The Preacher's Daughter

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The woman in the denim dress kneels, weeping, at Anne Graham Lotz's feet. Lotz, Billy Graham's second daughter, has just completed a discourse on the Gospel of John before 3,500 women at the Convention Center in Raleigh, N.C. In the course of her message, she has listed the terrible ways in which a believer's faith can be tried: "Maybe [Jesus] did a few things for them at the beginning and answered their prayers. But then what happened? Did they get hit with cancer? Or did something happen to their child? Or maybe they lost their job..." In fact, something did happen to the denim-clad woman's child: two weeks ago, he was murdered. As the woman sobs out her sorrow and presses a Bible forward to be signed, the normally regal, impeccably coiffed speaker, seemingly stunned, breaks down and cries with her.

It is the sort of thing Lotz will need to get used to. Starting this Friday in Knoxville, Tenn., Graham's 51-year-old daughter, long called the offspring who most fully inherited his preacher's gift, is scheduled to face not just thousands but tens of thousands of the faithful in a free-of-charge, five-city revival tour titled Just Give Me Jesus. That itinerary, at arenas seating as many as 25,000, moves her into an orbit nearly as exalted as that of her brother Franklin, heir-designate to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. But whereas Franklin was carefully groomed for the BGEA's bright lights, Anne has had little handed to her. "Financially," she says, the revivals are "way beyond our limits." Friends have warned her that if her foray flops, "it will destroy my ministry." If successful, however, the tour--aimed at women but open to all--could propel her to national prominence and pose a challenge to conservative evangelicals who have long held that women in general--and Lotz in particular--should avoid the pulpit.

She is the whole package. Knife thin, with a ringing alto, Lotz commands the kind of pyrotechnics that once got Billy nicknamed the Gospel Machine Gun. "God made atoms and angels and ants and crocodiles and clouds and elephants and electrons," she riffed recently before segueing stunningly from Creation to Crucifixion: "... and diamonds and dinosaurs and raindrops and sweat drops and dew drops and blood drops." Like Billy, she enjoys a oneness with her message that Lewis Drummond of Beeson Divinity School calls "the ring of genuine Christian reality." But where Billy has always concentrated on the basic "invitation" of nonbelievers to salvation, Anne addresses complexities of both Scripture and Christian life. "There's preaching from the heart and preaching from the head," notes Drummond. "Put the two together, and you've really got something."

Lotz's life story is as familiar to evangelicals as a Kennedy's might be to the population at large. They know about her father's long absences on Crusades (she has described her mom Ruth as a "single mother"); how he introduced Anne, then 17, to 29-year-old college-sports star and airman-turned-dentist Danny Lotz; and how, after Lotz proposed on their third date, Billy intoned, "Anne, I think Danny Lotz is the man you're going to marry." Early miscarriages contributed to a period of depression, and even after her three children were born, Lotz sometimes felt trapped "in small talk and small toys and small sticky fingerprints." She decided to start a women's Bible-study class: 300 women showed up, and attendance grew thereafter. Encouraged, Lotz began speaking publicly--and powerfully--on Scripture. Her father's biographer William Martin described her holding her own with the best at the 1983 World Evangelical Conference, "driving her points home with the same two-pistol hand gesture and hammering cadence her father had used so effectively for 40 years."

He, in turn, took notice. Says Michael Maudlin, editorial director at Christianity Today: "Even Billy says she's the best preacher in the family." ("I agree," says Franklin.) Yet the plaudit carried an asterisk. At a 1988 pastors' conference, many in Lotz's audience ostentatiously turned their chairs around so as not to face a preaching woman. Says Martin: "There was no chance of her taking [the leadership] role in the BGEA hierarchy because she's the daughter instead of the son." In fact, despite being on the BGEA board, Lotz has only once had a major part in a Crusade. "I would like to see her have a larger role," says Franklin, "and the time will come when we can do that, but at his age, my father is just trying to finish the ministry he's got, not give birth to a new one." Without BGEA-level resources, Anne opted for free-lance itinerancy, accepting guest slots in other people's programs. Somehow she was still named, along with Franklin, by the New York Times as one of five most likely candidates for Billy's mantle as America's preacher.

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