Family at war over where to bury Billy Graham

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 14 December 2006 01:00 GMT

When he is dead, historians will argue about the influence of America's most famous evangelist, Billy Graham. Yet while he is still alive, his family are arguing about where to bury him.

In an unseemly dispute that has pitched the 88-year-old Rev Graham's five children against each other, a struggle is being fought as to whether the evangelist who famously ministered to George Bush and persuaded him to become a born-again Christian, should be buried in a memorial library being built by his eldest son or at a hillside location, preferred by his wife.

The library is being constructed in Charlotte, North Carolina, by Franklin Graham, himself an evangelist and the head of the Billy Graham Evangelist Association(BGEA), the organisation started by his father in 1947 with the aim of spreading Christianity around the world.

Due to be completed by next spring, visitors to the converted barn and silo will be able to view exhibits from Mr Graham's life and take in a garden where a site has been set aside as a possible burial spot.But Mr Graham's younger son, Ned, is trying to persuade his other siblings to instead follow the wishes of their mother, Ruth, who is ill with a degenerative spine condition. He has also complained that the memorial "library" will not actually contain any books.

"I've spent the last few years trying to help my parents preserve their mental acuity, independence and dignity," Ned Graham, also an evangelist, told the Washington Post. "And I'm saddened that the family is not unified on this issue."

Mrs Graham reportedly said of the library: "It's a circus. A tourist attraction."

For more than half a century, Billy Graham has been seeking to spread Christianity by a series of "crusades" that have seen him preach live to more than 210 million people in 185 countries. He has also enjoyed close relationships with a number of US presidents, including Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.

Perhaps most famously, Mr Graham ministered to the current president in 1985, helping him give up a serious problem with alcohol and eventually leading the 40-year-old Mr Bush to become a born-again Christian. Mr Bush once said of Mr Graham: "[He] planted a seed in my heart and I began to change."

Mr Graham, who last year attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the library, is now almost blind and suffers from Parkinson's disease. Though he held what he said would be his final crusade last year, he appeared in summer at an event in Baltimore organised by Franklin Graham. In a letter released at the time, he said: "As I grow older, my confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Bible has grown even stronger."

Franklin Graham has headed the BGEA for the past six years. In an interview with the Post, Mr Franklin said he was preparing two possible sites for his parents' burial. "Some of the board members feel the library ought to be the place," he said. "I would hope that every person who comes through hears the message and by the time they come out of the library be confronted with a decision to accept or reject God."

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