It’s been nearly a year since Billy Graham died at age 99, and the Charlotte library bearing his name has seen a big spike in attendance since then, son Franklin said Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Observer, the younger Graham also said plans are underway to turn his father’s mountain-top Montreat home into a conference center for churches. And though he has emerged as a stalwart supporter of President Donald Trump, Graham acknowledged policy disagreements with the president — but added that he tends to stay publicly mum about them.
In 2017, attendance at the Billy Graham Library totaled about 144,000. But in 2018, it rose by 70,000, to approximately 214,000. Graham died Feb. 21, 2018, and was laid to rest on the library grounds, at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway beside his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007.
“No question,” Franklin Graham said when asked if he attributed much of the increase to visitors coming to pay their last respects at his father’s burial site. The fieldstone grave marker identifies Billy Graham as “Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” — words his son said Graham chose himself.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Billy Graham’s Montreat home, meanwhile, is destined to become a place where church groups can meet. “If they wanted to have a Bible study, if they wanted to have a church planning strategy meeting,” Franklin Graham said, “(they’d) be able to go to the home of Billy Graham and do that.” He said North Carolina-based artist Bob Timberlake is helping decorate the house with his furnishings and art-work.
Also in the interview, Franklin Graham said he sometimes disagrees with President Donald Trump on policy issues “but I don’t know if it’s worth speaking up about it.”
In his nearly daily tweets and Facebook postings, Graham often promotes Trump and his administration’s agenda. He recently applauded a tweet by the president, for example, that noted with approval the move in some states to have “Bible Literacy classes” in public schools.
But, Graham said, “I don’t support things that the president says that are wrong. I’m not compromising that.” Asked if he could specify any issue where he disagreed with the Republican president, Graham declined. “Probably not to you,” he said with a laugh.
He had no such qualms Wednesday about voicing his strong opposition of what Democrats are doing on “moral issues,” starting with the New York legislature’s recent vote to permit late-term abortions when a woman’s health is in danger.
Graham claimed “there’s no difference” between such abortions in the United States and “what was done at Auschwitz (a Nazi death camp in Poland) to these Jews. How can I be silent about such a wicked, horrible thing that’s taking place in my country?”
For 50 years, the Associated Press reported, New York law had allowed abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy only when the woman’s life was at risk. The Democratic-controlled legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, changed that in what they said were stronger new legal protections for abortion rights.
Billy Graham, called a pastor to U.S, presidents, often prayed at the White House. Has Franklin Graham ever prayed or read the Bible with President Trump?
Graham didn’t answer the question, but did say: “Here’s something about the president. He wants Christians around him, more than any president in my lifetime. His vice president (Mike Pence) is a strong Christian. Ben Carson (Trump’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development) — strong Christian. Sonny Perdue at Agriculture (department) — strong Christian. You take (Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo — strong Christian. So many of the staffers at the White House are strong Christians. And I don’t understand it, but he desires to have Christian people around him. And I think that’s good for all of us.”
Graham did not mention several others who were once around Trump but have since been indicted for alleged crimes by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That list includes former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen and, most recently, Trump confidante and adviser Roger Stone.
Graham’s public views often echo the Republican Party’s, but he likes to point out that he is no longer a member of the GOP. And though he’d seem to be a likely choice to lead a public prayer at the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte, Graham said Wednesday that “I’m going to try to stay away from all this.”
Also in the interview, Graham said:
▪ The Billy Graham statue that will eventually represent North Carolina in the U.S. Capitol should include the evangelist holding a Bible. A panel appointed by the N.C. legislature to oversee the making of the statue includes Cissy Graham Lynch, Franklin’s daughter, and longtime Billy Graham assistant David Bruce. Franklin Graham said he has not been involved in deciding, for example, what kind of pose Billy Graham’s likeness should have. But “I think there should be a Bible in his hand. No question,” said Graham said, adding with a laugh: “That might be the only Bible in there.”
▪ No big changes are ahead for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, founded by the evangelist in 1950 and now based in Charlotte. “You don’t change something that’s working, you don’t fix something that’s not broken,” said Franklin Graham, now 66 and now BGEA president and CEO. The group organizes evangelization efforts around the world, including Graham’s crusade-like “festival” in Australia in February. He said he hopes his son, Will Graham, also an evangelist, will be able to eventually take over leadership of the BGEA. But, Graham said, “if God gives me the strength and health, maybe I can do this another 10, maybe another 20 (years).”
▪ Nothing special is planned for the first anniversary of Billy Graham’s death. February 21 is “a date that’s going to come every year,” his son said. “And I think we just rejoice and thank God that he’s given us another year. The organization is going well, and I give God the glory for that. It’s not because I’m smart or I’m good. God has blessed us and we’re going to keep going forward.”