The world hasn’t seen anyone quite like Billy Graham.
Americans remembered the significance and scope of Graham’s groundbreaking ministry in tributes and tweets for hours after his death Wednesday morning at age 99.
In addition to familiar nicknames like “America’s pastor,” leaders referred to Graham as the most influential evangelist in America, modern history, and the world. Both “Billy Graham” and “Evangelist the Rev” trended on Twitter. By midday, his name was among the trending topics on Facebook, with more than 1 million users posting about Graham.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), called him “the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul.”
“He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity,” tweeted Moore.
The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (a Catholic) said it was “probably not too much to say that Billy Graham invented late-modern, globalized evangelicalism.”
An estimated 2.2 billion people heard Graham preach over his decades pioneering radio, television, and online evangelism, according to statistics by LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine. The ministry reports that 2.2 million people made decisions for Christ at Graham’s crusades.
“An epic era of evangelical history has come to an end. Billy Graham was not only a titanic figure in evangelicalism, but in world history and perhaps represents the last of a kind,” wrote Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“He dominated 20th-century American evangelicalism and remained a major figure on the world stage throughout most of the 20th century in a way that we can envision no evangelical leader in our times.”
President Donald Trump echoed Mohler’s sentiments in a tweet sent this morning: “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
The 99-year-old preacher was cited as the most influential living pastor in LifeWay Research surveys of Protestant pastors in the US, but his reputation extended beyond the church.
Graham appeared on Gallup’s list of the top 10 most-admired men in America longer than anyone else, a record-setting 61 years in a row. (Despite stepping away from public ministry years before, last year he ranked No. 4, behind Barack Obama, Trump, and Pope Francis.)
He famously served as spiritual adviser to about a dozen presidents. Obama tweeted his condolences, saying, “Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many—and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.” Bill Clinton released a statement, remembering Graham’s early advocacy for racial integration.
Believers shared stories of how they or their family members came to faith through Graham’s ministry, including TV host Kathie Lee Gifford (whose testimony appeared in CT in 2016) and worship singer Matthew Smith.
His ministry extended far beyond US borders, as media and leaders around the world acknowledged his death. News outlets in Brazil, home to the largest evangelical population in Latin America, posted his obituary, and the president of Kenya sent several tweets praising Graham as “one of the most inspirational preachers of the gospel there has ever been.”
Christians often referenced Graham’s reception in heaven after his long life. He outlived many of his closest partners in ministry, including assistant T. W. Wilson, singer George Beverly Shea, organist Donald P. Hustad, music director Cliff Barrows, and of course his wife Ruth Bell Graham, who passed away in 2007.
His daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, titled her remembrance, “Daddy is home.”
“While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come,” wrote Lotz, who lost her husband in 2014. “My prayer on this day of his move to Our Father’s House is that his death will be a rallying cry.”
Son Franklin Graham wrote, “He will be missed by our family, his colleagues, faithful ministry partners, and, yes, many around the world. But what joy he has to be welcomed by God the Father, and be reunited with my mother in the presence of Jesus who speaks peace to eternal souls.”
In living until 99, Graham had done plenty of thinking and preaching on death. He is remembered as saying, “When we reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have just begun,” as well as, “My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world.”
“Welcome home, Rev. Billy Graham,” wrote pastor John Hagee. “We are remembering and celebrating your life and legacy of sharing the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world today. What a day it must be in heaven!”
Many mourners shared favorite quotes from Graham, including Tim Tebow, who tweeted, “God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.’”