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Who the hell is Billy Graham?


America voted this man as the third most-admired person globally in 2012 – after Obama and Mandela! Since 1955, he has featured 56 times amongst the top ten in the annual poll of the world’s most admired living individuals! Who the hell is Billy Graham and how can he, well, save the world?

“But God forbid that I should Glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” – reads the verse posted in big letters on the wall of Billy Graham’s office in Montreat, North Carolina. Graham is clearly a typical evangelist; and has been for decades. In any educated society, evangelists in general, despite having a following in the conservative belt, would not be eulogised and admired by the mass population. For every sycophantic follower an evangelist might have, there would be tens looking down upon the typical sacred spiel being spewed out.

Clearly, in the case of Mr. Graham, we couldn’t have been further from the truth! He has been one of the most admired and, most in the know mention, rightfully glorified personas in the US. As per Gallup, which conducts an annual poll of the World’s Most Admired Living Individuals, the 94 year old modern day ecclesiast has been amongst the top ten in the list 56 times since 1955, more than any other man. And to imagine that those in Asia, the world’s most populated continent, have not even heard of this charismatic pulpitarian
In the latest Gallup poll, whose results were released just last month, Billy Graham again easily qualified on the 3rd spot (Obama and Mandela took the first and second positions respectively; Romney, unbelievably, had to settle for a tied 3rd spot with Graham). If you thought that the reason for Billy’s amazing following is simply his godly predicant bent, then one wonders why the Pope couldn’t beat him on this most admired persons list. For information, Pope Benedict XVI, like Romney, had to be content being tied at the third spot with Billy. A 2005 poll in America revealed that one in six adult Americans have heard Graham in person while 52% have heard him on radio and 85% of them have seen him in television. More importantly a massive 66% view him favourably while 20% were critical of him.

So, what makes him so belligerently popular among the Americans? A seat of the pants answer to that would be that he preaches better than the best preacher you would’ve heard. Billy Graham started to appeal to the masses since beginning preaching in the early 1940s. The 1940s was an era marked by destruction, violence and destabilization of the economy and the nation was devoid of an inspirational spiritual leader of sorts. Graham was able to immediately strike a chord with people recovering from the ravages of the war with his preaching for peace.

But more importantly, Graham was not an evangelist who limited himself to preaching religion – one reason his influence and reach grew exponentially. In the 1950s, Graham was amongst the first white religious leaders to revolt against racism and the segregation of blacks and whites during religious sermons in America. The extended amount of backlash that he then received from communities on both sides of the divide did deter him initially; but he revived strengthened crusades against racism and religious segregation after support and advice from one of his closest associates during those times, the great Martin Luther King, Jr.

To say that Graham was perhaps one of the leading reasons why segregation of blacks and whites stopped in American religious congregations would not be an exaggeration. Graham’s influence consistently grew; more because Graham went beyond religion to concepts of humanity. And the telling evidence for that is that all American Presidents – from Truman to Obama – kept Graham at close quarters. In fact, from President Eisenhower onwards, Graham has served as an advisor to each US President. In 2007, he even published a sparkling book titled The Preacher and The Presidents: Billy Graham and the White House, documenting his Presidential experiences.

Till date, Graham has reportedly preached in around 185 countries to about 215 million people. Barry M. Horstman wrote in the Cincinnati Post in 2002 that Graham’s “lifetime audience” was around 2.2 billion! That’s the power of one individual, who has gone beyond preaching religion to preaching about life and living.

Unfortunately, a man who could have been used quite strategically by the US administration to improve American relations with defiant nations, and to change anti-American public opinion – which has been growing globally – has been left strangely unutilised in the past many years. There’s no doubt that if Graham had been given the mandate by the US government, his reach and massive following – combined with his humane approach to issues – would have influenced global opinion in ways better than the ridiculous campaigns manufactured by the spin doctors at Langley. Yes, age is taking away more from this man now than before. But despite that, the legend is championing a worldwide outreach programme that culminates in a global event in November this year. It’s titled ‘My Hope with Billy Graham’. That’s passion! Here’s to many more years of a man who is trying his hardest to make the world a better place – with or without our help.

By:- Mrinmoy Dey

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