Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham began in L.A. — then took his message to 12 presidents, 185 countries and 215 million people

When a young religious crusader named Billy Graham began preaching to the masses after World War II, he wore bright gabardine suits with loud, wide ties and argyle socks to show that Christianity wasn't dreary.

And he did not hide behind a pulpit. He "stalked and sometimes almost ran from one end of the platform to the other," as one biographer noted, while beseeching unbelievers to give themselves to the higher power he praised with unassailable conviction.

That style drew 350,000 people to a tent in downtown Los Angeles over eight weeks in 1949 — the first major Billy Graham crusade. When it closed 65 sermons later, the mesmerizing preacher was known across the country — and, before long, around the world.

Graham, the most dominant American pastor of the second half of the 20th century, who counseled presidents, filled stadiums and lifted evangelism into the religious mainstream through the power of his voice and personality, died at his home in Montreat, N.C., early Wednesday, his official websiteannounced. He was 99.

Graham attended or participated in eight presidential inaugurations, but he was also present at the White House during darker days of controversy and scandal. He stayed close to Johnson when the president's popularity plummeted during the Vietnam War, and during Watergate publicly supported Nixon far longer than many thought prudent. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he quickly and publicly forgave President Clinton and privately counseled Clinton's wife, Hillary, to forgive him as well.

Also close to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Graham was one of the few people allowed to visit the former president in California after Reagan's descent into Alzheimer's disease. He later developed a close relationship with the Bush family, participating in their annual summer retreats in Kennebunkport, Maine, starting when George H.W. Bush was vice president. It was there during meetings with Graham that George W. Bush, the president's eldest son, started to turn his life toward Christianity. - More, latimes

Billy Graham began in L.A. — then took his message to 12 presidents, 185 countries and 215 million people


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