Raised as a Presbyterian, Billy Graham switched denominations to Southern Baptist in 1934 during a Christian revival meeting conducted by Mordecai Ham. Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939.
After graduating from Sharon High School in May 1936, Graham attended Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University) but found it to be extremely fundamentalist and, considering this disobliging, he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute, now Trinity College of Florida, in 1937 and graduated from Wheaton College in 1943. It was during his time at Wheaton that Graham decided to take the Bible as the infallible word of God. Henrietta Mears of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood was instrumental in helping Graham wrestle with the infallibility issue, which was settled at Forest Home Christian camp (now called Forest Home Ministries) southeast of the Big Bear area in Southern California. A simple memorial there still marks the site of Graham's decision. He also married Ruth Bell, whose parents were Christian missionary doctors in China. He and his wife have three daughters, two sons (including Franklin Graham, who now administers his organization), 20 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren.
Graham joined Youth for Christ after graduating from Wheaton. He traveled throughout the United States and Europe as an evangelist. Graham scheduled a series of missions in Los Angeles in 1949. The missions went on for 8 weeks after being originally schedule for only 3 weeks. This happened on many other of his early missions. He had missions in London which lasted 12 weeks, and a New York City mission in Madison Square Garden in 1957 which ran nightly for 16 weeks.
He also led a very successful crusade (the first of several) in Australia in 1959. Counselors in training to talk with people coming forward for conversion were provided with kits which included peppermint and musk lifesavers, to ensure that their breath would not be offensive to the people being counseled. This crusade was regarded as being the most effective preaching of the gospel in Australian history and its effects led to the church growing consistently over the next 15 years and numerous new churches being founded. Many home Bible groups that were formed lasted 35 years or more.
According to Ben Bagdikian's The Media Monopoly, Graham was catapulted out of obscurity by news moguls William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce who thought that Graham would be helpful in promoting their conservative anti-communist views. Hearst sent a telegram to his editors reading "Puff Graham", while Luce put him on the cover of TIME in 1954.
Dr. Graham served as the President of Northwestern College in Minnesota from 1948 to 1952. He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, headquartered in Minneapolis. The Association later relocated to Charlotte, N.C. BGEA Ministries have included:
Hour of Decision, a weekly radio program broadcast around the world for over 50 years
Mission television specials which are regularly broadcast in prime time in almost every market in the U.S. and Canada
A newspaper column, My Answer, carried by newspapers across the United States
Decision magazine, the official publication of the Association
passageway.org, the teen website of the BGEA
World Wide Pictures, which has produced and distributed over 130 productions
On June 24, 2005, Billy Graham began what he has said will be his last North American Crusade, at Flushing Meadows Park in New York City. But, on the weekend of March 11-12 Billy Graham held the "Festival of Hope", together with his son, Franklin Graham. The festival was held in New Orleans, which was recently hit by Katrina. Over 1,360 made decisions for Christ during the weekend event, supported by 215 churches across the New Orleans metro area.
Graham said that this was due to his failing health. He has suffered from Parkinsons disease for about 15 years, has had fluid on the brain, pneumonia, broken hips, and recently revealed that he is suffering from prostate cancer.
In August 2005, a frail Graham appeared at the groundbreaking for his library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Then 86, the Rev. Graham was forced to use a walker to get around during the ceremony.
Billy Graham has preached to more people in live audiences than any one else in history. He has spoken to live audiences of over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories through various meetings including Mission World and Global Mission. He has also reached hundreds of millions more through television, video, film, and webcasts.
Declassified "Richard Nixon tapes" revealed controversial anti-semitic remarks made by Graham (to Nixon). Rev. Billy Graham openly voiced his belief that Jews control the American media, calling it a "stranglehold" during a 1972 conversation with President Richard Nixon. "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain," said Graham, agreeing with Nixon's comments about Jews and their influence in American life. Later, Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, saying they "swarm around me and are friendly to me." But, he confides to Nixon, "They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."
Politically, Graham has been a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party, although more recently he has adopted a flexible position, choosing to cast his vote with either party, depending on which he considers most appropriate at the time. He has had close relationships with Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton, but he is still very close to the Bush family. Just two days before the 2000 presidential election, Graham spoke at a prayer breakfast in Florida with George W. Bush in attendance and stopped short of formally endorsing him. His messages have been apolitical.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association offers the following statement with regard to his politics:
It is true that many, many years ago Mr. Graham registered as a Democrat. However, throughout the years he has voted for the candidate he believes will do the best job. In other words, he has not voted a straight party ticket. Mr. Graham takes his responsibility to vote for the leaders of our country with the same prayerful seriousness that he takes other significant decisions.
Mr. Graham has always maintained an optimistic attitude toward people. He seeks the good and emphasizes what is positive, even if he does not agree with them on many points, including moral or political issues. Mr. Graham's comments sometimes are not presented in the complete context in which they were made; while at other times, he himself would perhaps wish he might have phrased things a bit differently. However, he does not presently and never has condoned or defended immoral conduct.
Mr. Graham's lifelong calling has been to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ throughout the world. As you are aware, he has been faithful to this mission. He has not compromised his message.