Rev. Billy Graham earned title of ‘America’s pastor’SFlb

From paupers to presidents, those inspired, enriched and transformed by the preachings of the Rev. Billy Franklin Graham easily number in the hundreds of millions.

Rev. Graham, who died Wednesday at age 99 from complications of Parkinson’s disease in Montreat, N.C., surely must be counted among the greatest religious leaders of the 20th century, right alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and the most venerated popes of the Catholic Church.

It is therefore only fitting that the body of Rev. Graham, one of the pioneering and powerful televangelists of the modern era, will lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and Thursday.

It is a rare honor indeed for a private citizens to lie in honor in the chamber of U.S. lawmaking. According to the U.S. House, civil-rights hero Rosa Parks was the last to do so 13 years ago.

It is an honor that Graham, affectionately known by millions as “America’s pastor,” richly deserves.

His impact on the masses and on presidents and other world leaders for his contemporary and insightful interpretations of Christian doctrine can never be overestimated.


That impact was vast. His teachings reached a greater number of people than any other religious leader in the history of Christianity.

Over the course of seven decades, he preached Christianity’s principles of compassion, forgiveness, empathy, humility and charity to more than 215 million people in 185 countries and reached a vastly larger audience via mass media. Many seniors in the Mahoning Valley likely recall attending one of his mega crusades in nearby Akron, Cleveland or Pittsburgh.

Likewise, from Harry Truman through Barack Obama, Rev. Graham offered spiritual guidance to the leaders of the Western world.

Obama, our nation’s 44th president, called Graham a “humble servant who prayed for so many … and gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”

Jimmy Carter, our nation’s 39th president, also hailed Rev. Graham’s stature: “Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve.”

Sometimes that service thrust Rev. Graham into the forefront of contemporary social and political controversy, perhaps none so sharp as the civil-rights struggles of America in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many will recall his ripping apart of ropes separating blacks from whites at a crusade in Tennessee in 1953 or his bailing King out of a Birmingham jail in 1963.

And unlike many of his followers in televangelism later in the 20th century, Rev. Graham’s commitment to his vocation was not tarnished by secular scandals, sexual peccadilloes and brazen sins.

As such, in death – as in life – the Rev. Billy Graham remains an exemplary ecumenical religious and social leader whose good deeds and passionate words will be remembered for generations to come.

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