The casket of evangelist Billy Graham is moved during a funeral service at the Billy Graham Library on March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Billy Graham, mourned as a man of God, is laid to rest near his childhood home

CHARLOTTE, N.C., (RNS) — With his childhood home as a backdrop, Billy Graham was celebrated as a man of God at a his funeral, the closing chapter of a centurylong story in American evangelical history.

For many evangelicals around the world, the legendary preacher — who died last week at age 99 — was their faith's embodiment and ideal.

All five of his children paid short tributes to him on Friday (March 2) in front of more than 2,000 guests near the Billy Graham Library outside downtown Charlotte, the city of his birth. His grandsons served as pallbearers.

The Rev. Donald J. Wilton speaks during a funeral service at the Billy Graham Library for the Rev. Billy Graham, on March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The gathering  included President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives. All assembled under a 28,000-square foot white tent that recalled those under which "America's pastor" began his career nearly 70 years ago.

The service, under sunny skies but with bracing winds, paid tribute to all the main markers of Graham’s life: his humble beginnings on a dairy farm a few miles away from the Billy Graham Library, his tent revivals and rapport with both the powerful and meek, and his simple message of coming to faith in Jesus before it’s too late.

“My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, he wrote a book on heaven, and today he’s in heaven,” said his oldest son, evangelist Franklin Graham, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association founded by his father. “His journey is complete.”

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The highly scripted funeral was also a testament to Graham's extraordinary reach. He preached to an estimated 215 million during the course of his career — both in person, on television, and via satellite and the internet. His message resonated with a cross section of the globe, from American presidents to European royalty to villagers living in mud huts.

In bringing the Christian gospel to the masses, Graham sought to tear down barriers and unite Christian traditions. His funeral reflected those diplomatic achievements.

One hundred international delegates representing 50 countries and several denominations were invited to the funeral. Two Protestant pastors — Sami Dagher of Lebanon and Billy Kim of South Korea — gave tributes, but guests included representatives of Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well.

“Billy Graham was a bridge-builder,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, speaking to reporters before the funeral. “Back in the late 1940s and 1950s, to have welcomed Catholics, to embrace them, that wasn’t always accepted. He did it well. So I am honored to be here as a representative of the Catholic faith in the United States.”

President Trump and Melania Trump, left, and Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence, arrive ahead of a funeral service at the Billy Graham Library for the Rev. Billy Graham, who died last week at age 99, on March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Graham, who befriended every president since Dwight Eisenhower and served as confidant to many other Oval Office occupants, was honored by many politicians too: In addition to Trump and Pence, neither of whom spoke, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the state's U.S. senators — Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — attended, as well as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each paid private visits to Charlotte earlier in the week. Graham was also honored this week in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where he became only the fourth person to lie in honor there — and the first religious figure.


READ: Crowds line up to bid Graham farewell at US Capitol


And many on Trump's ad hoc evangelical advisory board — including Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., publicist Johnnie Moore and seminary executive Richard Land — were in attendance.

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Still, it was Baptists, the denomination to which Graham loosely belonged — who formed the largest contingent at the funeral. It included Baptist megachurch pastors such as Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Southern California, Jack Graham (no relation) of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte. Past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention were also in attendance as were presidents of its six seminaries.

Preachers from the Pentecostal tradition, including Jim Bakker and Joel Osteen, attended as well.

Pastor Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, speaks during a funeral service at the Billy Graham Library for the Rev. Billy Graham on March 2, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Graham was buried later in the afternoon in a memorial prayer garden near the barn-like Billy Graham Library. His casket had been made by inmates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

The 15-minute service was private, attended by some 200 family members. His pastor for the past 10 years, the Rev. Don Wilton of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., presided. The grave marker reads: “Preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”


READ: A preacher to millions took comfort in a local church pastor


For many, the most touching moments of the day came from two of Graham's daughters: Anne Graham Lotz and Ruth Graham.

Lotz, who Graham called the most gifted preacher in his family, gave a mini-sermon in which she compared her father to Moses.

“Moses was the great liberator; he brought millions of people out of bondage,” she said. “My father is also a great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage to sin and to the edge of the Promised Land and then God called him home.”

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Lotz’s younger sister Ruth relayed a personal story about Graham’s compassion, telling of how she ignored her parents and children’s advice in marrying for the second time after a divorce. Realizing her mistake, she drove up the mountains of North Carolina to confront her father.

He was waiting in the driveway. “He wrapped his arms around me and said ‘Welcome home.’ There was no blame, just unconditional love,” she said.

Graham began planning his funeral more than 10 years ago, initially with music director Cliff Barrows, who died in 2016, and later with the help of his pastor.

The guest list was drawn up years ago but underwent several revisions. Each of the Graham children were allotted a number of family members and friends, but a family spokesman said Franklin Graham, his father's appointed successor, had a larger hand in the selection of guests.

Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith sang “Above All” and the Gaither Vocal Band performed one of Graham’s favorite hymns, “Because He Lives.”

Pastors, even those who did not know him well, said they were keen to honor the man by attending the funeral.

"There are three words that will always come to mind when I think of Billy Graham," said Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt, a former president of the SBC. "One is the gospel. Two is integrity, and three was love. That was his favorite word when he talked about Jesus. He loved to talk about how God loved us and it was evident because he loved people so much."

Comments

  1. “mourned as a man of God?”

    What’s up with that?

  2. So When I read the speech comparing Bill Graham to Moses and Joshua to Jesus’ return, it sparked something. So I looked at it closer and this is what I found:

    1. Both Graham and Moses died on the same day, February 21
    2. After Moses died, Jewish tradition would give 7 days of intense morning of family.
    3. After the 7 days, there would be another 30 days of general morning by the Jews, this is mentioned in Deuteronomy 34.
    4.Then Joshua is told by God to lead the Israelite’s to the “promised
    land.” He tells his leaders to inform the Israelite’s they will cross to
    the promise land in 3 days (Joshua 1:11)
    5. If you add 40 days (7+30+3) to the 21st of February, you will land on April 2, the day after Resurrection Day when Jesus fulfilled the redemption of us to lead us to the Promised Kingdom of God.
    6. Is not the Rapture all about the Christians being led to the promised kingdom?

    So
    On the day that Joshua crosses the river with the Israelite’s and
    enters the “promised land” is the day after Resurrection day this year.
    Is this coincidence or a prophecy being fulfilled? I know we cannot
    know the hour of the day of Jesus’s return, but there is nothing about
    knowing the rapture date.
    Christian food to ponder……

  3. Mourners are free to mourn as they choose, are they not? You don’t have to agree with them.

  4. Certainly. But the headline makes it sound like they were mourning because he was a man of God.

    Rock Chalk Jayhawk. Go Chiefs.

  5. Moses died on February 1st? That’s quite a neat trick considering that the Julian and Gregorian calendars were still centuries into the future. There was no February at the time of Moses.

  6. Indeed, many do consider him a man of God and mourn him accordingly. I make no presumptions either way.

    Rock Chalk.

  7. I feel uplift and hope every time I see an article or TV program about the effect of Billy Graham on the world today.

  8. Oh I think 2 Thessalonians begs to differ……..

  9. And do I need to explain the term….”food to ponder” When I read snide remarks, I know it is Satan who spawns them…

  10. How about just addressing the actual issue instead of being sanctimonious? If Moses and Graham didn’t die on the same day, your premise collapses.

  11. Thanks for pointing out the obvious and also for continuing to be snide…

  12. Good point. Your sanctimony was indeed obvious.

    By the way, unless your “thanks” was sincere, you too were being snide. Oh no! It’s contagious!

  13. What a load of crap. BG was a conman, it’s that simple. People did not come to hear God’s word, they came to hear BG speak. Major difference there. Apologist for Nixon, supporter of the Vietnam War, bigot, etc. Perfect example of the evangelicals drinking the kool aid.

  14. Barrett, Kevin (February 24, 2018). The Passing of Billy Graham Was A Sign

    Word from the Father:

    My people, listen to your heavenly Father this day. I come to you all with open arms of love and with exciting news. I know that many of you grieve over the loss of the well-known Billy Graham, in whom many were so fond of. But I would have you to know this; he has entered into his rewards. However, there is something much greater that you should rejoice in besides this fact.

    For I tell you, the passing of Billy Graham has heralded the passing of an old era and a new one has begun. The mantle of Billy Graham will be handed down to many for the saving of many souls. Howbeit, there is something else even more wonderful than that. Even though it is a wonderful thing for just one soul to turn to Me, it is a much greater thing for just one soul to become one with Me.

    This is the greater thing regarding Billy Graham’s passing. The passing of the old has ushered in a new era in which many will have their eyes and ears opened to the truth and many will forsake the pleasures of the world to become one with Me. For the old era has taught the name of Jesus, but for the most part, has not taught the truths of My kingdom and the reality of a glorified, sinless, and perfect life, fully united with Me in oneness with My Spirit.

    This shall be the new message of the day; to prepare a people for My habitation and for Me to be glorified in earthen vessels. And many shall die to themselves so that they may become one with Me, and that I may be glorified in them. And in this, My power shall be greatly revealed in the earth through these ones.

    Oh, My lovely ones, this is My desire for all of you. However, this comes at a great price, and that price is your own self-life which not many are willing to give up. But these are the last days and I have reserved a remnant who shall be willing to give up all the world has to offer in order to be one with their God.

    Listen well. Now is the time for an abundance of My grace to be poured out upon anyone who would choose this. Howbeit, do not take this invitation lightly, nor agree to it in haste. First, you must consider the cost. Are you willing to give up everything dear to you, even your own flesh and blood? Are you willing to walk away from your job or business to never look back if I were to ask you? I tell you, this choice shall be the undoing of everything you hold dear. But the reward shall far outweigh anything the world has to offer.

    So then, I do not ask of you today to make this choice, yet I ask of you to consider the cost and ask yourself if you would be willing to take up your cross and give up all to follow My Son wherever He leads you. If you would do this, and truly begin to seek Me with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; then I shall see from heaven and pour out an unprecedented measure of My grace upon you for this journey.

    The days are short and the end is near. Therefore, I need those who are willing to carry My glory to the nations. But only those who have died to their self-life shall be My glorified ones in these last days. Oh, I will still have those on the earth who shall carry My anointing, yet even so, it shall not be the same as My Glory. For no man, save Jesus Christ Himself, has ever walked the earth in the fullness of My Glory. However, I tell you that there shall be those in these last days who shall be glorified and walk in the fullness of My Spirit and Truth just as My Son Jesus did. Yet know this, even My own Son was glorified through the betrayal of Judas and His death on the cross. So then, how much more do you suppose that you must also die to yourselves in order to be glorified?

    Oh, do not fret over the thought that this is an impossible task. For surely, I tell you that what is impossible with man is possible with Me. And I SHALL have a remnant in the earth who will be My habitation among men in these last days. Do not be as the Israelites of old who saw themselves as grasshoppers compared to the giants in their promised land, and then doubted and feared. Even though your flesh and sin may be as giants to you, the battle is Mine.

    I tell you all, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what I have in store these last days for those who truly love Me. But I shall reveal these things to My remnant who will carry My Glory to a lost and dying world.

    Do not miss out on this great opportunity. For I tell you; I am no respecter of persons, and this call goes out to whosoever will. Don’t believe the lies of the enemy that this calling is only for the anointed leaders in ministry. For I tell you, even very few of them, if any, will answer this call because many have chosen to love their ministry more than Me. Therefore, those who are unknown, of lowly reputation, and who have chosen to follow Me and make themselves least in the eyes of the world, will be the ones who are greatest in My kingdom.

    I love you all, and how I desire this for all of you. But ultimately, the choice is yours. For even though I may call many to this calling, few will ultimately be chosen because few will consider the cost to die fully to self and endure to the end. Yet, even so, I do give this call for all those who would consider the cost. Surely, it will be well worth it… …

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