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Billy Graham's daughter takes a slightly different approach but stays with family business

Posted: Friday, May 03, 2002

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Anne Graham Lotz says she doesn't have the gifts that made her father the 20th century's most famous evangelist.

And she never sought the mantle that brother Franklin has taken, leading the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association into the 21st century. Yet the revival speaker from Raleigh has still followed her father and brother into the family business -- with her own style.

''There are a lot of people who feel like I do,'' she said. ''They're longing for a fresh touch from God.''

Holding meetings in large arenas, writing books and speaking at venues such as the United Nations and the National Cathedral, Lotz's ministry is slowly becoming a force in the American evangelical movement -- and she has become something of a trailblazer.

''What she has done at some degree is broken down the gender barrier in evangelicalism, (though) not completely,'' said Randall Balmer, a Barnard College professor and expert on the evangelical movement. ''Her name makes that possible.''

While Lotz has carved out her own ministry, being the second child of Billy and Ruth Graham has helped her gain attention and access to events where she might otherwise not have been on the speakers' list.

Her preaching inflections, sharp business suits and polished looks remind revival participants of her father's persona during his crusading heyday. Lotz shies away from such comparisons.

''I don't think anybody will ever be like Daddy,'' she said.

Lotz said she's never sought the spotlight: She holds meetings only in places where she's been invited, and after prayer, where she says God has told her to go.

''When I get up on the platform in the arena I'm not pointing my finger at them and telling them what they need,'' Lotz said in an interview peppered with biblical references. ''I'm telling them where I've been and this is what I need and it makes a difference.

Lotz's message is one that conservative Christians -- particularly women -- say they can relate to.

In the late 1990s, Lotz said, her aging parents had health setbacks, her son was diagnosed with cancer and her husband's dental office burned to the ground. The weight of her family troubles and job took a toll on what she calls her personal relationship with God.

''Under all the pressure, I just wanted him in a clearer, simpler, more satisfying, deeper way,'' Lotz said. ''That began to be my heart's cry.''

That cry led her to study the Bible and write the book, ''Just Give Me Jesus,'' a study of the New Testament Gospel of John. That, in turn, led to revival meetings, at which Lotz preaches to crowds she says want a similar relationship with God.

''She is a compelling communicator,'' said Leigh O'Dell, director of a Lotz revival last month in Raleigh. ''She presents the message that God has given her in a powerful way.''

Lotz, who turns 54 this month, got married at 18 to a former University of North Carolina basketball player, Danny Lotz.

Her ministry really began in 1976, when she founded a chapter of a group called Bible Study Fellowship. The reasons were partly selfish, she said. A mother of three young children, she wanted a reason to be disciplined in Bible reading and prayer, as her mother was.

''I wanted somebody to start it. Nobody would do it, so I began the class so I could be in it,'' Lotz said. ''That's how noble I was.''

Even without a divinity or Bible school degree, Lotz's weekly studies soon attracted 500 people; more were on waiting lists. A 1983 sermon she gave at a Graham association event for itinerant evangelists in the Netherlands further raised her profile.

Her words caught her father's attention: ''I felt that our daughter ... was speaking directly to me when she told the huge assembly, 'It is not only your words, it is your life which is an evangelistic message to the world,''' Graham wrote in his 1997 autobiography.

Lotz led Bible Study Fellowship classes for 12 years before starting her own AnGeL Ministries (taking the initials from her name), in 1988. The ministry hasn't focused on evangelism; rather it's worked on what evangelical Christians called ''discipleship,'' or helping Christians find a deeper relationship with God.

That's partly the reason AnGeL Ministries has stayed separate from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has a $105 million budget, dwarfing AnGeL's $2.1 million a year.

The association ''is an evangelistic group,'' she said. ''I come a little bit after that. I'm the person who helps that person grow up in their faith.''

Since the start of AnGeL, she's written four books and received invitations to speak around the world at seminaries, churches and conferences. She began holding revival events in arenas in 2000, has four more planned this year and hopes to hold one in eastern Europe in 2003.

Being a Southern Baptist, Lotz has had to proceed carefully on the issue of women preachers. The Southern Baptist Convention's doctrinal statement disallows women pastors; other Baptists feel the Bible discourages female teachers.

Lotz has never sought clergy ordination and has said that, personally, she agrees with the denomination's stance -- though she accepts that other women feel differently.

She recalled one incident early in her career in which some men turned their back on her when she began to speak. Lotz said the incident prompted her to search the Bible to affirm her calling.

''If they'll just listen, then many of the ones who would be resistant ... or have been taught that women can't do this, would hear God speaking to them through his word as I share it,'' Lotz said. ''Then they have to go home and wrestle with God over that.''

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