This week thousands of people lined up to pay their respects to Billy Graham, lying in repose first in Charlotte and then in Washington DC, before his Friday funeral. Since his death last week, publishers, authors, and academics have recalled Graham's impact in publishing -- and in their own lives.
Rev. Martin Marty, the dean of historians of American religion if there were such a dean, whose writings often touched on Graham’s role in U.S. religious life and culture, offered the common thread in most reminiscences. He paraphrased a philosopher who said, "One book is about one thing, at least the good ones are." Marty said, "Think about Billy Graham: One life is about one thing, at least the good ones are. His one thing: He was just plain an evangel – a witness to Jesus. And there was never a trace of insincerity there."
At HarperCollins Christian Publishing, where many of Grahams’ 33 titles were highly successful under the Thomas Nelson and Zondervan imprints, “it was never about bestsellers, said David Moberg, senior vice president. “It was always only about one thing…the Gospel.” Matt Baugher, who worked as with Billy Graham’s publisher for 10 years, echoed that, adding, “To have published Billy Graham is one of the most treasured experiences of my life.”
Mark D. Taylor, chairman and CEO of Tyndale House, recalled when Graham’s support helped them launch a revolutionary new way to read scripture – in modern English paraphrase editions of the King James Bible.
“In 1963, when," Taylor said, "Tyndale House was still a kitchen-table operation, Mr. Graham began to promote Living Letters, the first part of what eventually became The Living Bible. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association gave away millions of copies of Living Letters and the subsequent books in that series.
“And when Mr. Graham insisted on paying Tyndale House a royalty for the copies that were given away, Ken Taylor, the founder of Tyndale House, used that royalty check to start Tyndale House Foundation. Mr. Graham was criticized for encouraging people to read a paraphrase of the New Testament, but he recognized the value of a translation that reads ‘like today’s newspaper.’ We thank God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham,” Mark Taylor said.
Biographer William Martin, senior fellow in religion and public policy at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, and author of A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story, recounted Graham’s singular accomplishments as “the major spokesman of the evangelical movement during the last half of the 20th century.
"Billy Graham represented core American values in a singular way. Though he made some missteps, he remained free of scandal. He achieved his success by hard work rather than by inheritance or luck. He used the latest technology and media, but depended on the loyalty of a small group of friends who were with him for decades. He hobnobbed with the famous, the wealthy and the powerful around the world, yet seemed surprised that people were interested in him. He often seemed to have the kind of wonder of a small-town boy. He was both genuinely humble and genuinely ambitious and aware of the tension between those inclinations. He was not a perfect man, but he was an uncommonly good one,” Martin said in a statement.
The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association gave him its highest honor, the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement award in 1990, and seven of his books won Christian Book Awards including Just as I Am (Zondervan, 1998) and Nearing Home (Thomas Nelson, 2012). His honors also went beyond publishing. Graham and his wife, Ruth, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996 in recognition of their "outstanding and lasting contributions to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy, and religion."
Graham’s personal involvement brought powerful attention to any cause. World Vision, now one of the nation’s largest Christian humanitarian agencies, was a small operation focused on orphans abroad when Graham stepped in, said president Richard Stearns.
“Alongside World Vision’s founder Bob Pierce, he visited children’s homes and preached to U.S. troops in Korea, and later served as chair of the World Vision board. In 1950, Dr. Graham announced he was canceling an order for a new Chevrolet and, instead, giving the money to World Vision to help orphaned Korean children. His gift and his endorsement helped the fledgling organization to survive the early years, and grow into an agency that today has more than 40,000 staff helping serve victims of poverty and injustice in nearly 100 countries,” said Stearns in a statement.
Gary Chapman, Ph.D., author of the New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages (Moody, 1992), like many, never forgot the first time he met Graham in person. Chapman was a college student when he saw the ever-traveling Graham at an airport, walked up and introduced himself. He encountered a man who was “very personable, humble, always giving glory to God for everything that happened,” Chapman said, adding that across the decades Graham never wavered in this.
Graham was, as Marty said, about “one thing.”