Billy Graham mourned by religious leaders as 'the closest thing to a pope that evangelicals ever had'

Religious leaders both locally and internationally have mourned the loss of Billy Graham, the American evangelical leader who died early Wednesday morning.

“He was the closest thing to a pope that evangelicals ever had, or will have,” said the Rev. Jason A. Poling, vicar of St. Hilda's Episcopal Church in Catonsville. “It is impossible to overstate the degree to which he shaped 20th-century evangelicalism. His influence will be sorely missed in the 21st.”

Chilton Knudsen, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, also praised Graham.

"Billy Graham is legendary evangelist in American cultural and religious history. Through his Crusades, he introduced Jesus Christ to vast numbers of people who otherwise would have no knowledge of the Christian faith. All of us in the Christian family owe him a great debt of gratitude for drawing the general public together into the Christian experience.”

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in an email to members, “Billy Graham has been the best known face and voice of evangelicalism for more than half a century. With Christian graciousness, he transcended political and religious differences to faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Graham reached millions through television, video and print ministries. He was routinely named to Gallup’s “Ten Most Admired Men in the World,” along with Pope John Paul II.

He reached nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries through his ministries, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in a statement. “Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did.

“He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his savior and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.”

His admirers have included several U.S. presidents, including most recently President Donald Trump, who tweeted: “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

“Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide,” former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life, and I was pleased to count Rev. Graham among my advisers and friends.”

One of Graham’s “rules” — against meeting with women alone — made more recent political news.

In Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he explained how he had known evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families. As a result, he said, he did not “meet, travel, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife” to avoid even the appearance of “compromise or suspicion.”

The “Billy Graham” rule would later be followed by other religious leaders and business executives, including reportedly by Vice President Mike Pence, who told The Hill in 2002 that he did not meet alone with women, according to a 2017 Washington Post profile of his wife Karen Pence.

Regarding the rule, Knudson said, “I deeply regret the fear that men have of being alone with women colleagues. That fear makes true cooperation difficult.”

Poling, the Catonsville vicar, said that although the Graham Rule could be abused by all-male clubs, “If you have to choose the Harvey Weinstein rule or the Billy Graham rule, it is clear.”

Poling said he does not follow the rule but that “I don’t know anybody who has followed that practice and regrets doing that.”

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