For America’s current evangelical culture, the legacy of Billy Graham is both complicated and diverse. Theologically conservative Christians and progressive Christians alike can trace their relationships with God back to hearing one of the great evangelist’s sermons. This diversity of the people Graham reached and how they responded to his message can also be seen in Billy Graham’s children and grandchildren.
There were points when the American church didn’t know what to make of Graham. Although he was ordained in the Southern Baptist Church, some in that tradition criticized him when he publicly expressed doubt whether the Genesis account of creation was literally true. Another area of tension was that he balked against any attempts to “save” Jewish people, was a constant supporter of Israel, and yet was caught on tape making anti-semitic comments to President Nixon. At one point he believed women were meant to be homemakers, but later said there were multiple examples of women preachers in the Bible. Graham was criticized by mainline Protestants for being too slow to support the civil rights movement, but once he did was criticized by many of his evangelical peers for being divisive.
It’s no surprise then that the descendants of Graham are as complicated, diverse and influential as the life of their father and grandfather. The two generations following Billy Graham exist across the theological spectrum of evangelicalism, all of them pointing back to Graham as their inspiration.
Franklin Graham is probably the best known of Graham’s children. Franklin Graham is the president of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical humanitarian aid organization actively involved in over 100 countries. Whereas Billy Graham avoided politics following the Nixon controversy, Franklin Graham has been an active political participant. Most recently he was criticized for his defense of former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, saying that his critics were guilty of “far worse.” Moore has been accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl while in his 30s.
Franklin Graham expressed concerns about President Obama’s Muslim father, believed that Islam could not be truly practiced in America, and at one point supported banning Muslims from entering the country, but also said Samaritan’s Purse would actively work to help both Christians and Muslims in war-torn Iraq.
Basyle (Boz) Tchividjian is the son of Virginia “Gigi” Graham, Billy Graham’s firstborn child. Tchividjian is a professor of law at Liberty University, the president of which is vocal Trump supporter Jerry Falwell Jr. However, Tchividjian has followed in his grandfather’s legacy of political neutrality, telling The Christian Post he no longer identifies as evangelical as he believes the term is now equated with being a supporter of President Trump.
A former prosecutor discouraged by his interactions involving church sexual abuse cases, Tchividjian launched Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). He has become an outspoken critic of the American evangelical church for its failures to protect sexual abuse victims, and via GRACE both trains churches in sexual abuse prevention, as well as performing independent investigations of churches currently in the midst of scandals.
Anne Graham Lotz
Anne is the second of Billy Graham’s children, and is arguably the child who has advanced her father’s legacy of evangelism the most. She is the author of 11 books and has spoken for pastor’s conferences, women’s conferences and evangelistic conferences around the globe. Like her father, Lotz carries contradictions easily. She believes women can be ordained, but has chosen not to be. She is viewed by critics as a progressive feminist pushing an egalitarian agenda, yet Lotz believes the feminist movement has “done us all a disservice.”
Lotz describes herself as a maverick, a label one could imagine her father claiming himself. She is a highly gifted communicator, so much so that Billy Graham once called her “best preacher in the family.”
Just like Billy, Franklin Graham, Boz Tchividjian and Anne Graham Lotz can’t be condensed into an easily-labeled evangelical package, and in an era in which there seems to be a battle over what “evangelical” is, perhaps it’s worth remembering that in one of its heroes, evangelicalism has reflected multiple things, seemingly in contradiction at points, but all the while attempting to combine cultural engagement, biblical truth and a willingness to learn. This is the diverse legacy of Billy Graham.