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Renowned evangelist Billy Graham turned 90 last Friday, celebrating amid family near his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C. Although he’ll attend a larger celebration party with family and friends later this month, the appreciation for “America’s Pastor” began circulating long before. Since son Franklin Graham invited Christians worldwide who have been impacted by his father to send a message, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has gathered tens of thousands of greetings. A few weeks ago, Billy: The Early Years released in theaters across the nation to commemorate the special occasion—albeit without the BGEA’s endorsement. “[Billy Graham] enacted America’s idealized self,” commented Grant Wacker, professor of Christian history at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “He’s modeling the kind of person people wish they were.” Another religion professor, William Long of Reed College in Portland, Ore., said one of Graham’s outstanding traits was his ability to transcend religious divisions with a simple yet pointed message. “He burnished off the fine points—the notion that you needed a certain kind of baptism or doctrine. He went straight for the essential gospel message: Jesus Christ died for you. … People date the beginnings of their relationships with God to their encounters with Graham—the most continuing symbol of religious vitality in American life.” [usatoday.com, 11/6/08; christianpost.com, 10/7/08, 11/7/08]

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