Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Billy Graham Holding Last Event in the U.S.

Though he says he awaits death with "great anticipation," the famed Rev. Billy Graham (search) is still very much alive — alive enough to hold another one of his legendary "crusades" this weekend.

But the 86-year-old Evangelical minister — who has achieved superstar status and a cult following with his simple message of salvation through Jesus Christ — says this event will be the final one in the United States. And though he's said that before, now he sounds like he really means it.

"Yes, this will be the last [crusade] in America, I'm sure," Graham said in his soft, gravelly voice at a press conference, held a few days before the June 24-26 event — which is expected to draw about 70,000 people with room for more.

The ailing Graham — who suffers from hydrocephalus (search), Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer — plans to preach for 35 minutes on each of the three nights in a park near Shea Stadium in Queens, where the New York Mets baseball team plays.

Religious experts say Graham has garnered such a following and made such a mark on the world in large part because he managed to reach out not only to other, non-Evangelical Christians but also to people of different faiths.

"He's a person who transcends the categories we try to inflict on people in theology," said Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard University. "Certainly he belongs within the Evangelical camp, but he's an exemplary Christian figure as a statesman. He has never been exclusivist in his views."

In fact, he's always made a point of including Christians of all denominations in the planning of his mass events, in spite of harsh criticism by some of his colleagues for doing it. And because of his ability to cross over lines that divide, New York is a particularly fitting place for his last crusade.

"Here in New York, not only is there a mixture of ethnic backgrounds, but a mixture of problems," Graham said this week. "But I think in this country we are still together as Americans. We're proud of that. Thank God we have the freedoms we do. Thank God for all these people."

When racial segregation was thriving in this country, Graham would not hold crusades unless they were integrated.

"One of his impacts on society has been his prophetic embrace of multicultural, multiracial gatherings," said Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. "He's a man of high integrity and faith. Even when I've disagreed with him politically or socially, I've respected him."

More recently, though his son, Franklin Graham (search), called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," the elder Graham has refused to join in and denounce it.

"He simply will not engage in the demonizing of Islam," Cox said. "[He believes] that the real struggle in the clash of civilizations is in poverty and disease."

The Rev. Graham also became well known as "the preacher of the presidents," serving as a spiritual adviser to every American president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But the legendary religious figure seems to know he's nearing the end of his life. He thought death was imminent during one of his hospital visits at the Mayo Clinic four years ago, when doctors were implanting a shunt in his head to drain the fluid on his brain caused by the hydrocephalus.

After he saw his sins pass before his eyes, he said he then experienced "the greatest peace I've ever known" — a peace that has stayed with him ever since.

"People ask me if I fear death. I don't," Graham said at the press conference. "I look forward to death with great anticipation, to meeting God face to face."

His frail health — he also has to use a walker to get around — means Graham must seriously think about whether he can accept an invitation to preach in London in November, the same month he turns 87.

Franklin Graham said that after six decades on the road with events in 185 different countries before 210 million people, his father no longer adjusts easily to time-zone changes and doesn't like to be away from his wife, Ruth, whose own declining health has left her bed-ridden. Billy Graham spends most of his time with her at their home in Montreat, N.C.

Franklin Graham will actually be on hand in New York in case his dad needs him to step in. But the son, who now runs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (search), doesn't harbor any fantasies of being his father's successor when he's gone.

"No one can replace Billy Graham," Franklin Graham told FOX News. "I certainly can't. I have no illusions that I'm going to be Billy Graham. I cannot fill his shoes."

And though his crusades may seem outdated, the estimated crowds for this weekend are a testament to the fact that the Rev. Billy Graham's message — that "the Gospel of Christ is the answer, not part of the answer, but the whole answer" — still resonates.

"Although the Graham crusade might seem to reflect a bygone era, nevertheless hundreds, if not thousands, of people still come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ through his crusades today," Johnston said. "He simply is a holy man whom God has seen fit to bless."

Watch an interview with Billy Graham on Friday's "Hannity & Colmes" at 9 p.m. EDT on the FOX News Channel.