I suspect that it’s almost impossible for anyone under the age of 35 to understand the role Billy Graham played in the collective consciousness of the Baby Boomer generation. He walked onto the public square in the late 1940s and 1950s, about the same time that most Boomers were born.
For those who have grown up with the cultural fragmentation brought on by cable TV, the Internet and social media, the 60s and 70s must seem quaint and maybe even alien. Only three television networks existed then, and nationwide magazines such at Life and Time dominated the print media.
Billy Graham was everywhere—radio, television, newspapers and magazine covers. Everyone in the free world (and I mean everyone) and many others in the rest of the world knew who Graham was, heard him preach and knew that his message was “Jesus saves.”
The numbers are simply astounding. During his eight decades (80 years!) of ministry, Billy Graham held over 400 evangelistic crusades. He preached in person to over 215 million people in 185 countries. Estimates run that his radio and television audiences topped 2.2 billion. Some 3.2 million responded by making a profession of faith. Graham preached the gospel to more people than any other human being. His tireless evangelism made him the most famous preacher in history.
What is just as remarkable as his fame was the way in which Billy Graham handled it. The prestige of the spotlight and the adulation of an admiring public can do strange things to a person. Yet there never was a hint of scandal during his 80-year ministry.
Recently some public figures have been criticized for following “the Billy Graham rule” — the policy of a man never being alone with a woman who is not his wife. Whether or not such a policy encourages sexism is a conversation for another day. For now it suffices to point out that Graham, who ministered during the era known as “the sexual revolution,” was a model of integrity. He also modeled humility, even though he was the confidant and friend of Presidents and royalty.
So for this Boomer, who remembers his mother turning on The Hour of Decision radio program every Sunday morning, Graham’s passing seems like the end of an era. I praise God for his faithful preaching of the Gospel, and I’m inspired by his example of evangelistic fervor. Graham magnified Jesus Christ, and his memory encourages all of us to do likewise.