival nearly 70 years ago.

More than 2,000 people attended the private service in Charlotte for Graham, who was 99 when he died last week at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. Among the guests were President Donald Trump, the first lady and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.

Graham’s sister, Jean Ford, spoke of their religious upbringing.

“We learned hard work, we learned to love the Lord, we learned to pray, we learned to love the Scriptures, and that has never left any of us,” Ford said.

Graham’s longtime pastor, Donald J. Wilton of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, spoke of Graham’s deep belief in biblical truths.

“He loved the Bible,” Wilton said. “It governed how he lived, and it governed how he died.”

After the service at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, the globe-trotting preacher and spiritual confidant to American presidents was buried beside his wife, Ruth, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the library’s Prayer Garden.

“It was Mr. Graham’s explicit intent that his funeral service reflect and reinforce the gospel message he preached for more than 60 years,” said Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

A tribute at the US Capitol

The service comes after Trump and high-profile Washington leaders praised Graham this week at the US Capitol Rotunda. The influential minister became only the fourth person to lie in honor there.

Graham’s eldest son, Franklin, who now runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was to deliver a funeral message Friday in addition to sister Ford, Graham’s son Nelson and daughters Virginia Graham Tchividjian, Anne Graham Lotz and Ruth Graham McIntyre.

David Bruce, his executive assistant for more than two decades, was also to speak at the burial.

A guiding light to generations of American evangelicals, Graham is said to have converted millions to Christianity. He evangelized to nearly 215 million people over six decades and prayed alongside US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

US leaders who relied on the spiritual counsel of the man some called the “Protestant pope” included Lyndon B. Johnson, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Converting millions to Christianity

During his life, Graham reportedly persuaded more than 3 million people to commit their lives to Christianity. His preaching reached 185 of the world’s 195 countries, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

News of Graham’s February 21 death elicited remembrances from Trump, Pence, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush and many others.

Graham is credited with bringing the gospel message of tent-revival preachers into the modern media age by employing everything from telegrams to telephones to the internet in his lifelong quest to “win souls for Christ.”

Along the way, he avoided the types of public scandals that befell other prominent preachers.

His missionary work began in 1944 at rallies for the Youth for Christ Campus Life ministry. Within a few years, he held the first of his famous tent crusades in downtown Los Angeles, where 350,000 people heard him preach over eight weeks. Those who heeded his message of salvation under the “Canvas Cathedral” included a radio disc jockey, a small-time mobster and an Olympic athlete.

Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, launching a global ministry that even attracted followers from liberal Protestant congregations and Catholic parishes.

The preacher eventually took his crusades — a mix of hymns, preaching and patriotic fervor — to more than 80 countries, according to William Martin, a former historian at Rice University and the author of “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.”

His “last crusade” in June 2005 in Queens, New York, drew 230,000 people.

Graham also delivered his message via a weekly Sunday radio program called “The Hour of Decision” and wrote an advice column, “My Answer.” In 1956, he founded the magazine Christianity Today, a leading evangelical publication.

Born into a farming life

William Franklin Graham Jr. was born November 7, 1918. He was raised on a dairy farm near Charlotte. He said he made a personal commitment to God in 1934 after hearing an evangelist preach.

He graduated in 1940 from the Florida Bible Institute, now Trinity College. Graham was ordained that year by a Southern Baptist church in Florida.

Graham graduated in 1943 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met Ruth Bell, his future wife. She was the daughter of the Southern Presbyterian missionary and surgeon L. Nelson Bell.

The couple married in 1943 and later moved to Montreat. They had five children.

“I don’t think I could have ever married anybody that would have been more helpful to my work and ministry than she has been,” he told Larry King on CNN in 2005.

Ruth died in 2007 at the couple’s home in Montreat.

“Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Graham said in her obituary. “No one else could have borne the load that she carried.”

The pulpit brought him great political influence. He urged Dwight Eisenhower to run for president in 1952 and was an unofficial adviser to the former general after he was elected. He also became close friends with President Lyndon Johnson and preached at the former president’s funeral. President George W. Bush credits Graham for his transformation as a serious and committed evangelical.

But one political

Billy Graham was laid to rest Friday at a funeral that seemed like a continuation of his decades of evangelistic preaching, with his eldest son, Franklin Graham, issuing an explicit call for people watching the service to convert to Christianity.

“Just a few days ago, my father followed Jesus all the way to heaven,” Franklin Graham said of his father, who died February 21. “How about you? If this were your funeral, would you be in heaven?”

The noontime service, in many ways Graham’s final evangelical crusade, was streamed live online from Charlotte, North Carolina. Franklin Graham said there was “no better place” than at his father’s funeral for viewers to convert to Christianity.

“The world with all of its political correctness would lead you to believe that many roads lead to God, but that’s just not true. Jesus is the only way,” he said.

More than 2,000 people attended the private service for Graham, who was 99 when he died last week at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. Among the guests were President Donald Trump, the first lady and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen.

“Emotional and inspiring service for Reverend Billy Graham,” Pence tweeted after the funeral. “He will be missed.”

Graham’s sister, Jean Ford, spoke of their family’s deeply religious upbringing.

“We learned hard work, we learned to love the Lord, we learned to pray, we learned to love the Scriptures, and that has never left any of us,” Ford said.

Graham’s longtime pastor, Donald J. Wilton of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, spoke of Graham’s deep belief in biblical truths.

“He loved the Bible,” Wilton said. “It governed how he lived, and it governed how he died.”

After the service at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, the globe-trotting preacher and spiritual confidant to American presidents was to be buried beside his wife, Ruth, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the library’s Prayer Garden.

“It was Mr. Graham’s explicit intent that his funeral service reflect and reinforce the gospel message he preached for more than 60 years,” said Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

A tribute at the US Capitol

Trump and high-profile Washington leaders praised Graham this week at the US Capitol Rotunda. The influential minister became only the fourth person to lie in honor there.

A guiding light to generations of American evangelicals, Graham is said to have converted millions to Christianity. He evangelized to nearly 215 million people over six decades and prayed alongside US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

US leaders who relied on the spiritual counsel of the man some called the “Protestant pope” included Lyndon B. Johnson, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

News of Graham’s February 21 death elicited remembrances from Trump, Pence, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush and many others.

Converting millions to Christianity

During his life, Graham reportedly persuaded more than 3 million people to commit their lives to Christianity. His preaching reached 185 of the world’s 195 countries, according to his evangelistic association.

The preacher eventually took his crusades — a mix of hymns, preaching and patriotic fervor — to more than 80 countries, according to William Martin, a former historian at Rice University and the author of “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.”

Graham also delivered his message via a weekly Sunday radio program called “The Hour of Decision” and wrote an advice column, “My Answer.” In 1956, he founded the magazine Christianity Today, a leading evangelical publication.

Born into a farming life

William Franklin Graham Jr. was born November 7, 1918. He was raised on a dairy farm near Charlotte. He said he made a personal commitment to God in 1934 after hearing an evangelist preach.

The couple married in 1943 and later moved to Montreat, North Carolina. They had five children, all of whom spoke at Friday’s funeral.

Anne Graham Lotz, one of his daughters, said she believed her father’s death was a “shot across the bow from heaven.”

“I believe God is saying: Wake up, church. Wake up, world. Wake up, Anne. Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming,'” she said.

Ruth Graham, another of Graham’s daughters, spoke movingly of troubled times in her life, saying that she feared her father’s response. “You don’t want to embarrass your father, but you really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham.”

But when she approached her father’s house, he welcomed her, Ruth Graham said, opening his arms to wrap her in a hug.

Franklin Graham, his father’s successor at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, spoke for the longest time among the siblings on Friday, exhorting the audience several times to commit their lives to Christ.

“My father preached on heaven, taught millions how to find heaven, wrote a book on heaven and today he is in heaven,” he said. “His journey is complete.”