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‘One of the greatest Americans’: Mike Pence, Barack Obama and others pay tribute to Billy Graham

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Billy Graham preached for everyone — from soldiers and farmers to presidents and even Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. When the evangelist’s death was reported Wednesday, many of those luminaries praised the man they called a pastor and a friend.

Graham was a frequent visitor to the White House, and his friendships crossed partisan divides. On Wednesday, President Trump and four previous presidents recalled their interactions with him.

Trump released a longer statement, in which he said of Graham, “He was one of the towering figures of the last 100 years—an American hero whose life and leadership truly earned him the title ‘God’s Ambassador.'” He wrote of Graham’s reassuring appearance before the country at the National Cathedral after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and seemed to reference his own relationship with Graham’s son Franklin, who is a frequent supporter of the president on television. “Melania and I were privileged to get to know Reverend Graham and his extraordinary family over the last several years, and we are deeply grateful for their love and support.”

Former president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday: “Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of the Rev. Billy Graham. Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life, and I was pleased to count Rev. Graham among my advisers and friends.”

And Republican former president George H.W. Bush shared photos of Graham sitting in the White House with the Bush family, watching Bush announce the start of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991.

“Billy Graham was America’s pastor,” Bush said in a statement. “His faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world. I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. He would come to Maine to visit with Barbara and me, and he was a great sport. He loved going really fast in my boat. I guess you could say we had that in common. Then we would come home and talk about life. He was a mentor to several of my children, including the former president of the United States. We will miss our good friend forever.”

Former President Bill Clinton highlighted Graham’s insistence on racial integration in his evangelistic crusades during the Civil Rights movement: “Hillary and I are saddened by the passing of our friend Billy Graham, one of the most important religious leaders in American history. His powerful words and the conviction they carried touched countless hearts and minds,” Clinton said. “I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle. He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace. Later as Governor, in the White House, and afterward, I saw him live that faith fully in the constant kindness, encouragement, and counsel he extended to Hillary and me. Billy has finished his long good race, leaving our world a better place and claiming his place in glory.”

Former president Barack Obama tweeted:

Vice President Pence shared a statement, as did congressional leaders including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Religious leaders across many denominations wrote of Graham’s influence Wednesday.

At the Southern Baptist Convention, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore called Graham “the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul.”

The head of the Church of England wrote of the tremendous number of people who converted to Christianity thanks to Graham’s sermons.

Several Catholic bishops also wrote in praise of the evangelical Protestant leader, including New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who said: “There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God. … May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest.”

And non-Christians remembered Graham fondly as well. The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote, “We offer the American Muslim community’s condolences to the loved ones of Billy Graham, a towering religious figure who represented his faith with great enthusiasm, dignity and respect for all people, regardless of their beliefs. His sincere and humble spirituality served as an example to all people and will be greatly missed. May God bless his soul.”

This post has been updated.

Read more about Billy Graham’s legacy:

How an aging Billy Graham approached his own death

Divorce, drugs, drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father

My grandfather Billy Graham was my hero