'Billy Graham Was Singular'

Billy Graham preaching at one of his rallies in 1966. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Billy Graham preaching at one of his rallies in 1966. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Billy Graham has died at 99. Known as "America's pastor," Graham had an enormous influence on Christianity, Evangelicalism and America.

On Point guest host Tom Gjelten — NPR's religion correspondent — hosted our show on Graham's legacy.

We spoke Wednesday with Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University; Brad Harper, professor at Multnomah University; and the Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Billy Graham was singular," Mohler said. "He dominated Protestant Christianity through most of the 20th century.”

More Show Highlights

On Graham’s inclusive philosophy

Stephen Prothero: You know he thought that salvation was only through Jesus but he wasn't so convinced he knew exactly what Jesus was going to do with everybody. I think preachers now, in my mind many of them have sort of annoyingly convinced themselves about exactly what's happening to everyone — and that's different from being confused about the Gospel. … But he was open to the possibility that maybe Jesus would figure out a way to save a United Methodist and maybe Jesus would figure out a way to save a Muslim too.

On Graham’s rise in popularity when liberals and fundamentalists were at odds

Brad J. Harper: "He said that really expressing the gospel of Jesus is not about being polarized or being defensive. It's about listening about communicating to people across the spectrum and about focusing on Jesus and letting Jesus and his message itself rise in people's hearts."

On Billy Graham's son, Franklin

Harper: "I think his son doesn’t hold as broad an audience, and one of the reasons is he tends to be more strident in the side of politics he focuses on."

Prothero: "Franklin Graham is in my view the sort of epitome of this move where he really has become, in my opinion, a kind of political hack who who uses his platform developed by his father to simply rubber stamp whatever the Republican Party might say. And as an admirer of Billy Graham I feel that the legacy of Graham the father is really being tarnished by the son almost in a kind of Shakespearean or even biblical fashion."

On race and homosexuality

Prothero: "This was a guy who was formed in the early 20th century in the south. And his views about race evolved over time but I don't think his views about homosexuality evolved at all."

Harper: "I think he probably didn't change his views on those things in terms of the ethics of sexuality but I'm betting that if you had talked to Billy Graham about this in the last couple of decades of his life, that the way he talked about that would have been very different and his personal posture towards LGBTQ people would have been far different than that of evangelicalism 20, 30 years ago."


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