Former presidents attend dedication of Graham Library


Visitors to the new, presidential-style museum honoring evangelist Billy Graham enter and exit the building through crosses as tall as 40 feet high, a design meant to emphasize that the $27-million complex is an extension of the minister's work.

"My hope is there will be thousands of people who come here every year and accept Jesus Christ as their savior," said the Rev. Franklin Graham, son and successor to his father, the world's most widely heard preacher.

On Thursday, former Presidents Carter, Clinton and George H.W. Bush were expected to be among 1,500 well-wishers at the private dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

Billy Graham, 88, suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease, and is largely confined to his home in Montreat.

Still, he was scheduled to speak at the ceremony. It will take place in view of his childhood home, which was moved to the library site and restored. His wife Ruth, 86, has degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and is bedridden at their home.

Billy Graham has toured the museum, "tearing up" when he came to the room dedicated to Ruth, Franklin Graham said. His only complaint? "Too much Billy Graham," according to his son.

The 40,000-square-foot complex was built on the grounds of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and among its designers was the ITEC Entertainment Co., of Orlando, Fla., which has done work for Disney and other theme parks. The dairy farm where the preacher grew up is just a few miles from the site and the library reflects his roots.

The cavernous lobby is meant to resemble a barn with scattered bales of hay and milk cans. The sounds of a cackling chicken and neighing horse are piped in. The first Bible verse Graham's mother taught him, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son," is engraved onto a rafter.

To the right is a cow shed, where a display that has drawn the most curiosity stands. An animatronic black-and-white cow named Bessie says in a southern drawl that Graham has been "preaching the pure milk of God's word for 60 years." Bessie tells kids to "get moo-ving" to learn more about the preacher.

Critics have dubbed the display the "Golden Calf" and say it cheapens Billy Graham's legacy. But Franklin Graham said it is meant as an appeal to children.

The museum, which reporters toured before the ceremony Thursday, is more heartfelt tribute than scholarly review.

Graham's personal papers will be stored at the museum, while documents related to his crusades will remain in an archive at Wheaton College, the prominent evangelical school in Illinois where the minister and his wife met as students.

There are photos of Graham with the U.S. presidents he befriended going back six decades, and displays of gifts they gave him, including a golf club and a check that President Nixon had given the preacher as an offering. However, there is no mention of how Graham's close ties with Nixon had cast a shadow on the minister.

Old TV sets broadcast clips of the troubled times in America when Graham preached, including the Civil Rights era. Graham has been praised for integrating his crusades starting in 1953, but also criticized for his restrained support for the movement.

Designers have recreated the scene of Graham's 1949 Los Angeles tent revival, dubbed the "Canvas Cathedral," that lasted for weeks, drawing national attention to his ministry for the first time. A replica of the Berlin Wall is meant to underscore how remarkable it was that Graham won permission from communist governments to evangelize behind the Iron Curtain.

Billy Graham's children have been divided over where their parents should be buried &

at the library or at The Cove, a Bible training center near the Grahams' home. Franklin Graham believes his parents have decided the location, but "haven't made that public yet."

A trip through the museum ends with video from the crusades, now called festivals, that Franklin Graham leads as chief executive of the evangelistic association.

Asked for his thoughts on the state of evangelism, Franklin Graham warned about a creeping "liberalism" that is leading people to question the authority of Scripture.

"Every generation, liberalism comes into the church. Men and women take their eyes off the cross," he said. "My father didn't offer multiple roads to God. He offered one road."


On the Net:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

Share This Story