Billy Graham



How a boyhood in rural North Carolina shaped Graham BY LAUREN F. WINNER

   IF you GO to Charlotte, North Carolina, you will find that the farmland where Billy Graham grew up has been transformed. The rolling fields of the early-20th-century agricultural South have morphed into the strip malls, office buildings, and subdivisions of the New South. But Charlotte of 1918, the year of Billy's birth, was a sleepier town. Its first streetcars, creating new suburban residences, had just been built, and it wasn't until Billy was three years old that one of the nation's first radio stations graced Charlotte's airwaves.

A year later, Efird's Department Store, which described itself as "the only store south of Philadelphia with escalators," opened. It was in this Charlotte-- straddling rural and urban, and experiencing the first pangs of transition into the world-class city people know today—that Graham was born.


   Frank and Morrow Graham built, and reared their four children on, a thriving dairy farm. The children grew up in a colonial-style house with indoor plumbing. The family was close-knit. Indeed, Billy and two younger siblings, Catherine and Melvin, shared a bedroom until Catherine was 13. Jean Graham Ford—the youngest Graham sibling, born almost 14 years after Billy and his only surviving sibling today—recalls the special bond shared by Billy and his mother. Billy was always doing little things to please her, like going out into the fields and bringing her wildflowers. Jean also recalls that young Billy loved Morrow's cooking and had a seemingly insatiable appetite: "When you walked in the back door during the spring and summer months, Mother would always have tomatoes on the shelf in the back porch. He would pick up the tomato and eat it just like he would an apple." Billy especially enjoyed boiled custard that only his mother could make. She would fix it by the quart, and he would drink it down.


   The Graham children's early years were quiet but full. Morrow recalled it as "just a quiet country life." Billy and Melvin helped in the dairy farm from a young age, and they played ball, "Billy always loved his ball," his mother recalled.

   The story of Billy Graham's conversion is well known. In the fall of 1934, Mordecai Ham, a Kentucky-born Baptist revivalist, came to Charlotte and preached a powerful sermon.

   The revival stretched over weeks, and for the first week or so, the Grahams didn't attend. Billy was persuaded to check out Ham by Albert McKain, one of his father's most trusted employees. There, in response to Ham's powerful teachings about sin, Billy famously made a decision for Christ. Later that night, standing in the Grahams' breakfast room with fixings for a sandwich, Billy shared his experience with his family: Putting down his sandwich, he turned to Morrow and said, "Oh, Mother, I've been saved tonight." In a 1976 interview, Billy's sister Catherine recalled some of the subtle ways his conversion changed him; He no longer wanted to go to the movies, and he was nicer to his siblings. Doubtless Graham's sense that stirring preaching could inspire a dramatic personal commitment to Christ inspired his own lifelong ministry.

   And yet it is worth remembering that, as decisive as this experience was, it wasn't the beginning of Graham's Christian life. To the contrary, by the time Billy found his way to Ham's revival, he had already experienced nearly two decades of powerful formation in his local Presbyterian church and at home. Both of his parents were raised in the Presbyterian Church, although Morrow was more active than her husband before they married. As children, Jean recalls, the Graham family was at church every time the doors opened, and prayer was part of their daily life. "From the time Mother and Daddy were married, they had family devotions. They prayed together and read Scripture together—even on their honeymoon they knelt together."

   Throughout Billy's childhood, the family had devotions, usually at night, in which Frank or Morrow would read a Bible passage and then family members would take turns praying. Sabbath was a special day in the Graham household. Morrow cooked all of Sunday's food on Saturdays° that no more work than necessary (cows do always have to be milked) would be undertaken on Sunday. This was the strong foundation on which Billy's decisive moment at the Ham revival was built.


   But Billy's early Christian formation was not the only aspect of his life in Charlotte that made an impact. His experiences at various schools would shape his intellectual life, and his understanding of Christian institutions, for decades. Scholarship was not Billy's great strength; indeed, at first it was not clear to anyone that Billy would graduate from high school. His sister Jean recalls the day his homeroom teacher came to the house and warned Morrow that her eldest son wouldn't pass his senior year. (He graduated from Sharon High School in 1936.) His lackadaisical attitude toward schoolwork may have been more of a comment on Billy's desire to follow his own intellectual interests than anything else. He loved to read and read what he wanted to, even Hit meant letting some of his assignments fall by the wayside. Jean remembers Billy often sitting cross-legged in a chair, "biting his fingernails and reading, letting the rest of the world go by."

   That Morrow Graham's children would attend college was a given, but before matriculating came Billy's storied stint as a Fuller Brush salesman. lie surprised his friends—who thought he was not the most hardworking person on the planet and that he would be a flop—by selling brushes throughout the Carolinas. Is it any coincidence that America's most famous and successful proponent of the gospel had his first career success persuading people that they needed a Fuller brush? Though Billy never exactly "sold" the gospel, it's not too much of a leap to imagine that the charm and persuasiveness he used to sell brushes were part of the same powers of persuasion that God used to awaken people to the gospel through Billy's preaching.

   Then came college. Where should a lanky farmer's son from North Carolina study? Morrow had her heart set on her children attending Wheaton College in Illinois, but Bob Jones College (then located in Cleveland, Tennessee) came to seem a better option because it was close to home and less pricey. Yet Billy struggled at Bob Jones from the moment he arrived. As Billy recalled in his memoir, Just As I Am, students' social life and intellectual life were strictly regulated; students' mail was even checked to make sure nothing untoward got through the postal service. Perhaps foreshadowing the showdown Billy and Jones would have years later, Billy chafed against the regulations. Indeed, Billy and his friend Wendell Phillips both broke enough rules to rack up about 149 demerits—one more and they'd be out. His schoolwork suffered, as did his health and, not surprisingly, his spiritual life. "I can't seem to get anywhere in prayer," he wrote to his mother. "I don't feel anything."

   So in 1937, Billy transferred to Florida Bible Institute, which he found much more congenial. There, Billy learned a framework for thinking about critical issues that would stay with him for life: "We were encouraged to think things through for ourselves, but always with the unique authority of Scripture as our guide.... I could stretch my mind without feeling that I was doing violence to my soul."

   It was also in Florida that Billy started preaching. His mentor, academic dean John Minder, brought Billy with him on an Easter jaunt to a Baptist conference center in Palatka, Florida. Their hosts invited Minder to preach that evening at a small Baptist church. Minder, perhaps determined to get his young friend into the pulpit (but perhaps unable to imagine the awesome ministry that would result), declined the invitation, saying that Billy would be happy to take the service. What could Billy do but agree? So that evening, in a small room where a potbellied stove warded off the chill, Billy stood up before a small group of Baptist preachers and recited not one but four sermons he had memorized from a Moody Press book. This was, Billy later recalled, an "awkward debut," to say the least. "Whatever glimmer of talent Dr. Minder might have thought he saw in me was Raw, with a capital R."

   That night in Palatka was, of course, just the beginning. Before long, the rough edges of Billy's earliest sermons were burnished through prayer and practice, and Billy grew from a tyro into a masterful preacher. The seeds of his phenomenal work for Christ were clearly evident in his early years. His love of reading and his willingness to think about challenging issues, always in a biblical framework, would find new direction when he finally matriculated at Wheaton. And his understanding that powerful preaching could help lead even an ordinary North Carolina farm boy to make a decision for Christ would yield copious fruit in decades of evangelism around the world.

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A LOVING GOD Why a fiery evangelist changed his emphasis. BY ANDREW S. FINSTUEN

   BILLY GRAHAM debuted on a national stage during his Los Angeles crusade in fall 1949. Just 30 years old, Graham met his audience with a fiery call for repentance from sin, boldly announcing on the opening night that "this city of wickedness and sin" had a choice between revival and renewal—or judgment. At first, Los Angeles responded rather coolly to Graham's ire. But after a publicity boost from news magnate William Randolph Hearst, Graham's crusade entered its "5th Sin-Smashing Week!" A week later, the "Canvas Cathedral" overflowed as Graham presided over the "6th Great Sin-Smashing Week!"

   Graham was no false advertiser. According to the Los Angeles Times, when the sawdust settled some 6,000 souls had either "rededicated their lives" or converted to a life in Christ, "weeping forgiveness for their sins." Their tears were understandable since, according to Graham, they had narrowly missed hellfire and damnation. "Those who reject Christ," Graham bellowed in an early sermon, "will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone to spend eternity." He emphasized the point even more vividly in a sermon about Judgment Day. Upon Jesus' return, Graham warned, he would condemn the unrepentant with "fire coming from his eyes," and a "sword coming from his mouth." The young evangelist rounded off the theme of condemnation near the end of his crusade with a recitation of Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Such firebrand sermons produced restless nights among some audience members, forcing Graham to employ a "'swing shift'" evangelist to handle decisions for Christ motivated by nightmares of a terrifying Jesus and a wrathful God.

   Along with the thousands who turned to Christ, Graham's life and evangelism were never the same after Los Angeles. Virtually overnight he went from a well-known minister within the evangelical subculture to a nationally recognized preacher. Amidst a deluge of media coverage, an editor at Life captured the transformation simply but presciently: "A New Evangelist Arises." Graham's meteoric rise to prominence awakened him to the burden and responsibility of his national role. That his sermons were scrutinized by the press and analyzed by "hundreds of clergy, laymen, and theologians throughout the world," Graham recalled later, "baffled, perplexed, [and] frightened" him. Consequently, the Los Angeles crusade was the beginning of the end of the "turn or burn" style of preaching that had characterized many of his sermons there.

   If the 1949 campaign marked the beginning of a shift in his preaching tone, the end came a decade later. Graham announced in a 1960 Christian Century article, "What Ten Years Have Taught Me," that he centered his message on the Cross and its dual revelation of the "sins of men" but also the "unwearying love of God." Four years later, in 1964, he confirmed the tonal change of his evangelism, remarking, "I stress a great deal the love of God from the Cross saying to the whole world, 'I love you, I love you, I will forgive you...”'

   What about the intervening years caused this shift in emphasis? In the space of a decade, Graham had become the most renowned evangelist in the world, magnifying a hundred-fold the burden he felt after Los Angeles. With an audience numbering in the millions, Graham understood that his words had the potential to alienate as much as invite untold numbers around the globe. Accordingly, while the theme of repentance was as strong as ever, he curbed excessive references to the flames of hell. More importantly, Graham, as the title of his Century article suggested, adopted the posture of a student.

   Lacking a formal theological education, he hungrily studied the Bible and theology and realized more fully that the gospel really was good news to those "lost and confused and frustrated about purpose and meaning in life." Practical experience also pushed Graham toward his revised message. His wide travels schooled him in the vast diversity of "the family of God" and further convinced him of the need for Christians of all stripes to "love one another." Finally, Graham studied his audience and recognized that he ministered to a population—especially in America—beset by doubt, loneliness, and unhappiness during an era known as the "Age of Anxiety." In light of such malaise, Graham adjusted his message to fit the concerns of his constituents, promising an "age of grace" for those who would turn to Christ.

   Graham's greater assurances about the love of God transformed his evangelism in his attitude toward sin, social crises, and ecumenism. With the love of God at the center of his message, Graham spoke more often of sin as the condition of all humanity, as opposed to sin as particular transgressions of one kind or another. This distinction crystallized for him as he recognized that God's loving sacrifice of Jesus at the Cross was meant to "deal with sin and not just individual sins." Graham's decreasing emphasis on a gospel of good behavior strengthened his commitment to a social gospel. Make no mistake; Graham never wavered in his primary mission to bring individuals to Christ. But he worried less about—as he preached in 1949—"the sins of the Sunset Strip," and more about social problems, including racism, AIDS, and poverty. Finally, Graham's ecumenical spirit deepened and broadened. He refused to speculate about the fate of non-Christians and offered that "the love of God is absolute ... and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have."

   The legacies of Graham's ministry are many, but perhaps none is greater than its demonstration that it is not the flames of hell but the triumphant love of God that defines and emboldens a Christian life.

THE SIN OF TOLERANCE Christ’s narrowness is our salvation. An example of Graham’s fiery preaching in the 1950s. BY BILLY GRAHAM

   ONE OF THE PET WORDS of this age is tolerance. It is a good word, but we have tried to stretch it over too great an area of life. We have applied it too often where it does not belong. The word tolerant means "liberal," "broad-minded," "willing to put up with beliefs opposed to one's convictions," and "the allowance of something not wholly approved."

   Hence, over-tolerance in moral issues has made us soft, flabby, and devoid of conviction.

We have become tolerant about divorce; we have become tolerant about the use of alcohol; we have become tolerant about wickedness in high places; we have become tolerant about crime; and we have become tolerant about godlessness. We have been sapped of conviction, drained of our beliefs, and bereft of our faith.


   If you should ask a man the direction to New York City and he said, "Oh, just take any road you wish, they all lead there," you would question either his sanity or his truthfulness. Somehow, we have gotten it into our minds that "all roads lead to heaven," You hear people say, "Do your best," "Be honest," and "Be sincere—and you will make it to heaven all right."

   But Jesus Christ, who journeyed from heaven to earth and back to heaven again—who knew the way better than any man who ever lived—said. "Enter ye in at the strait gate" (Matt. 7:13, KJV used throughout).

   Jesus was narrow about the way of salvation.

   He plainly pointed out that there are two roads in life. One is broad—lacking in faith, convictions, and Morals. It is the easy, popular, careless way. It is the way of the crowd, the way of the majority, the way of the world. But he pointed out that this road, easy though it is, popular though it may be, leads to destruction.


   His was the intolerance of a pilot who maneuvers his plane through the storm, realizing that a single error, just one flash of broad-mindedness, might bring disaster to all those passengers on the plane.

   Christ was so intolerant of man's lost estate that he left his lofty throne, took on himself the form of man, suffered at the hands of evil men, and died on a cross to purchase our redemption. So serious was man's plight that he could not look upon it lightly. With the love that was his, he could not be broad-minded about a world held captive by its lusts, its appetites, and its sins.

   Having paid such a price, he could not be tolerant about man's indifference toward him and the redemption he had wrought. He said, "He that is not with me is against me" (Matt. 12:30). He also said, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).

   He spoke of two roads, two kingdoms, two masters, two rewards, and two eternities. We have the power to choose whom we will serve, but the alternative to choosing Christ brings certain destruction. Christ said that! The broad, wide, easy, popular way leads to death and destruction. Only the way of the Cross leads home.


   The popular, tolerant attitude toward the gospel of Christ is like a man going to watch the Braves and the Dodgers play a baseball game and rooting for both sides. It would be impossible for a man who has no loyalty to a particular team to really get into the game.

   Christ said, "No man can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). We need more people who will step out and say unashamedly, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

   Jesus pronounced more "woes" on the Pharisees than on any other sect because they were given to outward piety but inward sham. "Woe unto you," he said, "for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" (Matthew 23:25).

   The church is a stage where all the performers are professors, but where too few of the professors are performers. A counterfeit Christian, single-handedly, can do more to retard the progress of the church than a dozen saints can do to forward it. That is why Jesus was so intolerant with sham!

   Sham's only reward is everlasting destruction. It is the only sin which has no reward in this life. Robbers have their loot; murderers their revenge; drunkards their stimulation: but the hypocrite has nothing but the contempt of his neighbors and the judgment of God hereafter.

   Jesus was intolerant toward selfishness. He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself" (Luke 9:23). Self-centeredness is the basic cause of much of our distress in life.

   Jesus underscored the fact that his disciples were to live out flowingly rather than selfishly. To the rich young ruler he said, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven ..." (Matthew 19:21). It wasn't the giving of his goods that Jesus demanded, particularly—but his release from selfishness and it’s devastating effect on his personality and life,

   So, in your life and mine, "self" must be crucified and Christ enthroned. He was intolerant of any other way, for he knew that selfishness and the Spirit of God cannot exist together.

   God has always been intolerant of sin! His Word says: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil" (Isa. 1:16). Sin lies at the root of society's difficulties today. Whatever separates man from God disunites man from man. The world's problems will never be solved until the question of sin is settled.

   But the Cross is God's answer to sin. To all who will receive the blessed news of salvation through Christ, it forever crosses out and cancels sin's power.

   Calvary was a colossal fighting of fire by fire. Christ, taking on himself all of our sins, allowed the fire of sin's judgment to fall upon him. The area around the Cross has become a place of refuge for all who would escape the judgment of sin. Take your place with him at the Cross; stand by the Cross; yield your life to him who redeemed you on the Cross, and the fire of sin's judgment can never touch you.

   God is intolerant of sin. That intolerance sent his Son to die for us. He has said that "whosoever believeth in him shall not perish." The clear implication is that those who refuse to believe in Christ shall be eternally lost. Come to him today, while his Spirit deals with your heart!

POLITICS & POWER -- KILLING COMMUNISM WITH KINDNESS Graham preached behind the Iron Curtain, driving his critics crazy.BY DAVID AIKMAN

   THE BILLY GRAHAM OF THE 1950s reflected the political mood of the United States of that era. His visceral anticommunism expressed itself during the Greater Los Angeles crusade of 1949 in his assessment of the looming Soviet threat.

   "Sleek Russian bombers," he said, were poised to strike America. "Do you know," he thundered at wide-eyed listeners, "that the Fifth Columnists, called Communists, are more rampant in Los Angeles than any other city in America?" Communism, he said, "is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God."

   For years, Graham stayed true to that course as a fire breathing patriotic American orator. But by 1992, he was paying a respectful visit to one of the most tyrannical communist regimes on earth: North Korea. He made comments about the North Korean dictator that made many people roll their eyes in wonder. Kim II-sung, Graham observed, was "a gentle and logical thinker. There are statues of him all over the place. The people there really do love him."

   Well, the people probably "really did" love Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, and other communist tyrants of the 20th century. To demonstrate anything less might have secured a lifetime pass to their country's labor camp system. So Graham's views changed over time. How did this happen? And why?


   The answer is not that Graham actually changed his view of what communism was, until his dying day, he believed that communism was a malevolent attempt to usurp the sovereignty of God on earth.

   But he changed in how he thought Christians should behave toward Communists—the people, not the ideology—and in how he thought the gospel should be presented to regimes that officially rejected Christianity. Graham came to believe that direct confrontation with wicked regimes would not work. His new approach to dealing with communist regimes was an extension of his approach to working for the propagation of the gospel with people whose Christian theology differed sharply from his own—and to the fundamentalists was sheer anathema.

   Graham aroused the ire of fundamentalist Bob Jones, founder of Bob Jones University, during the 1954 Harringay crusade in the UK and the 1957 crusade in New York by associating with liberal clergymen. Years later, in the 1980s, Graham agreed to attend a Soviet-sponsored Christian "peace" conference. On these occasions, he provoked immense displeasure among American Cold War Soviet-watchers.

   During the 1960s, when America was tormented by its experience in Vietnam, Graham gave the impression of leaving the conduct of diplomacy, war, and peace exclusively to the White House, indicating few misgivings about this massive war in a distant part of the world.

   But by the late 1970s, his worldview likely underwent significant change. In 1975, Graham seemed pessimistic about Christian freedom around the world. He speculated openly about the possibility that Christians in the West might experience persecution for their faith. Two years later, Graham was less alarmed by communism than by the rising threat of nuclear war.

   What apparently contributed to a major shift in Graham's view was a private briefing he received in the late 1970s from a senior official in the Defense Department. The official had come all the way to the Graham home in Montreat, North Carolina, to spell out to the Grahams the very dire consequences for America of a real nuclear war. It obviously was not a classified briefing because Graham did not have any government security clearances. But the facts seemed utterly grim. The Grahams were "appalled" on learning what would happen if a nuclear war were to occur, according to Graham biographer John Pollock. In light of those grim realities, the brittle verities of anticommunism may no longer have seemed so attractive.

   In fact, complex negotiations for his first preaching visit to a communist country, Hungary, had been in process five years before Graham actually arrived there in the fall of 1977. When he announced his forthcoming visit earlier that year, Hungarian exiles living in the United States sharply criticized Graham. His reply to them was almost identical to what he had said to the fundamentalists when they took him to task for his dalliances with liberal Protestants during the New York crusade of 1957. "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody," he said, "to preach the gospel of Christ if there are no strings attached to my message."

   In the event, the preaching tour—the word crusade was not used, out of deference to the feelings of Hungary's communist rulers—was a dramatic success, with thousands of Protestant Christians attending the final, open-air camp meeting, many of them pilgrims from other parts of the Soviet empire, including the Soviet Union.

   "I have not joined the Communist Party since coming to Hungary, nor have I been asked to. But I think the world is changing," he said at the conclusion of the Hungarian visit. "There is religious liberty in Hungary.... The church is alive in Hungary."

   Soon other countries in Eastern Europe opened their doors. In 1978, he visited Poland, preaching in a church near Krakow just four days before the resident cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, was elected Pope John Paul II.

   His visit to the second communist state in a year seemed to have further intensified his antinuclear leanings. On his return, he supported a petition of liberal Protestants urging the United States to sign the Salt 2 arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. "Why can't we have peace?" he asked rhetorically, adding that he favored the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.

   To underline how tar his thinking had evolved, he said that he now thought that President Truman had "made a mistake in dropping that first atomic bomb" on Japan.

   "I wish we had never developed it," he said of the bomb. "I have seen that we must seek the good of the whole human race, and not just the good of any one nation or race."

   The Soviets must have been listening to this carefully, for in 1982 they obviously thought they had scored a major propaganda coup by persuading Graham to attend a conference that had all the markings of a typical Soviet "peace" propaganda campaign. The conference was called "World Conference of Religious Workers for Saving the Sacred Gift of Life from Nuclear Catastrophe." Could Billy Graham not know that he was being totally manipulated by Moscow? Both from TV commentators and from prominent figures in the foreign policy establishment, Graham received vigorous criticism.

   It wasn't his first trip to the Soviet Union. He had visited the country as a tourist in 1959. But it was far more controversial, primarily because while Graham was enjoying the caviar laid on by his Soviet hosts ("I've had caviar with almost every meal I've eaten"), seven Siberian Pentecostals—"the Siberian Seven"—were holed up in a crowded basement apartment in the US embassy in Moscow. Graham duly visited them, but he was stung by their frosty attitude toward him and their refusal to pray with him. Further comments he made on freedom of religion in the Soviet Union ("I have not personally seen persecution") caused students even at his alma mater, Wheaton College, to carry placards reading "Billy Graham Has Been Duped by the Soviets."

   But 19 years later, at least one major journalistic critic of that day had changed his tune. "Graham's efforts contributed to the fall of communism, and in no small way," said Dan Rather in a 2001 interview. "He was right; I was wrong, big time."

   What Graham's Moscow visit achieved was the overcoming of the last reservations about having Graham preach on the part of the harsher communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

   Between 1982 and 1985, Graham conducted preaching tours in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. When Graham arrived in Romania in September 1985, he quite gratuitously thanked the regime for giving "full and genuine freedom to all religious denominations." If he had been awake during his previsit briefings, he would surely have heard somewhere or other that Romania was one of the most unpleasantly repressive states in the entire Communist bloc, especially toward religious dissidents.

   Events during his trip certainly reinforced that message. The authorities sabotaged his preaching repeatedly through cutting wires to loudspeakers or severely limiting attendance. But at the climax to his visit, a sermon preached at the Orthodox Cathedral in Timisoara, a city of predominantly Hungarian ethnic composition, a crowd estimated at 150,000 was so overwhelmingly enthusiastic that the country's dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, canceled a scheduled meeting with Graham out of irritation. Ceausescu may have had a premonition of how his regime would end. It was protests by Protestants in Timisoara that started the cascade of events that led to the dictator's arrest and execution at the end of 1989.


   Before all that happened, Billy Graham visited China, where his wife, Ruth, was born and spent her childhood.

   The timing was serendipitous: The country was moving rapidly toward liberalization. In the halcyon years before the crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, Prime Minister Li Peng made some astonishing admissions during a 50-minute meeting with Graham inside the party compound of Zhongnanhai. China needed "moral power," he said, in order to develop effectively and modernize.

   He admitted to Graham that the constitutional rights of religious believers in China had not always been observed. No Chinese leader had ever admitted as much previously. But neither Graham nor anyone in his entourage seemed to grasp the significance of this admission.

   Violations of those same rights took place right in the middle of Graham's visit, however, when a prominent Chinese house church evangelist, Peter Xu Yongze, was arrested on his way to a scheduled meeting over tea with Graham. Before finally being able to leave China and obtain asylum in the United States, Ku was to spend several years in prison, ironically confirming the truth of Li's admission.

   Did Graham's visit have any discernible effect on communism in China? Looking back through the bloody lens of the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is hard to think so. Yet journalists who covered the Graham visit seem to have been strikingly affected by it. Adi Ignatius, then The Wall Street Journal's Beijing correspondent, recalled later, "What I remember is the elderly women who were just thrilled, talking enthusiastically about Graham's visit. The year 1988 was really a thrilling period, to me the most thrilling period. It kind of led to what happened later."

   That said, did Graham's forays into the communist world, starting in 1977, really contribute to communism's ultimate collapse in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as Dan Rather thought they had?

   Romanian Christians themselves, discussing the events with Graham's daughter Anne Graham Lotz, have credited Graham's visit in 1985 with playing a decisive role in the ouster of Ceausescu. Without Graham's controversial trip to that Soviet peace conference in 1982, it is entirely possible that the doors of those three Eastern European regimes, and Romania's, might never have opened.

   Graham's North Korean trip in 1992 was, in its way, the logical development of the trend of meetings with communist leaders in their countries that Graham had first embarked upon in 1977. Graham had often observed that he thought personal relationships might contribute more to improving understanding between nations than formal diplomatic efforts did.

   Apparently, his meetings with North Korea's quirky tyrant Kim Il-sung in 1992 went successfully enough for Kim to invite Graham back in 1994. By this year, however, tensions were roiling with the United States over the Pyongyang regime's refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's desire to inspect North Korea's nuclear facilities.

   Graham's presentation to Kim of a message from President Bill Clinton insisting on North Korean openness to such inspections nearly torpedoed the visit at the beginning. Graham's interpreter, Stephen Linton, the son of American Presbyterian missionaries to South Korea, said that Kim "gestured dramatically" to express his annoyance at the description of Clinton's comments.


   But after the initial conversational spat, Graham apparently deployed his considerable charm and persuasiveness to depict Clinton to Kim in warm, friendly terms that did indeed soften the initial hostile impression of Clinton and the United States that Kim had received.

   In Moscow in 1992, Graham had made the unusual assertion at an Orthodox cathedral that he had experienced three "conversions" in his life: to Christ as Lord and Savior, to the principle of racial justice, and to "work for world peace for the remainder of his life." The "world peace" conversion hardly survived his visits to the communist world in the 1980s and beyond. But nor did the communist regimes themselves. In a curious way, Graham's willingness to use the "peace" language of the communist world seems to have secured him an open door to preach there. But to preach as an evangelist and not as a prophet. Had he really been a prophet, he might never have been invited back.

   Criticizing his Moscow visit in 1982, National Public Radio's Bill Moyers opined, "It's never easy to sup with power and get up from the table spotless. That's why the prophets of old preferred the wilderness. When they came forth, it was not to speak softly with kin and governors, but to call them to judgment."

   But throughout his long evangelistic career, Billy Graham was always an evangelist and never a prophet. It's just possible that he achieved far more by evangelizing among the Communists than by prophesying against them. The proof, after all, is that in contradiction to Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, communism no longer haunts Europe.

‘One Night I Opened My Heart to Christ’: Billy Graham Shares His Testimony

Billy Graham Hearing His Voice

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