Prodigal Son Chosen as Successor to Billy Graham’s Mantle
NEW YORK (AP) _ Billy Graham’s oldest son was a teen rebel who drank and fought, was expelled from college and chafed at the expectations placed on the offspring of America’s preacher.
Franklin Graham now accepts the challenge of being a voice on the crusade landscape. He has been picked to succeed his father in the nation’s most coveted evangelical pulpit, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said Wednesday.
The association’s board of directors elected the younger Graham to the new position of first vice chairman, with the right to step in should his father become incapacitated.
The 77-year-old Billy Graham, who has Parkinson’s disease, said he will continue as chairman and chief executive of the organization he founded in 1950.
In an interview Wednesday, Franklin Graham, 43, said he would do whatever he can to support his father and take some of his responsibilities.
``I want the last years of his ministry to be the best years of his ministry,″ Franklin Graham said.
For his part, after a decade of deflecting questions about successors, Billy Graham said of his son’s selection: ``As a father I am both proud of his capacity for leadership and humbled in gratitude for the Lord’s blessing on him.″
Franklin Graham rebelled against his father as a teen-ager and young adult. He led police on high-speed chases and was kicked out of LeTourneau College in Longview, Texas, after his father had used his influence to get him in.
At 22, Graham reported having a religious experience in Jerusalem that changed his life. In 1978, he joined the board of Samaritan’s Purse, a mission organization.
In recent years, the younger Graham has been preaching. He spoke to over 200,000 people at nine crusades in the United States and Canada this year, and appeared with his father for the first time at an October crusade in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
He will continue as director of Samaritan’s Purse and World Medical Mission, an organization he helped found.
Franklin Graham echoed his father’s sentiments that ``only God knows″ who will replace Billy Graham as America’s leading evangelist, but he vowed, ``I will be a voice″ on the crusade landscape.
In the afterword of his son’s new autobiography, ``Rebel With a Cause: Finally Comfortable Being Graham,″ Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth, write that they never took his rebellion personally, and kept faith that God would take care of their prodigal son.
``With God,″ Franklin’s parents wrote, ``nobody’s hopeless.″
Other names that had been mentioned as possible successors to Graham included Jim Wilson, the son of his longtime right-hand man, T. W. Wilson, Luis Palau, a Portland, Ore.- based mass-crusade evangelist, and the Rev. Greg Laurie, the Riverside, Calif.-based leader of Harvest Crusades.
Some leading evangelicals have expressed doubts that anyone can replace Graham, no matter who winds up heading his $88 million-a-year enterprises.
``It’s impossible because there’s only one Billy Graham, and when he’s gone, he’s gone,″ the Rev. Billy Melvin, former executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals, once said. ``God doesn’t work in clones.″
The elder Graham has crusades planned for next year in Australia, New Zealand, Minneapolis and Charlotte, N.C.
Billy Graham, who has preached before more than 180 million people in some 140 countries or territories, has maintained a busy schedule despite doctor’s warnings that he ease up because of the weakening effects of Parkinson’s disease.
He missed the first three days of his crusade in Toronto in June when he was hospitalized with bleeding from his colon. He cracked a vertebrae in his lower back while on vacation in France during the summer.