At Billy Graham Library, Man and Message Are One and the Same

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When the Billy Graham Library opened here last spring, its 88-year-old namesake, who had preached the Gospel to more than 210 million people on six continents, who had prayed in the Oval Office with 11 consecutive presidents and who had brought evangelical Christianity into the heart of American political life, had one main complaint: “It was too much Billy Graham.”

He had envisioned the $27 million library, with its 40,000-square-foot exhibition space, as an extension of his ministry, whose purpose was “to please the Lord and to honor Jesus, not to see me or to think of me.”

But one of the unusual things about both this place and Mr. Graham’s ministry is that it is impossible to think of either without thinking of the man behind them. That may even be their greatest strength, though it also raises other questions.

The association is made even before you enter the library, since you first tour an upper-middle-class farmhouse, where Mr. Graham spent his youth. In the mid-1980s it was bought by the television evangelist Jim Bakker, who moved it to Heritage USA, his religious theme park in South Carolina. After Mr. Bakker’s career collapsed in scandal, the Graham family purchased the house and moved it here, to the grounds of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters, four miles from the original Graham dairy farm.

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