William Franklin Graham Jr. (November 7, 1918-February 21, 2018) was an American evangelist, a prominent evangelical Christian figure, and an ordained Southern Christian figure, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who became well-known international in the late 1940s. One of his biographers has placed him “among the most influential Christian leaders” the 20th century. As a preacher, he held large indoor and outdoor rallies with sermons that were broadcast on radio and television, Graham hosted annual “Crusades”, evangelist campaigns that ran from 1947 until his retirement in 2005. He also hosted the radio show “Hour of Decision” from 1950 to 1954. He repudiated racial segregation and insisted on racial integration for his revivals and crusades, starting in 1953; he also invited Martin Luther King Jr. to preach jointly at a revival in New York City in 1957. In addition to his religious aims, he helped shape the worldview of a huge number of people who came from different backgrounds, leading them to find a relationship between the Bible and contemporary secular viewpoints. According to his website, Graham preached to live audiences of 210 million people in more than 185 countries through various meetings, including BMS World Mission and Global Mission.
Graham was a spiritual adviser to U.S presidents, and he provided spiritual counsel for every president from Harry S. Truman (33rd) to Barack Obama (44th). He was particularly close to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson (one of Graham’s closest friends), and Richard Nixon. He was also lifelong friends), and Richard Nixon. He was also lifelong friends with another televangelist, the founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, Robert Schuller, whom Graham talked into starting his own television ministry.
Graham operated a variety of media and published outlets. According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior”. Graham’s evangelism was appreciated by mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations because he encouraged new converts to become members of these churches. As of 2008, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. One special television broadcast in 1996 alone may have reached a television audience of as many as 2.5 billion people worldwide. Because of his crusades, Graham preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. Graham was on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women a record 61 times. Grant Wacker writes that by the mid-1960s, he had become the “Great Legitimatize”: “By then his presence conferred status on presidents, acceptability on wars, shame on racial prejudices, desirability on decency, dishonor on indecency, and prestige on civic events”.
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