Billy Graham's Funeral Celebrated Evangelist's Life And The Reach Of His Ministry

Mar 2, 2018
Originally published on March 2, 2018 8:16 pm
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The Reverend Billy Graham has been laid to rest in North Carolina. He's buried next to his wife in a private plot a few miles from where he was born. His funeral outside Charlotte today brought an outpouring of friends, family members and admirers from around the world. Among them were President Trump and the first lady and Vice President Pence and his wife. NPR's Tom Gjelten was there.

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TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: There was no ornate cathedral for Billy Graham's funeral. The service was held outside, not far from the North Carolina farm where he was raised, in an open tent like the one where he preached his first big crusade in Los Angeles in 1949. Billy Graham himself planned the service down to the music.

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GJELTEN: A chilly wind kept the 2,000 guests bundled in their coats and scarves. But the funeral drew a celebrity crowd. Besides the president and vice president and their wives, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Sarah Palin and other politicians, the country music star Ricky Skaggs. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, recalled watching Billy Graham crusades on television as a young man.

TIMOTHY DOLAN: My mom and dad and my grandparents loved listening to Billy. My grandma, whose mom came from Ireland, said he was almost one of us.

GJELTEN: Despite all the dignitaries in the audience, this was mostly a Graham family affair. The service was held on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library. The house where Graham grew up, having been moved and reassembled here one brick at a time, was the backdrop. First to speak was Billy's surviving sister, Jean Ford.

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JEAN FORD: My brother Billy, my sister Catherine, my brother Melvin and I grew up here in this house. We learned hard work. We learned to love the Lord. We learned to pray. We learned to love the scriptures.

GJELTEN: One by one, Billy Graham's five children spoke. Graham once described his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, as the best preacher in the family. But as a woman in a Southern Baptist environment, she could not be ordained, and faced many obstacles when she tried to launch her own evangelical career. But today she felt empowered.

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ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: I want to make a pledge to my daddy. And I pledge to you, Daddy, in front of all of these witnesses, I will preach the word. I will do the work of an evangelist. I will share the gospel.

GJELTEN: It was up to Franklin Graham, his father's designated successor, to deliver the eulogy. The most political of the Graham children, he was the only one to acknowledge President Trump and Vice President Pence in the audience. Franklin Graham's theology is also the most hard-edged, and his eulogy had a strong evangelical tone.

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FRANKLIN GRAHAM: If this were your funeral, would you be in heaven? Are you sure? Jesus tells us that no one comes to the Father except through him. The world with all of its political correctness would want you to believe that there are many roads to God. It's just not true.

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GJELTEN: Billy Graham's casket was carried off to his graveside by his grandsons. Though all five of his children became evangelical leaders like him, each in his or her own way, many have gone through difficult times, and the family has dealt with its own divisions. But on this occasion, they were all together. And they all declared their love for Daddy Bill, the name he was given by his grandchildren. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Charlotte, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPE MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.