DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The legendary evangelist Billy Graham will be buried today in Charlotte, N.C., not far from where he grew up. President Trump and the first lady will be there, along with Vice President Pence, his wife and about 2,000 other guests. Now, Graham's son Franklin, his designated successor, will deliver the main eulogy. NPR's Tom Gjelten has this report on the future of Graham's ministry.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It wasn't easy growing up as Billy Graham's son. And in some ways, it got even harder for Franklin Graham when he took charge of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Well, I don't want to be compared to Billy Graham. No one can preach like Billy Graham. But the messages are the same. We're going to keep preaching the Gospel.
GJELTEN: In fact, Billy Graham was almost entirely out of the public eye for the last 10 years of his life, his hearing, eye sight and memory steadily failing. And yet he continued to have a role. Take the My Answer column which appeared in newspapers six days a week. It was presented as Billy Graham's personal response to reader questions about faith. The final column appeared the day he died under the title "By The Time You Read This, I Will Be In Heaven." An editor's note said he approved the column shortly before his death. That may have stretched the truth a bit. Ken Barron is executive vice president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
KEN BARRON: Obviously, Mr. Graham was incapable in the last years. But using many of the things that he said and many of the words that he used, it's all - the message never gets old.
GJELTEN: With Billy Graham really gone now, can his ministries still use him as if he were here? Franklin Graham says, sure.
GRAHAM: We just took his writings from the past, edited them and put them together. So those are his words. And we'll still be doing that. We'll be doing that for years to come.
GJELTEN: Are you going to continue this My Answers column?
GRAHAM: I think so. Why not?
GJELTEN: The Graham organization also rebroadcasts old Billy Graham rallies. Staff members still answer the telephones shown on the screen. And Franklin has taken his father's use of radio and television one step further with social media and an audio ministry.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "DECISION MINUTE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Pat was at an intensely painful point in her life.
PAT: I had been married for 28 years.
GJELTEN: A regular feature called Decision Minute airs on more than 600 radio stations.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "DECISION MINUTE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Pat let Jesus turn her divorce into an opportunity to...
GJELTEN: Franklin Graham has brought controversy to his father's organization with his condemnation of same-sex intimacy and transgender rights and his harsh criticism of other religions. Billy Graham himself once said derogatory things about Jews and offhandedly said AIDS could be a judgment from God. But in both cases, he later apologized. And he was not known for promoting anti-Semitism or homophobia. He once said talking about hot-button issues would divide his audience. I'm just promoting the Gospel, he said. With the exception of Franklin, his children generally follow his lead.
ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ: I don't want people to reject me because of my politics. I want them to hear my message.
GJELTEN: Billy Graham's daughter Anne Graham Lotz says she basically shares her brother Franklin's views on social issues. But she tries to stay away from those topics, as her father did.
LOTZ: I genuinely love people. I love whoever I'm speaking to and want them to hear what I have to say. I want them to meet Jesus. And when they do, then some of these other things will get sorted out. And if they start reading their Bibles, it'll get sorted out.
GJELTEN: All five of Billy Graham's children became evangelical leaders, though with distinct views. And Franklin Graham acknowledges he differed in some ways from his father.
GRAHAM: I think, really, we had a different approach sometimes. Our views were basically the same always. He just had a different way of presenting it than - I'm more like my mother in some ways. I just will come out and just say it.
GJELTEN: All five of Billy Graham's children are due to speak at his funeral today. It will be held here on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library. He'll be buried in a plot alongside the library, next to his wife Ruth. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Charlotte, N.C.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "TWENTYNINE PALMS (INSTRUMENTAL)" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.