Taking The Reins Of Billy Graham's Legacy

Billy Graham has been dubbed the "Pope of Protestant America." He's prayed with every U.S. president since Harry Truman and has had tremendous influence on American life. But now in his 90s, Graham is living a quieter, less-active life. One preacher emerging to carry on his legacy is his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. She talks to Guy Raz about the resistance she witnessed from many corners, including from her famous father, to a woman stepping out of the traditional role to preach the gospel.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. The Reverend Billy Graham has been the preeminent evangelical preacher in the United States for nearly five decades. Today, his son Franklin runs the Graham empire, but many evangelicals are also drawn to Billy's daughter Anne. Anne Graham Lotz has become an influential preacher in her own right. At 63, she's written 14 books. She has a daily radio program broadcast on more than 700 stations. And huge crowds, both in this country and abroad, come to hear her preach or teach, as she says, from a uniquely female perspective.

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ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: I have three children. And when my children were coming, I - they would start out - I would have a low back pain. And then the pain would wrap around, and it would become more intense, and it would come five minutes and then every four minutes and every three...

RAZ: Here she is at a 2009 revival, preaching her central message: how she expects Jesus to return in her lifetime.

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LOTZ: And Jesus said these signs are like birth pains. That means when you see them increasing in frequency, and when you see them increasing in intensity, you know the baby is coming. The kingdom of God is at hand.

RAZ: Billy Graham has called his daughter the best preacher in the family. But Anne Graham Lotz says she wasn't pulled to the revival stage until well into adulthood.

LOTZ: It was when my children were 5, 3 and 10 months old that I just felt the desperate need to get to know God through the pages of my Bible. And as a result, I started a Bible class in my city for the primary purpose of being in it. And I had taught it for 12 years. That was 35 years ago. And at the end of that period, I felt God calling me out to turn my class over to somebody else, and then God sent me around the world to share his world with audiences everywhere. And this is where he's led me, so I'm still on my journey.

RAZ: Anne Graham Lotz, I know I'm not the first to remark on this. But I've watched several of your videos, and the similarity with your father, not just in your appearance but your hand gestures, your intonation, your charisma, they are striking. Do you see that? Do you sense that?

LOTZ: You know, I take that as such a high compliment, Guy, so I want to thank you for just drawing that parallel. But for myself, you know, I never plan the way I deliver a message. I do prepare the content, and then I open my mouth and give it. And so the expression, the gestures, the emphasis on words, all of that just comes. If there's a parallel there, maybe it's because Billy Graham is my daddy or maybe it's because we have the same spirit in us. I don't know, because I don't hear myself that way.

RAZ: You've been called an evangelical feminist, and you say it's a privilege to have that label. What does that term mean to you?

LOTZ: It's just a woman who knows what she believes, has strong convictions and the courage to stand up for them regardless of glass ceilings or boundaries that other people may want to place upon us. You know, there were so many outstanding women in scripture that were leaders. And, you know, the organized church sometimes puts boundaries on us that the Bible doesn't. So I'm living my life for an audience of one. I live my life to please God. And I believe if he's pleased, that people like my mother and my daddy, my grandparents, you know, my husband, my children, they'll be pleased. Some people won't understand, but I don't give an account to some people.

RAZ: And yet, I understand that early on, when you began spreading your message, even your father, Billy Graham, and your mom, Ruth, they weren't entirely supportive.

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LOTZ: That was when I started that Bible class that I told you about. And they were not supportive. And I think one reason was because the traditional role of women in my family have been that the mother stayed at home, reared the children, kept the house so that the husband, father, could go out and do ministry, which was my mother and father's case. And so they just felt that, you know, I had three children and a husband, and my role was to stay at home and be that traditional type of wife and mother.

So they didn't think I should, but once again, I wasn't living my life to please my parents. As much as I love my mother and father, I knew that I was called of God to teach that Bible class. So I've been teaching for about three years, and I looked up in the class one day and they were sitting in the middle of my class. I've been going for about five minutes, so I had to, you know, catch my breath, swallow hard, and then I stopped and introduced them and then went ahead and finished the message.

From that day to this, they did an absolute about-face in their opinion, and they saw what God was doing. They saw that God had indeed called me, that people's lives were being changed. I was getting people into God's word. And I've had no two greater supporters than my mother and father unless it's my husband and my children.

RAZ: Now, you are - you, of course, grew up in a family where you were the ultimate preacher's kid. I mean, you were the child of the most famous preacher in America. What kind of pressure did that put you under just trying to be a kid?

LOTZ: You know, my mother was fabulous, and she protected us from that to a large extent. We were raised in a small town primarily inhabited by retired missionaries. My grandparents had been missionaries to China. And so it was very sheltered, so I didn't feel that pressure. The pressure I felt as a teenager was when other people, well-meaning people, wanted to press me into their mold. And at that point, I modeled. I bleached my hair. I wore makeup. And in our little village, with all these retired missionaries, that just wasn't their idea of what a godly young woman would look like, and so it became such a pressure on me.

I was trying to please them, please people. I kept changing who I was to please the people I was with. And so I just decided, you know, I wasn't going to do that anymore. I was going to live my life to please God. And so from that day to this, that's been my aim. Some people don't understand, but you - you know, you can't please everybody anyway. And I'll tell you what, I love my daddy. And he's so special. He's meant so much to me, so it's not a thorn in my side to be known as Billy Graham's daughter. It's a privilege.

RAZ: Given that your father, Billy Graham, called you the best preacher in the family, which is a pretty remarkable thing to be called by Billy Graham, and the fact that he eventually chose your brother Franklin to be his successor, did you ever have a conversation with your father about that?

LOTZ: No. I didn't. Because, you know, I love my brother. I think he's done a great job with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And I never felt called. I know people tried to make something out of that or maybe even put a wedge between Franklin and myself, and there's not a wedge there. I believe I'm following what God has called me to do, Franklin's calling what God's called him to do, and Daddy made the decision he felt God put on his heart. So we're all OK with that.

RAZ: How is he doing?

LOTZ: He's doing very well for somebody who's 93. And he's hard of hearing, hard of seeing, hard of walking. He's just gone on oxygen, which is the new thing, but maybe not a lot of people would know. But his mind is clear. You know, he stays tired, so he is not able to get out of the house that much, but he faithfully exercises, does his therapy. He's aware of what's going on in the world. He loves his family. He loves the staff. He's taught me, by his example, how to grow old. He's doing it with grace.

RAZ: Anne Graham Lotz, thank you so much.

LOTZ: Thank you, Guy. God bless you.

RAZ: Anne Graham Lotz is the daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham and a leading Christian evangelical preacher. She joined us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Her new book is called "Expecting to See Jesus."

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