Gospel invitation given at Statuary Hall unveiling of Billy Graham statue

WASHINGTON (BP) – Salvation in Christ Jesus was offered in National Statuary Hall May 16 at the unveiling of a statue of the iconic late global evangelist Billy Graham, which has John 3:16 and John 14:6 carved in its base.

“Friends, God’s grace is undeserved, but through Christ it is freely given. And it is by trusting in God’s sacrifice that we are saved,” U.S. Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) said in the unveiling ceremony. “If you’ve not made a decision for yourself, I hope, I pray, that you will.”

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and members of Graham’s family joined the North Carolina Congressional delegation in unveiling the statue that replaces that of early 20th-century N.C. governor and staunch white supremacist Charles Aycock.

“Today, we acknowledge that he is a better representation of our state than the statue it replaces, which brought memories of a painful history of racism,” Cooper said. “Not that Rev. Graham was perfect – he would have been the first to tell us that. … But he believed, as many of us do, that there is redemption, and he gave his life to remembering that message.”

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) honored Graham as a trailblazer in race relations.

“During an era in the 1950s when leaders in the South openly embraced segregation, it was Billy Graham who spoke out against it,” Tillis said, describing Graham as having been a staple in the Tillis family. “He insisted in his sermons that they be integrated. He shared his platform with Black ministers, including one named Martin Luther King Jr.

“Rev. Graham was blessed with the gift that bridged differences,” Tillis said, “and brought us all together.”

In his prayer, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black described Graham’s life as “the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless day, and like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”

The late evangelist’s son Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, said his father would have been uncomfortable with such laud, but thanked leaders for bestowing the honor.

“He would want the focus to be on the one he preached,” Franklin Graham said. “He would want the focus to be on Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

His father believed the Scripture inscribed on the statue’s base, Graham said, and indeed the entire Bible “cover to cover. He didn’t understand it all, but he certainly believed it all, every word of it.”

The Southern Baptist evangelist led hundreds of thousands to Christ through a decades-long global ministry of evangelistic crusades, authored 33 books and counseled several U.S. presidents. He and Ruth, his wife of 64 years until her death in 2007, had five children and numerous descendants.

Speakers extolled Graham’s life and legacy, remembering him as the “leading ambassador of the Kingdom in our lifetime,” as Johnson put it, and as a man, in Cooper’s words, who “treated all with dignity and respect.”

Sculpted by Charlotte-based artist Chas Fagan, Graham’s remarkable likeness stands 7 feet tall, bronzed and holding an open Bible in his left hand, his right gesturing palm-down above the page.

“His Bible is open specifically (to) Galatians 6, verse 14,” said Johnson, who himself held Billy Graham’s study Bible during his closing remarks. The Southern Baptist from Louisiana noted that imprisoned men at Angola in his home state made the plywood casket Graham was buried in after his death in February 2018 at the age of 99.

“Rev. Graham humbled himself to care for the poor, and prisoners, the forgotten, the lost and the least of these, exactly what the Scripture tells us to do,” Johnson said. “He believed that even the poorest sinner could be a co-heir with Christ. And those men who made his casket had come to believe that message too. And they believed it through the influence of Billy Graham and the Graham family.”

The North Carolina General Assembly approved the statue in 2015. Graham joins Civil War-era N.C. Gov. Zebulon Vance in comprising North Carolina’s Statuary Hall statues. Each state is allotted two.

Graham joins three other Americans who have received the nation’s three highest honors of the Congressional Gold Medal, lying in state and having a statue in the Capitol, Johnson noted. Others are Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan, and Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)

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