Former Presidents Attend Opening of Billy Graham Library
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The man sometimes known as the world's greatest evangelist now has a library named after him. It celebrates the life and accomplishments of Billy Graham.
Craig Fahle of member station WFAE attended yesterday's dedication.
Unidentified Man: A special welcome to the man that we're here to honor today, the Reverend Billy Graham.
(Soundbite of applause)
CRAIG FAHLE: There were 1,500 invited guests. Many snapped photos with cell phones as Billy Graham made his way to the dais using a walker. The 88-year-old preacher was flanked by family and three ex-presidents. The library chronicles Graham's rise from his boyhood on a North Carolina dairy farm to his role as spiritual adviser to presidents.
Graham's son Franklin now runs the ministry his father founded and says the library is not a museum but an extension of the ministry.
Mr. FRANKLIN GRAHAM (Billy Graham's Son): And if you look at the library, what you see is a cross. My father's name is not on the building, but the cross. And the only way that you can come into the library is through the foot of the cross.
FAHLE: A giant cross-shaped window frames the entrance to the library, which resembles a barn. Inside there's a multi-media presentation with a talking cow, which greets visitors with biblical verses. Speakers at the dedication included former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
Clinton recalled one of Graham's crusades in Little Rock during school desegregation.
President BILL CLINTON: So here we were with neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood in my state on the verge of violence, and yet tens of thousands of black and white Christians there, together in a football stadium. And when he issued the call at the end of his message, thousands came down, holding hands, arm in arm, crying. It was the beginning of the end of the Old South in my home state.
FAHLE: Former President Bush said Graham's spiritual leadership helped end the Cold War.
President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: The moral awakening that Billy helped to ignite, starting here in America, which then spread like a wildfire across the country, and ultimately, as you will see inside, around the entire world, was also the same spark that ignited hope and kept its embers burning in faraway places behind an iron curtain.
FAHLE: Graham preached his message in 185 countries, reaching more than 210 million people in person. One of those people is President George W. Bush, who credits Billy Graham for his own spiritual awakening, which he says led him to stop drinking. Over the years Billy Graham has invited some controversy. In the 1990s he apologized for saying AIDS was a judgment by God for immoral behavior.
In 2002 there was a flap over tapes recorded in the Nixon White House in which Graham made remarks that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. Despite the controversy, Graham continues to have the trust of millions. At his library's dedication - his first public appearance in over a year - he showed no signs of rust.
Reverend BILLY GRAHAM (Evangelist): I feel like I've been attending my own funeral.
(Soundbite of applause)
FAHLE: And displayed his trademark humility.
Rev. GRAHAM: And I'm overwhelmed. My one comment to it was it's too much Billy Graham. You know, my whole life has been to please the Lord and to honor Jesus, not to see me.
FAHLE: Graham calls the new library a tool of the gospel. He hopes it helps to continue his ministry for decades to come.
For NPR News, I'm Craig Fahle in Charlotte.
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