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The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Could Face Challenges Following Its Namesake’s Death

Reverend Billy Graham, who died Wednesday at the age of 99, left a number of legacies. He pioneered the use of television and radio to preach the Gospel. He was a counselor for presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower. And he was a tremendously successful businessman, building the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association based in Charlotte, N.C., which had assets of $394 million at the end of 2016. He is expected to be laid to rest at the Billy Graham Library, also based in Charlotte, where the reverend was born and lived for the majority of his life.

But with Graham’s passing, the association could face a crossroads. Currently headed by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, the group is facing some notable differences of opinion among family members and is diverting from some of Billy Graham’s recent policies. And that, along with the loss of a leader as charismatic as Graham, could affect donations.

Franklin Graham stopped short of endorsing Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, but did join Trump at a post-election rally, telling the crowd he believed God had intervened in the election to ensure a Trump victory. After allegations surfaced about the president’s affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, Franklin Graham said Trump had changed as a person since the incident.

But Jerushah Armfield, Billy Graham’s granddaughter, criticized the president and said she disagreed with her uncle, noting, “I just don’t want [Trump] to be held up as the poster boy for Christian evangelicals because he doesn’t represent most of us.”

Franklin Graham also backed Trump’s proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States. That’s a different tact than Billy Graham took in his later years, when the religious leader who counseled presidents starting in the early 1950s refused to endorse candidates and stepped away from volatile political issues. Queen Elizabeth II is also thought to have sought his spiritual guidance, as portrayed in an episode of Netflix’s period drama The Crown.

“If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience on an issue that is not the issue I’m promoting,” he told the New York Times in 2005. “I’m just promoting the Gospel.”

Contributions from supporters and other revenue at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, while still substantial, have dipped since 2014. In that year, total support and revenue hit $110 million. It dropped to nearly $107 million in 2015 and 2016.