America’s minister and the pastor to the White House for the past fifty years, the Reverend Billy Graham is named as the third recipient of the “American of the Year” honors.
A true warrior for God, Rev. Graham follows the previous selections of NFL and real-life warrior Pat Tillman in 2004 and culture warrior Bill O’Reilly in 2005.
For the current year honor, Graham was selected over recently deceased former President Gerald Ford and former UN Ambassador John Bolton.
In a year that showed sharp division in American politics and increased division in American society overall, and a continued worldwide increase in violence and movements away from such basic societal standards as self-respect, self-control, principled morality, and consideration for others, Mr. Graham wound down his public life, one that was almost always the model for such standards and behavior.
Mr. Graham was born as Franklin Graham Jr. in November of 1918, four days before the end of World War I, and was raised on a dairy farm in North Carolina. His was the typical life of a young man during the Great Depression, and he passed his time reading on a wide variety of subjects until at the age of 16 he went to see a traveling evangelist at a revival meeting in his hometown of Charlotte.
In 1939, Mr. Graham was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention. He studied at what is now Trinity College, and graduated in 1943 from Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met and married his wife and lifelong partner Ruth McCue Bell, herself the daughter of a missionary surgeon.
The Graham’s would go on to raise a family of three daughters and two sons. Mr. Graham pastored the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois and ministered to youth and servicemen during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
In 1949, Mr. Graham launched his first major “crusade” in Los Angeles, and his fiery oratory style and his perceived integrity and sincerity drew huge crowds.
The crusade, scheduled for a three-week run, was extended to eight weeks, and led to similar crusades extended to twelve weeks in London in 1954 and sixteen weeks at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1957.
In the decades since, Mr. Graham has gone on to preach the Gospel in thousands more public presentations to millions of people around the world, in most all of the major cities and venues on every continent. He has preached the Word on television, and written dozens of books and other works, always preaching the message of peace, love and salvation through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior.
Mr. Graham met and ministered to U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower during the 50’s, and quickly became known as a sort of Pastor to the White House and the nation, going on to be a strong confidante of every President since. He was particularly close to President Nixon, and in his later life has become friends to both the politically polar-opposite Clinton and Bush families.
The famous pollsters, the Gallup organization, described Mr. Graham as the dominant figure in their “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” polls, on which he made 48 overall and has now made 41 consecutive appearances. He has appeared on the covers of and been featured in Time, Newsweek, Life and numerous other publications.
In an April, 2006 article, Newsweek stated “Graham’s largely unifying legacy is worth considering at a time when faith seems ever more divisive.” Like many of us, Mr. Graham struggled through his younger years as he straddled the line between political involvement and spiritual matters, before finally gravitating to become a solely spiritual force.
Now all of this might prompt one to comment that Graham has indeed been an important public ministerial figure, and a great American, but also question what he did in particular in 2006 to warrant selection as the top American for this past year. What Graham has done both this year, as he spoke before many groups which honored him for his lifetime of giving, and in his previous years is attempt to heal us.
America as the world leader, and the world at large, has become extremely divisive. Democrats vs. Republicans, conservatives vs. liberals, young vs. old, defenders of democracy vs. islamofascists. Not only in division, but in violence and war, the news is filled every day with these bleak images.
It seems the only break from the violent is the obscene. Which current young starlet has bared all publicly? Which Hollywood couple is breaking up? Which drunken celebrity has committed a crime, or made a publicly foolish statement? The world seems to have gone insane all at once.
In this time, in this year, the example of calm, reassuring, stable, God-fearing faith that the Reverend Billy Graham has continued to exhibit while battling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses and debilitations of old age is a lesson for all of us.
He is a true man of God, our own John the Baptist for our times. He genuinely cares about every one of us, that we might come to know and learn the teachings of Jesus Christ and be saved.