US evangelist who has conducted large religious meetings throughout the world. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.
Born into a farming family in Charlotte, North Carolina, Billy Graham showed an early interest in Christianity. After studying for a short time at Bob Jones University, he moved to Florida Bible Institute and in 1939 he was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister. The following year he returned to college and three years later became pastor of a church in Western Springs. In the 1940s he worked with the Youth for Christ movement as an evangelist. The turning point in his career came in 1950 when, as the result of a series of highly successful evangelistic meetings in Los Angeles, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed.
Graham has conducted numerous evangelistic ‘crusades’ throughout the world, including several in Britain (most recently in 1989), and also in eastern Europe, South Korea, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union. He is said to have preached about Jesus Christ to more people than any other person in history. Graham's style of preaching is simple but powerful; it combines a highly developed sense of theatre with the techniques of the pop festival to teach the Bible as the word of God. As a climax to his meetings, he is renowned for asking people ‘to make a decision for Christ’. To make a public demonstration of their decision they are invited to get up out of their seats and give their names to members of his supporting team. There is then an efficient follow-up through their local churches.
Graham, a persuasive and convincing preacher, has undoubtedly made many converts. He also knows personally a great number of world leaders, notably US presidents, has broadcast widely, and has written many books, including Peace with God (1954), World Aflame (1965), Angels: God's Secret Agents (1975), Answers to Life's Problems (1988), and Storm Warning (1992).
Subjects: Religion — Contemporary History (Post 1945).