When Franklin Graham told me, on the record, that the U.S. shouldn't have gotten involved when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 ("he was just taking back what originally belonged to Iraq"), I thought, Billy Graham wouldn't have said that. Indeed, there was a lot that Franklin said throughout our conversations that Billy Graham would not have said. And it must be the bane of Franklin Graham's existence that every word that proceeds from his mouth will be measured against what his esteemed father would have said.

Franklin is not his father. But he has been asked, and has agreed, to wear his father's mantle. When the prophet Elisha asked his mentor and friend Elijah for a "double portion" of his spirit (or, to be his "rightful successor," according to the NLT), Elijah told him that he was asking for "a difficult thing" (2 Kings 2:9-10). The handoff from Elijah to Elisha stands out as a rare biblical example of when it worked. (It should be noted that Elijah left it to God to confirm or deny the bequeathal: "If you see me when I am taken from you it will be yours—otherwise not.")

Accounts are less sparkling when it comes to biblical precedents for father-to-son succession. King David finally named his successor only when his age and vulnerability created a climate for political skullduggery and forced his decision (1 Kings 1). The subsequent deterioration of the divided kingdom was a cautionary tale of failure in father-to-son succession.

Fathers are grooming sons in many Christian institutions, but none of the transfers is as public as is the case of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

The "succession question" is an unwieldy double-edged sword. One edge slices to the heart of institutional concerns: How ...

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