American Experience

S33 E5 | CLIP

Chapter 1 | Billy Graham

Billy Graham explores the life and career of one of the best-known and most influential religious leaders of the 20th century.

AIRED: May 17, 2021 | 0:09:58

(distant choir singing)

BILLY GRAHAM: A nation never falls

until it starts to decay at the center.

Rome was a striking parallel to America today,

a leader in world affairs,

rich and prosperous,

with an economy that defied collapse.

Her armies were respected by the nations of the world.

But Rome fell.

And that can happen right here today.

There's only one hope for the world.

And that is Jesus Christ dying on a cross.

You'll never have an hour like this

again in your entire life-- this is it.

And if you don't come today, you may never come.

I'm asking you right now to come.

Surrender your heart and your life to Jesus Christ

and say today, "I want my life changed.

I want my sins forgiven."

KENNETH WOODWARD: I'd met Frank Sinatra briefly

and I met Billy Graham many times.

They both had animal magnetism,

almost like an aura around him.

Get up right now...

WILLIAM MARTIN: He spoke to more than 80 million people in person

and hundreds of millions of others on television.

You are an American, and if America is to be spared

and America is to continue to be blessed and honored of God,

you are going to have to become a Christian.

ANTHEA BUTLER: Billy Graham is like the Protestant pope.

(cheers, applause)

MARTIN: There was a war

between ambition and humility.

He wrestled with that throughout his life.

JOHN HUFFMAN: Billy was attracted to political power

like a moth is attracted to flame.

RANDALL BALMER: He was drawn to politicians.

It was almost like a narcotic for him.

UTA BALBIER: The closer he moved

Christianity to politics,

the more he opened up the opportunity for Christianity

being used

to polarize,

to politicize.

He opened Pandora's box the second

he stepped into the Oval Office for the very first time.

Now it's my very great joy and privilege to welcome a friend

who really needs no introduction.

Will you welcome, please,

Billy Graham.


(indistinct chatter)

(applause continues)

What is it that you've got that other preachers haven't?

Well, I think, uh, David,

that God gave me the gift of an evangelist.

What is the gift particularly you've got? Well,

that's what I'm saying, I believe it's a gift

of the spirit of God, and when we get to Heaven,

I'm going to reach over and grab David Frost...

Thank you. If you're there!

Thank you, thank you! Thank you. (laughs)

And I'll take you up to the Lord and I'll say,

"Now, David wants an answer to this question,"

because actually,

I cannot answer that-- I'm as surprised

as anyone else.

(indistinct chatter)

LEIGHTON FORD: America is a land of salespeople.

(car horns)

We have products to sell.

(whistle blowing, bicycle bell ringing)

We have markets to exploit.

And Billy Graham started out as a salesman.

He started out selling Fuller brushes.

COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER: The sun never sets on the Fuller Brush dealer.

He is America's most famous visitor,

the real friend of the housewife.

(car engine)

GRAHAM: I sold brushes from door to door

in the Depression period.

Many times, you'd go to the door

and the lady would come and just crack the door.

And I knew that the door was soon going to slam,

so I always put my foot in there, you see.

And my technique was to always offer the lady a free brush.

And of course, in those days, that appealed.

GRANT WACKER: He's a kid.

He was six-two.

By 17, he would have been tall and lean, blue-eyed,

almost blond hair, and trying to make money to go to college.

He's beginning to sense at this point

that he has a special gift.

He has an ability to communicate with people that is striking,

and it works.

MARTIN: At the end of the summer, he was the top Fuller Brush salesman

in all of North or South Carolina.

And what he learned, he said, was sincerity:

You have to believe in the product.

(children laughing)

JEAN FORD: When we were growing up,

we had Bible reading and prayer

every night about 8:00.

And Mother would read the Scripture,

and Daddy would always pray.

That was a habit, just like brushing our teeth.

I mean, that's what we did.

We never thought about, "Did we enjoy it?"

We just did it.

BALMER: Billy Graham was born in 1918.

His parents had a dairy farm in North Carolina.

And his parents were conservative Presbyterians.

(birds chirping)

MARTIN: His family life was very much like

that of great many other people in Mecklenburg County,

North Carolina.

(indistinct voices)

MARTIN: They believed in God.

And most of them believed that God wanted them to win souls,

to evangelize other people,

to bring them to Christ.

(birds chirping)

BALMER: Young Billy Frank Graham, as he was known at the time,

was in some ways a normal teenager.

He was rebelling to some degree against the strict piety

of his parents, although not overtly so.

MARTIN: After he got a driver's license,

he had the advantage of being able to borrow his father's car

and spend luxurious nights with girls,

parking, going to movies.

He really liked the girls, and they liked him.

Even though he had a head full of Scriptures and prayers,

Billy wasn't completely convinced

that he was a true Christian yet.

BALMER: One night, he and his friends went to hear

a traveling revivalist coming through the area

named Mordecai Ham.

HAM: If you're not acceptable in Heaven,

do you want to know it, before it's too late?

How many of you do-- I do, lift your hand right now.

BALMER: At some point during that gathering, something Ham said

connected with young Billy Frank Graham.

And he decided at that moment

to embrace the religion of his parents.

MARTIN: Billy wanted to go to college

at the University of North Carolina.

But his mother had come to believe that the road to Hell

went right through the campus of state schools.

So she wanted him to go, as did his father,

to a serious Christian college.

FRANCES FITZGERALD: He was sent off to Bob Jones College,

which was one of the strictest fundamentalist colleges.

JONATHAN LEE WALTON: Prior to the late 19th century, Baptists, Methodists,

and Presbyterians believed in

the authority of Scripture,

they believed that Jesus died for their sins,

and they believed that they needed to convert the masses.

You had cultural transformation and intellectual developments

that began to disrupt

Protestant culture.

BALBIER: American Protestant

fundamentalism is a religious movement.

It's a religious response to everything

we associate with modernity.



the rise of sciences.

WALTON: All of a sudden, Protestants were broken up

into multiple camps.

And fundamentalists were just those who dug their heels.

They drew a line in the sand.

They said,

"The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."

PREACHER: We maintain

the glorious idea that the Gospel does not change.

It isn't reinterpreted from one generation

to another generation.

MARTIN: In fundamentalist circles,


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