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Billy Graham's America1

  • Grant Wacker

Billy and I hit New York City at the same time, the summer of 1957. He was 38 and about to clinch his reputation as the premier evangelist in twentieth-century America. I was twelve and about to taste freedom. But not quite yet. Without my permission, my parents packed themselves and me into a steamy subway to go down to Madison Square Garden to hear the Great Man preach. I remember that he was witty and charismatic and at the end of the sermon thousands surged forward to give or recommit their lives to Christ. Beyond that, nothing stuck. Soon our first family vacation to the Big Apple was finished, and we headed back to the quiet of a small town in southwest Missouri. As a kid, I never could figure out what the big whoop over Graham was all about. I soon realized, however, that Graham's core constituents—the millions of preponderantly white, middle-class, moderately conservative Protestants we might call “Heartland Americans”—did not share my puzzlement. They knew exactly what the big whoop was all about.

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2 The literature by and about Billy Graham is vast. Though a comprehensive bibliography does not exist, the Billy Graham Archives [BGA], Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College (Ill.), houses thousands of primary and secondary documents. See the online catalog at, especially the tabs for “Billy Graham,” “Searchable Online Data Base,” and “Collections.” The BGA excludes Graham's personal papers, which are not available to researchers until 25 years after his death. Graham's autobiography, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham ([1997] San Francisco: Harper/Zondervan, rev. ed. 2007), weighing in at 801 pages, certainly is ample enough, yet it remains curiously non-revealing. More revealing is an early three-part autobiographical essay, “Billy Graham's Own Story: ‘God Is My Witness,’” in McCall's, April, May, and June 1964. Graham's 27 books, published between 1952 and 2007, are mostly theological, sermonic, and devotional, but many of them contain autobiographical asides. For a complete list with publication dates, see Billy Graham Evangelistic Association/About Us/Biographies/Billy Graham/Billy Graham/Biography,, accessed January 22, 2009. Graham has won the attention of more than a score of biographers, ranging from admiring to hostile. By far the most comprehensive and in many ways the best is Martin, William, Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story (New York: William Morrow, 1991). Frady, Marshall's Billy Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979) is overwritten and tendentious yet contains valuable insights into Graham's relation to American culture. Aikman, David's Billy Graham: His Life and Influence (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) is the best short biography, enhanced by its fluid prose and even-handedness. High, Stanley, Billy Graham: The Personal Story of the Man, His Message, and His Mission (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956), though consistently positive, shrewdly captures the ingredients of Graham's charisma. Pollock, John's authorized The Billy Graham Story ([1985] Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, rev. ed. 2003) offers data, based on long association with the Graham family and organization, not available elsewhere. The monographic literature (including more than a score of M.A. theses and Ph.D. dissertations) is extensive. Four masterful treatments of aspects of Graham's career are Finstuen, Andrew, Original Sin and Everyday Protestants: The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, and Paul Tillich in an Age of Anxiety (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming 2009); Gibbs, Nancy and Duffy, Michael, The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House (New York: Center Street, 2007); Miller, Steven P., Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); and Rosell, Garth M., The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008). Myra, Harold and Shelley, Marshall's The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005) provides a perceptive analysis of Graham's administrative style, an important yet rarely addressed subject. Journal and academic articles about Graham are too numerous even to begin to list, but four merit special notice: Aikman, David, “Billy Graham—Salvation,” in Aikman, David, Great Souls: Six Who Changed a Century ([1998] Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2003); Boyer, Peter J., “The Big Tent: Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism,” The New Yorker, August 22, 2005, 4254; Eskridge, Larry, “‘One Way’: Billy Graham, the Jesus Generation, and the Idea of an Evangelical Youth Culture,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 67:1 (March 1998): 83106; and Miller, Steven P., “Billy Graham, Civil Rights, and the Changing Postwar South,” in Politics and Religion in the White South, ed. Feldman, Glenn (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 157186.

 . . . of 1957: Parts of the first and the final paragraphs of this article come from Wacker, Grant, “The Billy Pulpit: Graham's Career in the Mainline,” The Christian Century, November 15, 2003, 20, 26.  . . . man preach: Contemporary newspaper coverage of the 1957 New York Crusade ran to hundreds of pages. For an uncritical though factually useful study, see Mitchell, Curtis, God in the Garden: The Story of the Billy Graham New York Crusade (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957); for ephemera related to the event, see Burnham, George and Fisher, Lee, Billy Graham and the New York Crusade (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1957).  . . . heartland Americans: For the demographic and social characteristics of “Heartland America,” see Martin, Prophet with Honor, 309, and Streiker, Lowell D. and Strober, Gerald S., Religion and the New Majority: Billy Graham, Middle America, and the Politics of the 70s (New York: Association Press, 1972), 23, 39, 78–81. More anecdotally, see Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 161, and Kaye, Elizabeth, “Billy Graham Rises,” George, December 1996, 140.

3  . . . electronic media: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association/About Us/Biographies/Billy Graham,, accessed January 22, 2009. The BGEA web page does not specify the years that this figure embraces, but probably it runs from 1944, when Graham launched his evangelistic efforts at Chicagoland Youth for Christ, to his retirement in June 2005.  . . . gathering on record: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 418.  . . . cool million: Yonat Shimron, “Graham's Life Is an Open Book,” The (Raleigh) News & Observer, April 30, 1997, A1.  . . . 50 languages: Graham, Just As I Am, 284.  . . . 27 times: Jeffrey M. Jones, “George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton Most Admired Again, Billy Graham Finishes in Top 10 for 50th Time,” Gallup News Service, December 29, 2006, cited in Aikman, Billy Graham, 2, 307; Gallup, Alec and Newport, Frank, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2005 (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 482.  . . . in 1996: For a lengthy though undoubtedly incomplete list of “Awards and Honors,” see Billy Graham Evangelistic Association/About Us/Biographies/Billy Graham/Billy Graham/Biography,, accessed January 22, 2009.

4  . . . would do: The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., exhibits an array of misaddressed and barely addressed envelopes, all successfully posted. See also Martin, Prophet with Honor, 551.  . . . Jesus hi: Letter archived at BGEA, Charlotte, N.C.  . . . the world: Martin E. Marty, “Reflections on Graham by a Former Grump,” Christianity Today, November 18, 1988,, accessed March 20, 2009.  . . . Billy Graham: Harold Bloom, “Billy Graham,” in “The TIME 100: The Most Important People of the Century: Heroes and Icons,” Time, June 14, 1999,, accessed January 25, 2009.

5  . . . dessert recipes: I base this statement on my sampling of the thousands of pages of magazine and newspaper clippings, running from the middle 1940s to the present, in the BGA. See also Ken Garfield's revealingly titled essay on Graham's final crusade, “Faithful Flock to See a Legend: 80,000 More Gain Memory of a Lifetime,” The Charlotte Observer, June 26, 2005, 1A.  . . . America's pastor: Bush quoted in Leslie Boyd and John Boyle, Asheville Citizen-Times, in “Graham's Spiritual Journey Finds Home,” USA Today, May 31, 2007,, accessed August 5, 2007.  . . . fundamental verities: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 383.

6  . . . have not: I remember the comment but, unfortunately, not the student's name.

7  . . . Christ speaker: Biographical data reside in countless sources. The basic outline of Graham's life—who, what, when, and where—varies little from text to text, though emphases and evaluations differ dramatically. As noted, Martin's Prophet with Honor offers by far the most detailed treatment. For a very readable article-length account, see William Martin, “Evangelicalism: Billy Graham,” Christian History & Biography, Issue 65/2000,, accessed January 20, 2009.

8  . . . of clues: All of the “standard” biographies cover the real or perceived shortcomings noted in this paragraph. For a work that underscores them, see Bothwell, Cecil, The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire: An Unauthorized Biography (Asheville, N.C.: Brave Ulysses Books, 2007).  . . . a minute: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 96.  . . . his record: For a transcript of the controversial parts of the conversation, see Prados, John, ed., The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (New York: New Press, 2003), 240255, esp. 244–246, 252. Press coverage was voluminous and often spirited. For a succinct summary, see William Martin, “Is Billy Graham an Anti-Semite?” beliefnet, March 2002,, accessed February 2, 2009. For Graham's lingering late-life regret about his words, see Laurie Goodstein, “Spirit Willing, Another Trip Down Mountain for Graham,” New York Times, June 12, 2005,, accessed March 20, 2009, and Graham in “Interview with Reverend Billy Graham,” CNN Larry King Live, aired December 25, 2005, Rush Transcript,, accessed March 20, 2009.  . . . both causes: Again, all of the “standard” biographies address Graham's troubled relation with Nixon. For particularly perceptive accounts, see Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, chaps. 16–22, and Richard Pierard, “Can Billy Graham Survive Richard Nixon?” Reformed Journal, April 1974, 7–13.

9  . . . and thoughtless: For examples, see Martin, Prophet with Honor, 182, 227, 300, 418, 459.  . . . the paper:Miller, Merle, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (New York: Berkley, 1973, 1974), 363.  . . . living man:Charlotte News, March 4, 1966, quoted in Frady, Billy Graham, 248.  . . . an elephant: Susan Hixon, in The (Knoxville) Daily Beacon, quoted in June Adamson, “Actions of Past Editors Remembered,” The (Knoxville) Daily Beacon, August 25, 1995, quoted in Bruns, Roger, Billy Graham: A Biography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2004), 120.  . . . anything else:Roth, Philip, Our Gang (Starring Tricky and His Friends) (New York: Random House, 1971), 176183, quoted in Steven P. Miller, Billy Graham, 159.  . . . for irresponsibility: George Will, “Let Us Pray for a Little Skepticism,” The Washington Post, May 13, 1982, A31. Will's actual words were, “handcuffs are not America's most embarrassing export,” but the context makes clear that Will meant that Graham filled that role.  . . . anti-Jewish peasant: Christopher Hitchens, “The God Squad,” The Nation, April 15, 2002, 9.

10  . . . his career: Aikman, Great Souls, 3, 30, 32.  . . . still another: I owe the point of this paragraph very directly to my Duke and UNC colleagues David Morgan and Laurie Maffly-Kipp. See also Gaillard, Frye, Southern Voices: Profiles and Other Stories (Asheboro, N.C.: Down Home Press, 1991), 120123.

11  . . . of course, golf: Gilbert, Men in the Middle, 126–127; Curtis Mitchell, “Billy Graham's Physical Fitness Program Can Help You,” Popular Science, May 1965, 61–64, 202–205; Fact Sheet by Loyd Doctor, Christ for Greater Los Angeles, November 21, 1949, quoted in Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 5. The dapper wardrobe complemented the physique, in 1970 even earning Graham a spot on one Best Dressed register. Charlotte News, January 28, 1970, cited in Martin, Prophet with Honor, 383.  . . . and power: Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 18. For three of the countless references to the singularity of Graham's voice, see Gaillard, Southern Voices, 126; Fant, Clyde E. Jr., and Pinson, William M. Jr., “William Franklin Graham,” 20 Centuries of Great Preaching: Marshall to King (Waco: Word Books, 1971), XII: 302; Michael Luo, “In New York, Billy Graham Will Find an Evangelical Force,” New York Times, June 21, 2005,,%20billy%20graham%20&st=nyt&scp=5, accessed February 2, 2009.  . . . talk show: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 152–153.

12  . . . Bell Graham: For one of many examples, see Mrs. Billy Graham, “Inside Our Home,” Guideposts, December 1955, 1–5.  . . . or equalitarian: Contrast Billy Graham, “The Home God Honors,” sermon preached at the Los Angeles revival, 1949, in Revival in Our Time: The Story of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Campaigns (Wheaton, Ill.: Van Kampen, 1950), reprinted in The Early Billy Graham Sermon and Revival Accounts, ed. Joel A. Carpenter (New York: Garland, 1988), 68–72, with Graham in Frost, David, Billy Graham Talks with David Frost (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman/J. B. Lippincott, 1971), 3940; Aikman, Billy Graham, 275; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 159–160, 586.  . . . manly virtues:Heyrman, Christine, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), esp. chaps. 3, 4, and epilogue; Ownby, Ted, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), esp. part II; Wilcox, W. Bradford, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), esp. 191. The qualifier “many”—rather than “all”—is important.

13  . . . and sincerity: See, for example, Frady, Billy Graham, ix–x, 8–14; Cathy Lynn Grossman, “The Gospel of Billy Graham: Inclusion,” USA Today, May 15, 2005,, accessed March 20, 2009. For a wide variety of observers’ comments on Graham's magnetic personal qualities—variously described as graciousness, warmth, humility, and sincerity—see Aikman, Great Souls, 3; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 124, 150, 197, 229, 325, 537, 602; Long, Michael G., Billy Graham and the Beloved Community (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2006), ix. Ken Garfield served as the religion editor for The Charlotte Observer for twelve years and wrote hundreds of stories about Graham. Garfield said: “One of Graham's strengths is that he was able to be this mythic, larger-than-life figure in the pulpit, while transforming himself into a warm and accessible farm boy from Charlotte when he stepped down and back into real life. … He had this ability to cut himself down in size in a way that deepened his ministry in warmth and humanity”: e-mail, March 23, 2009.  . . . and pride: Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, xi.  . . . the Spirit: Marty, “Reflections.”  . . . Murray Kempton, New York Post, September 9, 1960, quoted in Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 92.  . . . an evangelist: Graham, Just As I Am, xvi–xvii, 119, 420, 525, and 745.  . . . the assignment: interview with John Akers, Durham, N.C., February 27, 2009; Graham, Just As I Am, 743.  . . . handled success: Aikman, Great Souls, 58.

14  . . . United States:Morris, James, The Preachers (New York: St. Martin's, 1973), 387.

15  . . . the impulse: The literature on the Southernization of America (and the reverse) is extensive. Dochuk, Darren ably summarizes it in “Evangelicalism Becomes Southern, Politics Becomes Evangelical,” in Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present, ed. Noll, Mark A. and Harlow, Luke E. ([1990] New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 2007), esp. 300303. Other key works include Applebome, Peter, Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture (New York: Random House, 1966); Egerton, John, The Americanization of Dixie (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Gregory, James M., The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), esp. chaps. 1 and 6; Kirby, Jack Temple, Media-Made Dixie: The South in the American Imagination ([1978] Athens: University of Georgia Press, rev. ed. 1986); Reed, John Shelton, My Tears Spoiled My Aim, and Other Reflections on Southern Culture (San Diego, Calif.: Harvest Book/Harcourt Brace, 1993), esp. chap. 10.

16  . . . stage English: Boyer, “Big Tent,” 47.  . . . from oratory: Page quoted without attribution in Reed, My Tears, 59.  . . . clearly crafted: Graham's daily newspaper column, “My Answer,” has run from 1950 to the present and reportedly has appeared in 200 newspapers with a circulation of 15 million to 20 million readers. It likely reached more people than his books. He did not pretend to write all of the columns himself but said they saw publication under his “supervision.” Graham, Just As I Am, 283; Graham, Billy, My Answer ([1954] Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960), 9; Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 49; High, Billy Graham, 152.

17  . . . milking regime: Graham, Just As I Am, chap. 1, with the revealing title, “Down on the Farm.”  . . . his appeal: See, for example, Frost, Billy Graham, “Billy Graham: The Dairyman's Boy,” 89–90; and Pollock, Billy Graham, 15–16.  . . . Protestant mainline: Graham, Just As I Am, 22–25; Cornwell, Patricia Daniels, A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham (Minneapolis: Grason, 1983), 5354.  . . . and felt: Jon Meachem, “Just Ain't That Different Anymore,” Newsweek, August 11, 2008,, accessed January 27, 2009.

18  . . . realms overlapped:Wilson, Charles Reagan, “Preachin’, Prayin’, and Singin’ on the Public Square,” in Religion and Public Life in the South: In the Evangelical Mode, ed. Wilson, Charles Reagan and Silk, Mark (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), esp. 9; Paul Harvey, “At Ease in Zion, Uneasy in Babylon: White Evangelicals,” in Religion and Public Life in the South, ed. Wilson and Silk, 66–69; Seth A. Dowland, “Defending Manhood: Gender, Social Order, and the Rise of the Christian Right in the South, 1965–1995,” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 2007, esp. chaps. 1–3.  . . . public schools: For example, contrast Graham, Press Conference, Columbus, Ohio, January 28, 1963, 9–10 (BGA CN24 B4 F9), with Graham, Press Conference, Charlotte, N.C., April 14, 1972, 7–8 (BGA CN24 B1 F36). To be sure, sometimes Graham said such exercises should be “voluntary,” but he remained vague about what “voluntary” actually meant in a structured public school setting. Graham, Press Conference, San Diego, Calif., April 30, 1964, 4-5 (BGA CN24 B4 F13). See also “Billy Graham Voices Shock over Decision,” New York Times, June 18, 1963, 27; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 27.  . . . public buildings: Graham interview in Sonja Steptoe, “10 Questions for Billy Graham,” TIME/CNN, November 21, 2004,,9171,785335,00.html, accessed February 4, 2009.

19  . . . the newspaper: Reed, My Tears, 139–141. For my sense of post-war Southern Protestant culture (including “ . . . Unitarian pacifists,” which I roughly remember but can no longer locate), I am deeply indebted to John Shelton Reed's numerous books and articles. See also Wilson, “Preachin’,” 16–20; Ted Ownby, “Evangelical But Differentiated: Religion by the Numbers,” in Religion and Public Life, ed. Wilson and Silk, 34; Hill, Samuel S., “Religion and Politics in the South,” in Religion in the South, ed. Wilson, Charles Reagan (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985), 146; Marsh, Charles, God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997), chap. 3; Elizabeth Hill Flowers, “Varieties of Evangelical Womanhood: Southern Baptists, Gender, and American Culture,” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 2007, 108–114.

20  . . . the queen: Aikman, Billy Graham, 114, 280, 287, and Cornwell, Time for Remembering, esp. chap. 16.  . . . of power: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 276, 269, and 383.

21  . . . and alone: Graham, “Billy Graham's Own Story,” 204.

22  . . . new media: For post-war evangelicals’ appropriation of new media, see the essays in Schultze, Quentin J., ed., American Evangelicals and the Mass Media (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990), esp. Schultz's introductory chapter. The book brims with references to Graham's role in the media revolution.  . . . the lesson: Graham, Just As I Am, xx, 149–150, 162, 213, 220.  . . . aggressive protectiveness: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 25, 105, 543. Martin discusses the BGEA throughout; see the index entry on 721. See also Myra and Shelley, Leadership Secrets, 111–112; William C. Christian, “Electronic Evangelism,” Business Automation, June 1962, 28–33; McLoughlin, William G. Jr., Billy Graham: Revivalist in a Secular Age (New York: Ronald Press, 1960), chaps. 7–8.

23  . . . or television: See, for example, the DVD Billy Graham, God's Ambassador: The Story of Billy Graham's Extraordinary Life and Ministry, Gaither Film Productions, 2006. For musical and preaching clips from the 1957 New York Madison Square Garden Crusade, which represent the tenor of most of the larger crusades, see BGA website, . . . personal narrative: For reflections on the functions of personal testimony in the evangelical revival tradition, see Wacker, Grant, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), chap. 3.

24  . . . countless times: See, for example, Graham, Just As I Am, 29–30.  . . . broadcasts in the country: Exact data are hard to pin down. By one authority, more than 150 ABC-affiliated stations carried the first broadcast; within weeks, the program had won 20 million listeners. In 1997, 664 stations in the U.S. and 366 around the world carried it. Melton, J. Gordon and others, eds., “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” in Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1997), 2829. “Radio Ratings: Radio's Most Popular Programs of the Golden Age” shows that, for the 1951–1952 to 1955–1956 seasons (the only ones tabulated), the Hour of Decision topped all religious programs. Among the top 25 programs of all types, for each of those seasons, it ranked 14, 15, 7, 6, and 4. See, accessed February 5, 2009.  . . . periodicals in the country: Determining exactly how widely received is difficult. Since Decision accepted no paid advertising, the government did not require circulation data. Martin claims that by 1966 Decision went to 5 million American homes, making it “by far the most widely received religious publication in the country.” John Pollock said that by 1966, with a circulation of 3 million, it enjoyed the highest circulation of any religious periodical in America. Later, Pollock put the figure at 4 million in North America by 1969. Timothy T. Clydesdale set the circulation at 2.1 million in 1965, 5 million in 1975, down to 1.7 million in 1992. In 2009, the BGEA claimed a circulation of 600,000 worldwide. Martin, Prophet with Honor, 250; Pollock, John, Billy Graham: The Authorized Biography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 241, and Pollock, Billy Graham Story, 110; Clydesdale, , “Decision,” in Fackler, P. Mark and Lippy, Charles H., eds., Popular Religious Magazines of the United States (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1995), 206; BGEA:, accessed January 31, 2009.

25  . . . his wife: Billy and Ruth Graham quoted without citation in High, Billy Graham, 49, 87–88; see also chap. 3.  . . . be desired: W. E. Sangster, quoted without citation in High, Billy Graham, 49.  . . . brief paragraphs: Pollock, Billy Graham Story, 141; Graham interview in Frost, Billy Graham, 73.  . . . the gospel:Graham, Billy, Revival in Our Time (Wheaton, Ill.: Special Edition for Youth for Christ International, 1950), 3, quoted in McLoughlin, Billy Graham, 38.  . . . proved inimitable: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 583. For astute studies of Graham's preaching style, see High, Billy Graham, chap. 3, and Fant and Pinson, “William Franklin Graham,” 295–302. For an analysis of Graham's sermons as “iconic and ritual events,” see Long, Thomas G., “Preaching the Good News,” in Long, Michael G., editor, The Legacy of Billy Graham: Critical Reflections on America's Evangelist (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008), chap. 1 (quotation page 13).

26  . . . brief examination: Graham's personal sermon notes are not available to researchers until 25 years after his death. The BGA holds “hundreds if not thousands” of video and audio sermons (some online), as well as many unedited sermon transcripts. One may purchase more than 300 pamphlet sermons, preached over many decades, from Grason, a division of the BGEA. For two anthologies, see Graham, , The Challenge: Sermons from Madison Square Garden (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), and Graham, , Blow Wind of God: Spirited Messages from the Writings of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1975).  . . . the rabbit: Aimee Semple McPherson quoted by her daughter, Roberta Semple Salter, interview with Matthew A. Sutton, New York, March 16, 2004, in Sutton, , Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 77.  . . . an anticlimax: Graham, in “Why God Allows Suffering and War,” Houston Crusade, 1965, quoted in Adler, Bill, ed. & comp., The Wit and Wisdom of Billy Graham (New York: Random House, 1967), 158; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 581–583.  . . . say that: E-mail from Graham's sister, Jean Graham Ford, January 29, 2009.  . . . his audiences: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 291, 581, 583.

27  . . . them right: I owe this point to Martin, Prophet with Honor, 551, 527. See also Aikman, Great Souls, 58, and Gaillard, Southern Voices, 127.

28  . . . his message: Graham acknowledged that other hands helped research, edit, or write some of his speeches, articles, and newspaper columns, as well as his autobiography. If one assumes, as I do, that Graham's principal historical importance lies in his role as a public figure, the distinction between words that he personally authored and those that others authored in his name is relatively unimportant. Graham, Just As I Am, 755–757; Graham in “Candid Conversation with the Evangelist,” Christianity Today, July 17, 1981, 24; Graham in “Billy Graham: 25 Years an Evangelist, 55 Years a Man,” Eternity, November 1974, 29; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 138, 551; and Aikman, Billy Graham, 259–260. For a different interpretation, see Long, Billy Graham, 227–232.  . . . complex age: Reinhold Niebuhr, “Differing Views on Billy Graham,” Life, July 1, 1957, 92; Niebuhr, editorial, Christianity and Crisis, March 5, 1956, 18, quoted in Silk, Mark, “The Rise of the ‘New Evangelicalism,’” in Hutchison, William R., editor, Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 286. For a brilliant analysis of the Graham-Niebuhr relation, see Andrew S. Finstuen, “The Prophet and the Evangelist: The ‘Public’ Conversation of Reinhold Niebuhr and Billy Graham,” Books and Culture, July/August, 2006,, accessed February 16, 2009.

29  . . . and vitality: For Graham's seminal role “at the creation,” see Carpenter, Joel A., Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), esp. chap. 12.  . . . for consensus: See, for example, Chafe, William H., The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II ([1986] New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, 5th ed.), chap. 13.

30  . . . in step: Rosell, Surprising Work, 109–118.  . . . all others: It is easy to forget that Graham emerged from a field of very real competitors. See ibid., esp. chap. 4, significantly titled, “A Band of Brothers.”  . . . Samaritan's Purse: Ibid., 109–118, 102 n. 143, 206–208, and Turner, John G., Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), throughout.

31  . . . be ashamed: I have not been able to find the Wilson story in print, but it is a staple in BGEA oral tradition and fits Wilson's style of humor. E-mails from Graham's former associate minister and brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, February 4, 2009, and from John Akers, special assistant to Billy Graham, February 5, 2009.  . . . Anglican Church: Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Autobiography of Billy Graham,” Commonweal, August 15, 1997, 22; “Entrepreneurial Religion,” in Woodward, Getting Religion: Belief, Behavior and Belonging from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of George W. Bush, A Memoir, forthcoming.  . . . his funeral: E-mail from Leighton Ford, January 21, 2009.

32  . . . cooperative evangelism: Michael Hamilton, unpublished article manuscript in my possession.  . . . purebred fundamentalist:Marsden, George M., Fundamentalism and American Culture ([1980] New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2006), 233.  . . . simply, Christian: Graham in “Candid Conversation,” 26; Graham in “Billy Graham Answers His Critics,” Look, February 7, 1956, page n/a; Graham in J. H. Hunter, “He Came—He Saw—He Conquered,” Evangelical Christian, May 1955, 215.  . . . non-evangelical churches: Graham, Just As I Am, 284.

33  . . . are brothers: Graham interview with David Aikman, “Preachers, Politics, and Temptation,” Time, May 28, 1990, 14. Mandy McMichael, “Ties that Bind: Evangelicals and Catholics Together?” Ph.D. seminar paper, Duke University/University of North Carolina, 2008, carefully documents Graham's growing embrace of Catholics.  . . . 100 years: Michael Ireland, “Remembrance: Billy Graham: Pope John Paul II Was ‘Most Influential Voice’ in 100 Years,” Larry King Live, aired April 2, [2005], ASSIST News Service,, accessed February 1, 2009. The quoted material is Ireland speaking for Graham. In 1970, Graham told David Frost that Pope John XXIII and Dwight L. Moody ranked as the most important religious leaders of the twentieth century: Frost, Billy Graham, 77–78.  . . . in Africa: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 310, 332.  . . . and abroad: See, for example, Graham, Just As I Am, 301, 509, 511, 353, 450, and Marc Gellman, “The Spiritual State: Words of Faith: A Rabbi Explains Why Billy Graham Is a Giant among Preachers,” Newsweek, June 8, 2005,, accessed February 8, 2008. Graham insisted that he aimed to evangelize, not proselytize, Jews (though the distinction remained unclear): Graham, Just As I Am, 301, and Graham in James Michael Beam [Kenneth L. Woodward], “‘I Can't Play God Any More,’” McCall's, January 1978, 158. See also Martin, Prophet with Honor, 223, 658 n. 223; and Altheide, David L. and Johnson, John M., “Counting Souls: A Study of Counseling at Evangelical Crusades,” The Pacific Sociological Review 20 (July 1977), 336.  . . . their mark: Sarah Johnson, personal conversation, Duke University, May 2007. See also Martin, Prophet with Honor, 206, 211, 224, and 294.

34  . . . cooperative evangelical: Boyer, “Big Tent,” 44.  . . . abandoned lover: For one of countless examples, see Dr. Ernest Pickering, “Should Fundamentalists Support the Billy Graham Crusades,” pamphlet, 1957, posted on SharperIron, June 30, 2005,, accessed January 31, 2009.  . . . looked back: Graham, Just As I Am, 251; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 218–224.

35  . . . that mattered: Contrary to the convention that Graham was an intellectual lightweight, Finstuen demonstrates that Graham, like his contemporaries Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, grappled with classic problems of human nature, albeit in the language of everyday life: Finstuen, Original Sin, esp. chaps. 3 and 5.  . . . hard edges: Martin, Prophet with Honor, 576.  . . . earnest non-Christian: Graham interviewed in Frost, Billy Graham, 60–61; in Beam, “‘I Can't Play God,’” 156, 158; in Larry King, Larry King Live, CNN, aired June 16, 2005,, accessed February 11, 2009. See also Aikman, Billy Graham, 258–259, 295. For some of these references and for insight on this subject, I am very directly indebted to D. Steven Porter, “Billy Graham and the Wideness of God's Mercy,” Th.D. seminar paper, Duke University, 2008.

36  . . . seem warranted: All of the “standard” biographies examine Graham's relation to the Vietnam War at length. For a particularly perceptive treatment, see Pierard, Richard, “Billy Graham and Vietnam: From Cold Warrior to Peacemaker,” Christian Scholar's Review 10:1 (October 1980): 3751.  . . . pay grade: Graham, Just As I Am, 415.  . . . house chaplain: Edward B. Fiske, “The Closest Thing to a White House Chaplain,” The New York Times Magazine, June 8, 1969,, accessed February 3, 2009. Graham disliked the chaplain title, yet simultaneously and, clearly unintentionally, showed why many found it credible. See Graham, Just As I Am, 450, and compare the first and final paragraphs on the page. See also Aikman, Billy Graham, 201, 214.  . . . regretted it: Graham, Just As I Am, 445, 724. See also Martin, Prophet with Honor, 431, 472–473; Beam, “‘I Can't Play God,’” 156; Kenneth L. Woodward, “Politics from the Pulpit,” Newsweek, September 6, 1976, quoted in Martin, William, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway, 1996), 153.

37  . . . and praise: Again, all of the “standard” biographies treat Graham's relation to the civil rights movement at length, ranging from very positive to very negative. Steven P. Miller, “Billy Graham,” and, more extensively, Billy Graham, offer a meticulous examination of this controversial subject. See also Martin, Prophet with Honor, 202, 296.  . . . have to: For Jackson, see the interview with David Aikman, video, Billy Graham: Ambassador of Salvation, 2002, volume 1 in 6-part PBS series Great Souls, quoted in Aikman, Billy Graham, 145, 8. For Clinton, see Boyer, “Big Tent,” 44.

38  . . . insanity, madness: Graham on CBS Evening News, aired March 29, 1979, quoted in Pierard, “Billy Graham and Vietnam,” 37.  . . . social conscience: See Graham in “Candid Conversation,” 21–22; Graham in Colin Greer, “‘Change Will Come When Our Hearts Change,’” Parade, October 20, 1996, 6; Aikman, Billy Graham, 149, 155–156, 160; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 439, 521, 576; Gaillard, Southern Voices, 121–122, 126.  . . . Jerry Falwell: Aikman, Great Souls, 55; Martin, Prophet with Honor, 472; Ken Garfield, “Crusade Will Show a Softer Graham,” The Charlotte Observer, June 23, 2005, 1A.  . . . different sometimes: Graham in King, “Interview with Reverend Billy Graham.” The transcript has Graham saying, “my views,” but, from the context, it is obvious that he meant “his views.” The previous June, in an interview with The New York Times's Laurie Goodstein, Graham had distanced himself from Franklin's 2001 statement, saying, “We had an understanding a long time ago, he speaks for himself. … Let's say, I didn't say it”: Goodstein, “Spirit Willing.” In the King interview, Graham added that Franklin “doesn't hold that position now.”  . . . and poverty: Graham in Goodstein, “Spirit Willing”; see also Boyer, “Big Tent,” 44, and Garfield, “Crusade Will Show a Softer Graham.”  . . . Mandarin Chinese: Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 341, and BGEA, June 26, 2005, “Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade Updates,”, accessed February 2, 2009. For the multiethnic and, to be sure, elegiac tone of that final crusade, see Gibbs and Duffy, The Preacher, 339–341.

39  . . . private pain: Heather Vacek, Duke/UNC American Religion Colloquium, November 18, 2008. The BGEA does not release data on the number of letters the organization has received. In 1974, Graham said that he received 5,000 to 10,000 letters a day when he was not on television and 100,000 a day when he was. He told Johnny Carson that the letters most often spoke of loneliness. See virtually any sampling of the letters housed at BGA CN 74 and CN 575; Graham, “Billy Graham: 25 Years an Evangelist,” 29; Graham on The Tonight Show, aired June 12, 1973, Track 1, BGEA DVD, dubbed August 2, 2007, in my possession.

40  . . . his name: The exact figure was 29 percent. “Public Expresses Mixed Views of Islam, Mormonism,” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, September 25, 2007,, accessed February 2, 2009. Stephen Prothero's 2007 book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn't includes an entry for Graham. In a review, the American religious historian Mark Oppenheimer judged that he would have omitted the entry for Graham because he was “irrelevant today.” Oppenheimer, “Knowing Not,” New York Times, June 10, 2007,, accessed March 22, 2009.

41  . . . Mount Rushmore: After I drafted this line, I discovered that David Aikman wrote a similar one in “What If Billy Graham Had Made Another Choice?” Nelson Newsroom, September 25, 2007,, accessed March 20, 2009.

1 I dedicate this essay to David M. Scholer (1938–2008), scholar, friend, and role model, who stirred my interest in Graham many years ago. The Louisville Institute provided generous funding. On August 6, 2007, shortly before his ninetieth birthday, the Reverend Billy Graham talked with me in his home for more than an hour about his travels and ministry. Numerous friends and colleagues helped me research or conceptualize the project. I wish to thank the Duke/UNC American Religion Colloquium, The Center for the Study of American Religion at Indiana University/Purdue University, John Akers, Shane Benjamin, Anne Blue-Wills, Kate Bowler, Jim Bratt, Joel Carpenter, Mark Chaves, Liz Clark, Elesha Coffman, Charles Cook, Bob Cooley, Eileen Cooley, Mike Crisp, Seth Dowland, Paul Ericksen, Andrew Finstuen, Jean Ford, Leighton Ford, Ken Garfield, Phil Goff, Franklin Golden, Nathan Hatch, Brooks Holifield, Sarah Johnson, Michael Kazin, Jim Lewis, Mike Hamilton, David Heim, Dick Heitzenrater, Amy Beth Hougland, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Elaine Maisner, George Marsden, Bill Martin, Kathleen McDermott, Mandy McMichael, Steven Miller, David Morgan, Rich Mouw, Harold Myra, Brooke Osborne, Brendan Pietsch, Allan Poole, Steven Porter, Wen Reagan, Maurice Ritchie, Garth Rosell, Steve Scholle, Bob Schuster, Jan Shipps, Warren Smith, David Steinmetz, Andrew Stern, Laura Stern, Skip Stout, Heather Vacek, Katherine Wacker, Kevin Walters, David Weaver-Zercher, Wayne Weber, Lauren Winner, John Wilson, Ken Woodward and, especially (as usual), Mark Noll.

Grant Wacker is professor of Christian history and director of the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University. On January 4, 2009, he delivered this paper as the presidential address to the American Society of Church History.

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