Billy Graham; Christian evangelist known as America's Pastor, dead at 99

Billy Graham, known as America's Pastor for his work with presidents and one of the most widely heard Christian evangelists in history, has died at age 99.
Graham counselled presidents and preached to millions across the world from his native North Carolina to communist North Korea during his 70 years on the pulpit. He died on Wednesday morning at his home in Montreat, according to a spokesperson for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The Southern Baptist minister, who provided special counsel to presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments. 
Mark DeMoss is a spokesperson for the DeMoss Group, a public relations firm handling the arrangements for Graham.
DeMoss said Graham's body will be taken from Asheville to Charlotte on Saturday starting at 11 a.m. ET. The procession is expected to take 3 ½ hours, ending at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
DeMoss said Graham will lie in repose Monday and Tuesday, and a private funeral will be held on Friday, March 2. He says invitations will be extended to U.S. President Donald Trump and former presidents.
Over his lifetime, Graham reached more than 200 million through his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic feature films and globe-girdling satellite TV hookups. Graham's message was not complex or unique, yet he preached with a conviction that won over audiences worldwide.
His message and service to presidents, also including Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush, earned him the nickname America's Pastor.

'God has his people in all churches'

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan gave Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honour.
When the Billy Graham Museum and Library was dedicated in 2007 in Charlotte, former presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended
"When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he's praying for you, not the president," Clinton said at the ceremony.
Born Nov. 7, 1918, on his family's dairy farm near Charlotte, N.C., Graham came from a fundamentalist background that expected true Bible believers to stay clear of Christians with even the most minor differences over Scripture. But as his crusades drew support from a widening array of Christian churches, he came to reject that view.

He joined in a then emerging movement called New Evangelicalism, which abandoned the narrowness of fundamentalism to engage broader society. Fundamentalists at the time excoriated the preacher for his new direction, and broke with him when he agreed to work with more liberal Christians in the 1950s.
"The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches," he said in the early 1950s.
In 1957, he said, "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ."

'Finally gave in' at the 18th hole

His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today. Graham's path to becoming an evangelist began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared farm boy committed himself to Christ at a local tent revival.
"I did not feel any special emotion," he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am.
"I simply felt at peace," he wrote, and thereafter, "the world looked different."
After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, but found the school stifling and transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa, where he practised sermonizing in a swamp, preaching to birds and alligators before tryouts with small churches. He still wasn't convinced he should be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf course.
"I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the 18th hole," he said. "'All right, Lord,' I said, 'If you want me, you've got me."'
A 1949 Los Angeles revival turned Graham into evangelism's rising star. The publicity gave him a national profile.
Over the next decade, his massive crusades in England and New York 
catapulted him to international celebrity. His 12-week London campaign in 1954 defied expectations, drawing more than two million people and the respect of the British, many of whom had derided him before his arrival as little more than a slick salesman.
Three years later, he held a crusade in New York City's Madison Square Garden that was so popular, it was extended from six to 16 weeks, capped off with a rally in Times Square that packed Broadway with more than 100,000 people.

'I would like to have done more'

As his public influence grew, the preacher's stands on the social issues of his day were watched closely by supporters and critics alike.
One of the most pressing was the civil rights movement. Graham was no social activist and never joined marches, which led prominent Christians such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to publicly condemn Graham as too moderate.
Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings.

In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, before his final crusade which was held in New York, Graham said he regretted that he didn't battle for civil rights more forcefully.
"I think I made a mistake when I didn't go to Selma" with many clergy who joined the historic Alabama march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I would like to have done more."
As America's most famous religious leader, he golfed with statesmen and entertainers, and dined with royalty. Graham's relationships with presidents also boosted his ministry and became a source of pride for conservative Christians who were so often caricatured as backward.

'The secret of my work is God'

But those ties proved problematic when close friend Richard Nixon resigned as president because of the Watergate scandal, leaving Graham devastated and baffled. He resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics.

While he succeeded in preserving his reputation, he could not completely shield his family from the impact of his work. He was on the road for months at a time, leaving his wife at their mountainside home in Montreat to raise their five children. His wife, Ruth, died in 2007.
Anne Graham Lotz has said that her mother was effectively "a single parent." Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was travelling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, "I'd rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man."
"I will miss her terribly," Billy Graham said, "and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven."
Graham will be buried at the Billy Graham Museum and Library.
"I have been asked, 'What is the secret?"' Graham had said of his preaching. "Is it showmanship, organization or what? The secret of my work is God. I would be nothing without Him."

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