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Graham, William "Billy" - Timeline Biography

Time Period

11-07-1918 - 02-21-2018

Description

Early in his evangelist career, Graham had leveraged his connections with fundamentalists into a prominent role among American evangelicals, but his launch into the broader national consciousness came during his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade, attended by more than 350,000 people. During the 1950s, Graham continued to hold massively popular crusades throughout the United States and the world, each attracting large audiences. A compelling speaker, Graham mingling a simple gospel message with frequent calls to resist the spread of godless communism. Following each of Graham's sermons, he would invite audience members to walk the aisles and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. His decision to invite non-evangelical ministers to sponsor specific crusades led to a split between fundamentalists who disapproved of Graham and "new" evangelicals who did not. Graham also was famous for his friendships with renowned political figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and every U.S. president since Harry Truman.

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Baptist Events and People

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Narrative

As a teenager, Billy Graham was influenced by two southern evangelists, Mordecai Ham -- who converted Graham at a revival meeting -- and Bob Jones, Sr., who convinced the young Graham to attend Bob Jones College. Graham left Bob Jones College after a semester, frustrated by the rigidness of the fundamentalist school, and finished degrees at Florida Bible Institute in 1940 and at Wheaton College in 1943.

After a brief time as a pastor, Graham found his future calling as an evangelist while working as a vice-president with Youth for Christ, an outreach that sponsored evangelical gatherings for tens of thousands of young people across the country and Western Europe. At the same time, Graham served as President of Northwestern College at the request of its fundamentalist founder, W. B. Riley. Graham had leveraged his connections with traditional fundamentalists into a prominent role among American evangelicals, but his launch into the broader national consciousness came during his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade, attended by more than 350,000 people and promoted by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

During the 1950s, Graham continued to hold massively popular crusades all over the country, each with attendance measured in the hundreds of thousands. In 1954, he launched his international presences with revivals in London, where he preached to more than two million. Graham, ever the warm Southern gentlemen, was a compelling speaker, mingling a simple gospel message with frequent calls to resist the spread of godless communism (while avoiding the trap of naming names like more radical preachers). Following each of Graham's sermons -- which were accompanied by the singing of George Beverly Shea, a Canadian-born baritone -- Graham would invite audience members to walk the aisles and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. And they did so in the millions.

Traditional fundamentalists, however, began to grow leery of Graham during the mid-1950s, worried that he was willing to compromise on sound doctrine in exchange for broader audiences. These concerns erupted into open conflict during Graham's 1957 New York Crusade when Graham invited non-evangelical ministers to sponsor the crusade, which led to a split between fundamentalists who disapproved of Graham and "new" evangelicals who did not.

Graham has always been interested in politics. He weathered a great deal of criticism from southern evangelicals for holding integrated campaigns in the South during the 1950s and for his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. Graham has met with every U.S. President since Harry Truman and developed particularly close ties to President Richard Nixon, who offered him the ambassadorship to Israel, which he declined. The relationship later embarrassed Graham, both because of his defense of Nixon's character during the early stages of the Watergate scandal and, in 2002, when several Nixon White House tapes were released and a private anti-Semitic conversation between Graham and Nixon became public knowledge. Late in life, Graham said that he wished he had "steered clear of politics." He became a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament. In 2012, when Graham was in his 90s, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headed by Graham’s son Franklin Graham, openly supported Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and removed language on its website referring to Mormonism as a cult.

Neither Graham's split with the fundamentalists nor his political missteps hindered his success as a preacher. By the end of Graham's active ministry in 2005, he had preached to more than 210 million people in almost 100 countries. In 2001, his son, Franklin Graham, took over as president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, using the clout of the Graham name to promote missions and charitable work -- including his own international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse -- and to support conservative political positions on issues like same-sex marriage.

Graham died on February 21, 2018.

Religious Groups

Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links
Baptist Family: Religious Family Tree
Timeline Entries for the same religious group: Independent Fundamentalist Family
Independent Fundamentalist Family: Other ARDA Links

Events

Youth for Christ
Billy Graham's Los Angeles Crusade
Billy Graham Holds First Integrated Crusade in Chattanooga, TN
Conservative Baptist Association of America
National Association of Evangelicals Founded
Billy Graham's New York Crusade

Movements

New Evangelicalism
The Fourth Great Awakening

Related Dictionary Terms

Christianity, Evangelism, Gospels, Jesus Christ, King, Martin Luther (1929-1968), Minister, Pastor, Preacher, Sermon

Photographs

Billy Graham older- Wikimedia Commons
Billy Graham older- Wikimedia Commons

Billy Graham portrait- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03261
Billy Graham portrait- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03261

Billy Graham preaching- Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-29; Lachmann, Hans (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Billy Graham preaching- Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-29; Lachmann, Hans (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Billy Graham with president Reagan- National Archives and Records Administration
Billy Graham with president Reagan- National Archives and Records Administration

Book/Journal Source(s)

Larson, Timothy and David Bebbington and Mark Noll, 2003. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

Web Page Contributor

Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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