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Finding her own way of joining the family preaching business

08 August 2007

Anne Graham Lotz has her own ministry — but she is still known as Billy Graham’s daughter. Rachel Harden met her

Family affair: Anne Graham Lotz preaching

Family affair: Anne Graham Lotz preaching

ANNE GRAHAM Lotz has been described as “having a great spiritual heritage”. And so she does. She is Dr Billy Graham’s daughter.

But Mrs Graham Lotz turns 60 next year, is head of an international Christian ministry, and has written a number of best-selling books. Added to that, she has been married for more than 40 years, and has three children and three grandchildren. So, does she ever get fed up with the label?

“Why would I? It’s part of who I am. Yes, I am Billy Graham’s daughter, but I don’t feel my life is defined by that,” she says.

But she does recall a time in her teenage years when she was wrestling with her own identity, trying to please her parents and her peer group at the same time. “I was rather like a chameleon, changing identity with whoever I was with, just reacting to each different group. In the end, I decided to commit my life to Jesus, not anyone else.”

I meet Mrs Graham Lotz at last month’s “Pursuing More of Jesus” conference. The conference, run by AnGel Ministries, which Mrs Graham Lotz founded in 1988, was billed as a “dynamic women’s breakaway designed to lead women deeper into God’s Word”. There are also a few George Bush and Bill Clinton stories to be heard.

We meet again a few days later at a central London hotel. She looks tired. Her mother, Ruth Bell Graham, died in June, and she admits that it has been a “spiritually and emotionally exhausting time”.

She denies that following her father’s footsteps into ministry was a choice coloured by what she knew best. Instead, she says her ministry developed out of a desire to be a better mother.

“The ministry outside my home did not begin until I was a young mother, and not coping very well with small children. I thought: my mother has raised five of us, and I have never seen her lose her temper, while I am losing mine all the time. She spent time in God’s word and in prayer. But I didn’t have the discipline to do that.

“Then someone told me about Bible Study Fellowship, [it’s] like a lay Bible school. I thought this would be the answer to my need, to get me disciplined in God’s word.” As it turned out, there was no class on the East Coast; so she decided to start one.

She recalls how 300 women signed up for the first session, although it was more a case of learning together than teaching.

“The first year I taught Genesis. The women would ask me questions about the Bible, and I would say: ‘I can’t answer your questions. I can only talk on this lesson, and then the next one.’” Nevertheless, the class grew, and a waiting list started.

“The first year I taught Genesis. The women would ask me questions about the Bible, and I would say: ‘I can’t answer your questions. I can only talk on this lesson, and then the next one.’” Nevertheless, the class grew, and a waiting list started.

“My Mum and Dad were against me doing it. My mother was raised in the tradition that mothers and wives stay at home and raise the children. They were very concerned for my husband and children — that I might neglect them.”

Mrs Graham Lotz married at 18, and has three children with her husband, Dr Danny Lotz, a dentist who is now retired. She insists that her home and her family remained her top priority, and that teaching Bible Study Fellowship helped her to handle her home life better.

“Mum and Dad showed up in class one morning in the third year. They totally changed their view, and became two of my greatest supporters. They came back to lunch at my house and saw it was well-kept, my children were obedient, and my husband was happy. I was not neglecting them.”

In the United States, the part played by women in ministry is still debated. She has been at odds with the head of one denomination over this. “There are two issues here: one about women preaching in a pulpit when there are men in the audience; and, secondly, women’s ordination where you have a place of authority. I think sometimes people don’t make that distinction.”

She is very happy with the former, but says that ordination would hinder rather than enhance her ministry. “I have friends who have been ordained, and that is between them and God and their Church.”

I ask if she has met Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Anglican Church’s first woman Primate and the first woman Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church in the US.

“I appreciate she is a woman in ministry, but would probably strongly disagree with some of her views,” she replies. “In our town, Raleigh, North Carolina, when that mix [the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson] happened, the two big Episcopal churches split, and we started two really great Anglican churches. We have your Dr Michael Green at one of them — Holy Trinity.”

She is a fan of President George W. Bush, but not so keen on Bill Clinton. She loves the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, but does not have a strong opinion about Dr Williams: “I have met him and he was very friendly, but I haven’t read much of his; so I don’t know.”

She has voted twice for President Bush. But she has reservations about the war in Iraq. “I always had a real misgiving about how we would extract ourselves — that place is like quicksand. But the Bible does tell us to make a stand against evil. I support him, and pray for him, because he has a moral character I would agree with on basic political and social moral issues.”

His current unpopularity, she believes, is not only because of the war (although, she adds, presidents in wartime are rarely popular), but also because of the fact that he speaks about his personal faith in Jesus. “People don’t like it.”

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, she has challenged over sin — not his in particular; well, she did not mention Monica Lewinsky — but the country’s in general.

At a White House breakfast for religious leaders to discuss welfare reform and immigration, President Clinton, as he was then, touched on what he thought was wrong with the United States. “I told him what was wrong with America was sin. I said what we all have in common is being created by God, and one day standing before God. He did not say anything, but put his hands over his face and went red. He closed the meeting, but came up to me afterwards and thanked me for my comments. He is very personable.”

The Graham family ministry looks set to continue for generations. Billy and Ruth Graham had five children, of whom the eldest boy Franklin Graham is the much-chronicled prodigal who enjoyed life in the fast lane until his early 20s. He then spoke publicly about his conversion, since when he has married, and has taken the lead in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Foundation (BGEF).

The youngest of the five children, Ned Graham, runs Eastgate Ministries in Seattle, set up to “strengthen the Church in mainland China”. Ruth Graham was born and raised in China, and had always prayed that one of her children would be a missionary there. “His ministry is an answer to her prayer.”

Of her sisters, one she describes as having “some personal challenges”. Her other sister, Mrs Graham Lotz says, “made a lot of bad choices in life”. Nevertheless, both speak in public and have written books.

Then there are the Graham grandchildren, a number of whom are in full-time ministry — including Franklin’s son, Will, who also works at BGEF.

Then there are the Graham grandchildren, a number of whom are in full-time ministry — including Franklin’s son, Will, who also works at BGEF.

When speaking of her own teaching ministry, Mrs Graham Lotz is keen to emphasise that she is not teaching her personal views, nor her father’s. “I teach what the Bible says.” Her father now lives near her in North Carolina, behind security gates, because “he got too many visitors,” although she does see him regularly.

With respect to recent debates within the Church, she says: “Any sex outside of marriage is sin — that would cover adultery, fornication, homosexuality: anything outside of a marriage between a man and woman.”

During the conference, she told the audience about an incident in the US a few years ago, when she made national headlines by a prayer at a Christian leader’s conference where she named homosexuality as a sin. The choir walked out and called the press.

What would she say to someone who said that he had been born that way? “I would not call it so much a feeling of being homosexual as a temptation, a strong tendency. Some of us have more of a tendency to lose our tempers than others. I am a worrier, which, I think, is unbelief:

I have to bring that back, and back [to God]. The tendency to homosexuality is a fierce temptation, but one which God can give you victory over.”

She is respectful of other faiths, but wishes to acknowledge John 14.6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “We are spiritual people. All religions are people trying to satisfy in their spirits that quest for God. But Jesus said you can only find that vacuum fulfilled by a personal relationship with him.” At the conference she is more direct: although we do not need to point the finger, she says, those without Jesus will go to hell.

And what does she make of the Christian Church in Britain? “Well, you know, you have had some great leaders. But you have known Christ for generations; so there is a tendency to reduce your relationship with God to rituals, traditions, and denominations, and to lose sight of the main thing: knowing God and having a relationship with him.” She says this is similar in parts of the US.

She refers back to her father’s famous evangelistic rallies in the 1950s and ’60s, some of which she remembers attending. I remark

that our press has always enjoyed finding people who felt they were conned, and swept up in the heat of the moment. “It’s funny, that: I am always meeting people who are pastors and great leaders who tell me it all started at one of those rallies.”



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