Dismantling of evangelist Billy Graham statue in Nashville on hold for now

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Statue of evangelist Billy Graham in Nashville on the property of LifeWay Christian Resources. It is scheduled to be dismantled and put into storage and then shipped to Ridgecrest. LifeWay spokesperson Marty King said the new LifeWay property is less than 3 acres, while the LIfeWay property it stands on is 15-acres. | Google Maps/SCREEN SHOT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Today, one of Roadside America's popular sights, a larger-than-life bronze statue of world-renown evangelist Billy Graham, was to be dismantled and removed from the corner of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Commerce Street, where it has stood for more than a decade.

Graham's likeness "was secured by grout," however, according to the Nashville Tennessean, which means the statue will remain in place for now.

The 9-feet-4 inch statue of Graham with its beckoning 17-foot cross  — perched at the edge of a parking lot owned by LifeWay Christian Resources, and across the street from the offices of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention — was slated for removal as part of the sale of the LifeWay's historic 15-acre campus in downtown Music City USA.

LifeWay said it plans to move the statue to Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina this fall where it will be close to the home where the now 97-year-old Graham has lived most of his life.

"We have about 3 acres at our new facility," LifeWay spokesman Marty King said in the Tennessean. "Contrasting that with the 15 acres at our old location, the mountainside retreat setting in North Carolina was the most optimal location."

An artist's rendering of LifeWay's new facility in the Capitol View area of downtown Nashville.

Meanwhile, the statue — presumably when it can be removed from the grout —will be placed in storage, according to Baptist Press.

The bronze sculpture was donated to LifeWay in 2006 by two Southern Baptist businessmen from Atlanta and unveiled at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In a 2006 news release, it was said Graham's "impact on the Southern Baptist Convention will last for generations," and the statue would "likewise cement forever the famous evangelist and his Gospel message for passersby in downtown Nashville, Tennessee."

A model of the statue was presented to Graham's grandson, William (Will) Franklin Graham IV, by then SBC president Bobby Welch.

At the December, 2006 installation ceremony in Nashville, then LifeWay president James T. Draper Jr. said Welch spoke to him about building a statue "as a reminder to all Southern Baptists that we are soul-winners for Jesus Christ," Draper said. "Today, we are not only honoring a man, we are honoring Christ."

Then mayor of Nashville, Bill Purcell, recalled the many times Graham filled the stadium there with people who needed the message he brought.

"Now 10 million visitors through Nashville have the opportunity to see and understand what this messenger has meant to us," Purcell said in 2006.

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, said Ridgecrest is "the perfect location" for Graham's statue and will welcome some 70,000 people who go to the conference center each year.

The statue of Graham depicts him with arms are stretched wide, and an open Bible resting in his left hand. Three nails and a stone inscribed with the words of John 3:16 are at the foot of the cross that completes the sculpture.

One of the "Ten Most Admired Men in the World" for more than 50 years, Graham has preached to an estimated 215 million persons in more than 185 countries and reached even more through television, video and the internet.

Last year the North Carolina legislature approved a bill to have a statue of Graham placed in the U.S. Capitol posthumously. His statue will replace that of former North Carolina Governor Charles Aycock.