President Donald Trump was among those high-profile Washington leaders who honored the late Rev. Billy Graham on Wednesday, while the influential evangelist lies in honor at the US Capitol.
“Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart — as Franklin will tell you — was always in America,” Trump said during a ceremony on Capitol Hill, which also included House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He took his message to the poorest places, to the downtrodden and to the broken-hearted, to inmates in prison and to the overlooked and neglected. He felt a great passion to those that were neglected,” Trump said. “God loves you — that was his message — God loves you.”
Graham, an evangelical minister and spiritual confidant to American presidents, died at the age of 99 last week.
Trump recalled an early memory of his of Graham, telling mourners gathered in the Capitol that he went to hear Graham preach at Yankee stadium as a child.
“My father said, ‘Come on son.’ And he said, ‘Come on mom,’ let’s go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium,” Trump recalled. “Fred Trump was a big fan.”
Trump praised Graham’s impact on the country and the world, noting that hundreds of millions came to see Graham speak across the globe and countless others were moved by his preaching through television and radio.
Ryan said in his remarks, “Here lies America’s pastor.”
“The man had such a gift with connecting with people,” Ryan said in his remarks honoring the late Reverend. “When listening to Reverend Graham, it was like he was right there next to you.”
Graham lying in honor is a rare distinction for an American — and an official embrace of the religious leader from the halls of government.
He is only the fourth person to lie in honor, following civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 and two slain Capitol Police officers in 1998, the Architect of the Capitol’s records say. The practice is similar to government or military officials lying in state, but is used for private citizens.
After the announcement of Graham’s death, Ryan said in a statement that the evangelist had “spread the gospel in 185 countries during his 99 years on Earth, touching the lives of many and forever changing the course of the world’s spiritual health.”
Graham prayed with every US president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama and became known as “America’s pastor.”
After the news of Graham’s death, Trump tweeted that there was “nobody like him.”
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,” the President tweeted.
The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.
Graham’s son Franklin, who took over the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had participated in Trump’s inauguration. Trump was one of the more than 800 guests who attended Graham’s 95th birthday celebration in 2013 in Asheville, North Carolina.
Graham had urged Dwight Eisenhower to run for president in 1952 and served as an unofficial adviser to the former general after he was elected. He also became close friends with President Lyndon Johnson and preached at the former president’s funeral.
President George W. Bush credits Graham with helping him change from a lukewarm Christian with a fondness for beer to a serious and committed evangelical.
Former President Bill Clinton, former President George Bush and first lady Laura Bush were among the hundreds of people who paid their respects Monday and Tuesday while Graham lied in repose inside his boyhood home at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Graham’s body will return to Charlotte on Thursday.
A private funeral service will be held in front of the Billy Graham Library on Friday at noon, which is expected to last 90 minutes.
He will be laid to rest at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway, buried in a simple prison-made plywood coffin next to his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007. His coffin was built by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, who typically construct caskets for fellow prisoners who cannot afford one.
It is estimated 2,300 people will to attend the invitation-only funeral. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, will deliver the eulogy, and his brother and three sisters will speak at the funeral as well.
The White House says President Donald Trump will attend Graham’s funeral on Friday.
Former President Barack Obama, former President George H. W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, and former President Jimmy Carter will not attend the funeral on Friday.
In his career as an evangelist, Graham preached to more than 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.
In 1950, Graham founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association with its headquarters in Minneapolis. The association later relocated to Charlotte.
He conducted his ministry through BGEA, including: the weekly “Hour of Decision” radio, television, a newspaper column, “My Answer,” Decision magazine which had a circulation of 1.7 million in 160 countries.
Graham wrote dozens of books, nearly all of which became top sellers. His autobiography, “Just As I Am,” published in 1997 appeared simultaneously on the three top best-seller lists in one week.
Graham had personal audiences with many sitting US presidents from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama. He visited in the Oval Office with Truman in 1950, urging him to counter communism in North Korea. In April 2010, President Barack Obama visited Rev. Graham at his home in N.C. for “a private prayer.”
The Gallup organization, which releases a yearly survey of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World,” named Graham the dominant figure in that poll over the past half century — he was included 42 times, including 35 consecutive years.
Graham appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Life, U.S. News and World Report, Parade.
Until is declining years, Graham stayed fit by swimming and aerobic walking when his schedule permitted. He and his wife, Ruth, had three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. The Grahams made their home in Montreat, N.C., about 20 miles east of Asheville.
The United States Postal Service has said that Graham was one of the few Americans, along with the current President, who could have mail delivered that simply reads his name and the country: “Billy Graham, America.”