This week, the new Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. opened its doors to the public. The library pays homage to the legendary evangelist and his ministry that has reached 250 million people in the four corners of world.
Last week, there was an amazing event when the dedication ceremony included all three living former U.S. presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. It was a sight to see on top of it being a historical moment in time. I don't think I will ever forget watching each president take the podium and pay homage to the man who's attended more presidential inaugurals than anyone in history (except for maybe one Supreme Court Justice back in the 1800s), and counseled every president from Truman, to the present George W. Bush.
At times, the ceremony did feel like a memorial, and Billy Graham himself quipped about how he felt like he was attending his own funeral. But that's Billy Graham, a fire and brimstone preacher when it came to the message of the Gospel, but a mild-mannered, humble and loving father and friend, to those close to him.
The FOX crew arrived the day before the dedication ceremony, and I interviewed Franklin Graham, who's now carrying on his father's ministry. Franklin Graham also gave us a guided tour of the facility. The day before the worldwide media descended on Charlotte, the atmosphere was a little more relaxed and the library staff and event publicists were all in a great mood. And it was a time we could really take in the facility and view what the public is getting a chance to see this week for the first time.
The library is a walking timeline tour of the Graham ministry, from his tent meeting beginnings in Los Angeles, through the sold-out rock-star sized crowds during his crusades, and then to the present day, to where the ministry and his message are being carried on by the next generation of clergy.
But it was Billy Graham who legitimized the itinerant preacher. He was the first to rule that his staff would get a salary instead of whatever was collected at the meetings. He demanded that their books be open to the public so that all could see where the money was coming from and where it was going. He was the first to use the power of the media to spread his message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Yes, he's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, especially in our pluralistic, secular culture. But throughout his six decades of ministry he has never once varied the message. It's been simple and powerful. He did not tailor his message to fit the times. He demanded that the times bend to the message. Through several wars and tumultuous times, Billy Graham has sounded the call to bow down before a loving and gracious God.
On this trip, I really wanted more than anything to meet Billy Graham. Up until about six or seven years ago, the headquarters for the Graham ministry was in Minneapolis, Minn., my hometown. Whenever I'd visit relatives in the southern states they'd ask me, "Ya'll know Billy Graham?" Of coursem, I didn't. But now I can at least say, I've met him. And I shall never forget the moment.
Billy Graham is now 88-years-old and gets around with the aid of a walker. The night before the dedication ceremony, he sat in a private meeting room, with the walker beside him, greeting a few guests before a donors dinner. I was lucky enough to meet him there and talk with him. I savor the opportunity that I was one of the few people to talk alone with him and his publicist. He spoke so graciously, and made me feel as if the honor was his. That's indeed how he greets everyone. He is truly delighted to meet people and delighted that the message he's delivered for 60 years has helped them in their lives.
He spoke a lot about my FOX boss Rupert Murdoch, and how he considered him to be a good friend. He also regretted that his wife Ruth Graham couldn't be at the ceremony because she's an invalid, confined to bed. Through the whole conversation I sensed weariness about him, perhaps it was only fatigue caused by all of the hoopla surrounding the library’s opening. Or perhaps, it wasn't. I couldn't be sure. He likes the library, although his one complaint was that it was too much Billy Graham, and not enough Jesus. That too is quite typical.
He admits he doesn't have the physical strength he used to, but his mind is stronger than ever; I have to wholeheartedly concur. His body may be frail and weak, but his soul and spirit are strong through years of staying the course.
Even if you don't believe in the God of the Christian Bible, you’d have to respect Billy Graham, the man, for never wavering about what he believed ... and that's why you must also know that his God must be saying, "Well done my good and faithful servant."
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."