The Rev. Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday with a party attended by celebrities, colleagues and friends who honored "America's pastor" and viewed what is being billed as his last sermon.
But according to news accounts of the event, Graham didn't address the 850 attendees from a pulpit at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. Instead, the message was aired via a video that included photos and clips showing how his ministry intersected American life and politics, USA Today reported.
"In a video that was recorded over the past year, Graham delivered his familiar message about the saving power of Jesus Christ and expressed concern about the nation's direction," the newspaper reported. "'Our country's in great need of a spiritual awakening,' he declared. 'There have been times I've wept as I've gone from city to city and I've seen how far people have wandered from God.'"
The 30-minute video, titled "The Cross, from My Hope America with Billy Graham," can be viewed online at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website, which also lists where and at what times it will be airing on television.
CNN reported the guest list to Thursday's celebration included former former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Rev. Rick Warren, and businessmen Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. Singers Ricky Skaggs and Michael W. Smith, along with TV host Kathie Lee Gifford, led the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Graham, who has been in frail health and was in a wheelchair.
"But the majority of attendees were not famous; they were fans. They were united by an appreciation for Graham and his commitment to preach the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. An unprecedented 215 million people in over 185 countries have heard the preacher deliver a sermon. Graham has maintained friendships with every American president since Harry Truman and has been called 'America’s pastor,'" wrote Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service.
Despite the millions the iconic preacher has influenced over six decades, he is less recognized by younger generations, noted Kenneth Woodward in a column for the Wall Street Journal.
Graham's son Franklin, who doesn't have the personal charisma of his father, plans to carry on the Billy Graham brand through the video presentation, books and other media. But Woodward is skeptical that the strategy will have the same impact as the Rev. Graham's Crusade for Christ events.
"Perhaps it's time to give the Billy Graham brand a rest," Woodward concluded. "It's a shame to see a man who devoted his life to the gospel turned into a commodity, even for a good cause."