11-7-11 | Thanksgiving Month

Happy 93rd Birthday Reverend Billy Graham!

Evangelist and Charlotte native Billy Graham, seen here in 2010, turns 93 today.

The public can send birthday wishes to Graham through social media. Nell Redmond – 2010 AP FILE PHOTO

Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham turns 93

Michael Gordon

Michael Gordon

Posted: Sunday, Nov. 06, 2011

Modified: Monday, Nov. 07, 2011

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Billy Graham caps an eventful autumn on Monday with his 93rd birthday.

Despite diminished hearing and sight, the Charlotte-born evangelist published his 30th book this fall. “Nearing Home” is built around Graham’s thoughts about getting old and finishing life well, a task he admits caught him almost completely off guard.

Graham’s book comes not only as he reaches another year, but as America’s huge Baby Boom generation moves into old age, its senior members now eligible for Social Security and retirement. And although in recent years Graham has stepped away from active public ministry, his willingness to be frank about the trials as well as the pleasures of growing old may still have an effect on the millions of Americans whose lives coincided with his time as the country’s most famous preacher.

“I find that, talking to students and a lot of younger people, many of them don’t know who Billy Graham is,” said William Martin, author of “A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story” and a professor at Rice University. “But the people who will be most interested in this are older, and they do remember and adore Billy Graham.”

Also last week, Graham’s evangelistic association put thousands of his sermons, TV shows and speeches online at www.billygraham.org.

“It’s hard to exaggerate how important this is as a resource,” said Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker.

Graham has said he wants to preach one last sermon before he dies, and while the new book is not quite that, it has a similar set of themes. Pondering Bible passages on aging and death, exhorting his readers to make sensible changes in their lives (“Take full advantage of your company’s retirement plan, and borrow from it only in an extreme emergency”) in down-to-earth language, Graham’s ultimate focus is always on Jesus Christ.

“We were not meant for this world alone,” he writes. “We were meant for Heaven, our final home.”

All together, it’s a set of advice that youth-fixated Boomers might not be immediately eager to hear, but coming from Graham it may have more influence. After all, Graham first rose to national prominence with a huge Los Angeles revival in 1949, just as the first Boomers were old enough to notice. Swiftly, Graham — who at the time was just 31 years old — became virtually synonymous with American Protestant Christianity, leading massive crusades at sports stadiums, traveling the globe, and meeting with presidents from Eisenhower to Obama.

Graham’s appeal has not only been durable, it’s extended far beyond the world of evangelical Christianity, according to Wacker.

“It’s his influence on the broader public that’s intriguing,” Wacker said. “There are a lot of people who are not evangelicals who really admire him.”

Partly that’s because of longevity, Wacker said, and partly because Graham has a reputation for personal integrity that’s in marked contrast with other prominent evangelical leaders tarnished by moral or financial scandal. Primarily, though, Wacker said people outside the world of evangelical Christianity respect the evolution of Graham over his long career as someone who, for example, went from strident anti-Communism in his early days to advocating nuclear arms control in the 1970s, a position scorned by Cold War hawks.

“He’s acquired first a national and then an international vision over the years,” Wacker said. “Whether or not they like his theology, people admire anybody who can grow into a wider vision.”

Graham still lives in his longtime mountain home in Montreat. Evangelist Franklin Graham says his father works every day, visits with friends and answers mail as his strength allows. Spokesman Larry Ross says Graham spent the weekend with his daughters, who have helped him pore over messages from well-wishers.

A Facebook page (facebook.com/ReverendBillyGraham) and Twitter hashtag (#happybdaybillygraham) allow the public to pass on birthday greetings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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