Billy Graham died Wednesday morning at his home in Montreat, N.C., at the age of 99.
Graham, who according to his ministry preached to more people than anyone in history — through his Billy Graham Crusades and via TV and satellite — was the adviser to presidents and world leaders throughout his 70-year tenure as a public theologian and evangelist.
"Graham ... has been an important figure in my life and career. Ever since meeting him in the early days of Sojourners’ ministry, I found him to be not only gracious and warm, but also a bridge-builder and encourager, and a steady supporter of Sojourners’ work for peace and justice, which he called 'complementary' to his mission of personal evangelism," Sojourners President and Founder Jim Wallis wrote in 2016. "Graham has always been a lifelong learner, passionate about preaching the gospel but always ready to understand more about what that gospel means in the world. It was never surprising to me that this Southern-born-and-raised American evangelist decided early on to insist on preaching only to racially integrated coliseums and crusades, when many others just went along with their culture."
Considered one of the most influential voices in evangelical Christianity, and, indeed, of his generation, Graham addressed political topics early in his career but avoided the narrow fundamentalism that marked religious right leaders who followed. In 1979, Graham described in an interview with Sojourners magazine his “change of heart” on nuclear weapons.
There was a time when evangelicals were in the vanguard of some of the great social movements. I think of the fight against the slave trade, for example. Then in some respects we lost sight of our responsibilities to fight social evils. We said that the world would never be reformed completely anyway until Christ came again, so why bother? But of course that was evading the issue. After all, I know that not everyone will believe the gospel, but that does not mean I should give up preaching it. I know the human race is not going to be suddenly converted to Christ but that does not keep me from preaching him. I also know the nations are not going to suddenly lay down their arms but that does not keep us from doing all we can before it is too late.
Graham's 1997 autobiography Just As I Am, chronicled his interactions with presidents over nine administrations, while humbly recounting the details of his historic ministry.
In a 2011 Fox News interview, Graham was asked what he would do differently in his career.
"I would study more. I would pray more, travel less, take less speaking engagements," he said. "I took too many of them in too many places around the world. If I had it to do over again I'd spend more time in meditation and prayer and just telling the Lord how much I love him."
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.