Funk on Faith

More honors for Billy Graham, 96, are on the horizon

With son Franklin Graham at his side, evangelist Billy Graham dedicates the new headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte in 2005.
With son Franklin Graham at his side, evangelist Billy Graham dedicates the new headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte in 2005. CHARLOTTE OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

As Franklin Graham hunkers down in the culture wars, his famous father has officially become a historical figure – while still alive.

Charlotte-born Billy Graham, who became a pastor to U.S. presidents and took the Gospel to millions around the world, will soon be the subject of a big exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.

It’ll open Nov. 6 – the day before Graham’s 97th birthday. “North Carolina’s Favorite Son: Billy Graham and His Remarkable Journey of Faith” will fill the museum’s largest gallery – 5,000 square feet – through July 2016.

The exhibit will actually be developed, produced and funded by the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte – a ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“We are hosting it here,” said Jackson Marshall, the state history museum’s deputy director. “Our designers worked with (the Billy Graham Library) on space and lighting.”

There’s another highly publicized honor for Billy Graham in the works: The N.C. legislature, which has already officially named him the Tar Heel State’s favorite son, appears poised to approve legislation that would set the stage for placing a statue of the globe-trotting evangelist in the U.S. Capitol.

Federal law authorizes each state to contribute two statues of “historical figures” for National Statuary Hall in the Capitol.

For years, North Carolina has been represented by statues of Zebulon Vance of Buncombe County, who served as the state’s governor (1862-’65, 1877-’79) and U.S. senator (1879-’94), and Charles Aycock of Wayne County, who was governor from 1901-’05.

The legislation would replace the Aycock statue with one of Graham after he passes – federal law allows only statues of those who are deceased.

In April, the N.C. House passed the Graham statue bill by a wide margin, 71-28.

Now it’s up to the Senate, where it’s also likely to pass. Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Alleghany County, the bill’s sponsor in the upper chamber, told my Observer colleague Jim Morrill that he hopes to bring the legislation through a committee and get a Senate vote on it this summer.

“I don’t know that we have a North Carolinian or American more distinguished than Billy Graham,” said Soucek, who – interesting factoid – worked for Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, from 2006-2011.

If it’s approved by the legislature, look for GOP Gov. Pat McCrory to sign it. During his years as Charlotte mayor, he was so close to the Graham family that he and Franklin publicly called each other “Cousin.” (At Billy Graham’s 95th birthday party in Asheville, the younger Graham promoted McCrory to “Cousin Governor.”)

State officials also played a role in getting the history museum in Raleigh to host the upcoming Billy Graham exhibit. The museum is a part of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, whose secretary, Susan Kluttz, is a member of McCrory’s Cabinet.

The Charlotte-based BGEA, also headed by Franklin Graham, considers the Billy Graham Library a tool to reach people for Jesus Christ. And on the BGEA website, Tom Phillips, vice president of the Billy Graham Library, says he sees the upcoming state history museum as an extension of that Christian ministry – including with N.C. schoolchildren who routinely visit the state museum on field trips.

“I believe this exhibit will encourage all young people that God has a plan for their lives,” he says in the BGEA article, “and that He can call them to do great things, like He did with Billy Graham.”

But BGEA spokesman Brent Rinehart told me the state history exhibit will not be a duplicate of what’s at the Billy Graham Library. “It’ll have a different focus and different memorabilia,” he said. “It’ll be much more focused on the state of North Carolina.”

Funk: 704-358-5703