His funeral was broadcast on four Charlotte television stations. His body lay in repose under the rotunda of the US Capitol, an honor reserved for only a handful of US citizens other than former Presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and military heroes. He was the first religious leader ever so honored.
Hundreds waited in long lines after riding shuttle buses to get there to pay their respects on Monday and Tuesday in Charlotte. Among them were former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Just over 2,000, who were invited, attended his funeral including President Trump and Vice President Pence. Entertainers Kathie Lee Gifford and Steven Curtis Chapman; pastors Rick Warren and Joel Osteen; Ravi Zacharias and Beth Moore; Ben Carson and Sarah Palin were also there. Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band led the singing of some of his favorite hymns, including “Because He Lives.”
Thousands lined up to see Billy Graham’s casket as he lay in honor at the Capitol on Wednesday, and President Trump and other political leaders spoke at a memorial service held there. The President did not speak at the service in Charlotte.
Over a hundred international religious leaders attended the funeral held under a huge tent in front of the Library.
Most of Friday’s service was planned a decade ago by Graham and friend Cliff Barrows, who died in 2016.
Following the huge funeral service, Billy Graham’s casket was taken to be buried in the memorial garden at the Billy Graham Library next to his wife, Ruth, in a smaller service of about 200 family members.
Billy Graham would not likely have approved of all the tributes to him. He would instead have insisted that the focus should be on Jesus.
Graham’s five children were among those who spoke at the funeral. Jean Ford, at age 85, Graham’s only surviving sister, also spoke briefly.
Daughter Ruth Graham spoke of dreading going to her father’s home after she left her second husband. “You don’t want to embarrass your father,” she said. “...and my father was Billy Graham.” She said her father was waiting for her when she arrived home. “He wrapped his arms around me and said ‘Welcome home.’ ” There was no blame, just unconditional love, she said.
Television host Kathie Gifford, said Graham “introduced me to the person of Jesus. It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship,” Gifford said. “I’m not a big fan of religion. I’ve seen religion do an awful lot of evil in this world. But Jesus didn’t. And Jesus did nothing but love people and teach them that God loved them just as they were and had a hope and a plan for them and a future.”
While to some he was a controversial figure, nobody can deny that he was true to his spoken values. Yes, he was against same-sex marriage. Yes, while he was a lifelong registered Democrat, he was (although to a much lesser extent than son Franklin) often aligned with the right wing of American politics. A tape recording surfaced years ago in which he said some unkind things about American Jews. But no one can deny that he not only "talked the talk" but also "walked the walk" as he saw it.
He would have been embarrassed by the larger service, but appreciative of the small family gathering that followed. His casket, like that of his late wife Ruth, who died in 2007, was made by prisoners from a prison in Louisiana where he once preached. It was a pine plywood casket, with a small cross on top.
Photographer Bill Ward of Stanley, who does photographs for a number of media outlets including the Lincoln Herald, was among the reporters and photographers granted press credentials for the funeral on Friday. His photos conclude our coverage of the passing of Billy Graham.
Asked years ago what he wanted on his tombstone, Graham said, "preacher." His grave marker, made of North Carolina stone, included the phrase, “Preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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