A Legacy of Faith

UPDATED 09/11/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/11/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

Caring for three small children had begun to wear on Anne Graham Lotz. "I was so frustrated with being in a small house with small children, small sticky fingerprints and small clothes and small toys and small words," she recalls of her life as a housewife 25 years ago. "I took it out on them, losing my temper."

That may be understandable for many young mothers, but Lotz is the daughter of evangelist Billy Graham and holds herself to higher standards—not just her father's, but God's. After attending the Lausanne conference on evangelism in Switzerland in 1974, Lotz was inspired to invite some neighbors to her home in Raleigh, N.C., to share her faith—without saying why until after they arrived. "One cried," recalls Lotz, 52. "One got afraid, one left."

Undaunted, Lotz took a different tack. Two years later she asked the Bible Study Fellowship—then a national, now international, school—to establish a class in Raleigh. When no one else stepped forward, Lotz herself led the group until 1988. "I was so desperate for that kind of discipline," she says of the regimen of daily Bible study. What began as a six-week pilot program in the spring of 1977, with 150 to 200 women, soon grew to 500.

Lotz has since become an internationally recognized religious speaker and Bible scholar. Having founded AnGeL Ministries in 1988 (the name incorporates her initials), she appears about 100 times a year in venues ranging from tiny churches to massive arenas. Backed by three full-time staffers, a $1.5 million budget and a pack of volunteers, Lotz, who doesn't charge a fee, is currently in the midst of a five-city revival tour called "Just Give Me Jesus"—not coincidentally the title of her recently published third book—that will take her to Kansas City, Mo., this month and San Diego in October. "I was seated up front at a revival," says Linda Eure, 53, of Knoxville, Tenn.'s Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, "and several women were down on the floor, just weeping. There's a power that goes forth from Anne Graham Lotz that touches hearts and changes lives."

While that may be true, Lotz wants to make it clear that she is not an evangelist like her celebrated father. "An evangelist gets people out of the bondage of sin and leads them to take that first step of faith. My gift and calling is to take them after that first step," she says of her mission to help followers develop a personal relationship with God. "It's the difference between an obstetrician and a pediatrician." Distinctions aside, Lotz has received a sterling rating from her father, who is battling Parkinson's disease. "Anne's the best preacher in the family," says Graham, 81.

Given her passionate delivery, honeyed voice and experience as a board member of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, Lotz would seem a natural to be an ordained minister. But she is the first to acknowledge that within the church's framework, the scriptures do not grant women equal religious authority. Her brother Franklin has been named as their father's successor, and Lotz unquestionably accepts her role as a teacher. "God has forbidden me to be ordained or be a senior pastor," she told The New York Times.

Indeed, Lotz embraces hard-line fundamentalism. She rigidly opposes abortion and homosexuality. And she supports the death penalty—even though in 1984 she prayed with convicted North Carolina murderer Velma Barfield shortly before she was executed. "Three days later a reporter called me and said, 'Aren't you going to fight the death penalty in North Carolina?' " Lotz says. "He said, 'Doesn't it make you hate the system?' And I said, 'No. It makes me hate the sin.' "

The second of five children, Lotz says she experienced divine intervention at an early age. One Easter when she was no more than 10, she became engrossed with Cecil B. De Mille's original silent version of The King of Kings, the story of Christ. Right then, she decided to follow Jesus. "I remember being very moved by the crucifixion scene," she says. "And it wasn't just feeling sorry for somebody being mistreated."

Although Lotz is her father's daughter in the pulpit, in other areas of her life she is more like her mother, Ruth, now 80. No matter how late the hour, she says, she would see a light burning in her mother's room. "I would go downstairs and she would be on her knees in prayer," Lotz recalls. As faith-bound as she was, Ruth was also a Dan (at home with Anne) was a big hit with Ruth. "My mother fell in love first," says Lotz. disciplinarian with Lotz and her siblings—Gigi, now 54, Ruth, 49, Franklin, 48, and Ned, 42. "She spanked us," Lotz says. "Not in anger. She did it to discipline us, which is the way that ought to be."

Despite her foundation of piety and prayer, Lotz flirted in youth with the idea of becoming a model. But-in high school in 1965, with an eye toward college, her life course changed when her father set her up on a date. "I met Anne at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference," says husband Dan Lotz, 63, the son of a street-corner preacher from New York City. He was 28, a dentist in the Air Force, and Billy Graham had wanted his daughter to stop seeing her then beau. After their first evening together, Dan Lotz phoned his mother and told her, "Mom, quit praying. I found the girl I'm going to marry."

He proposed after their third date, but they didn't marry for a year, until Sept. 2, 1966. They have three children: Jonathan, 30, Morrow, 27, and Rachel-Ruth, 25, all of whom are married and involved in the family's evangelist enterprises. It was during the early days of motherhood that Lotz faced her greatest tests. "I remember one time they got into a fight upstairs, and I came so close to really doing something I would regret," she says, without elaboration. "Instead I just went to my room, closed the door, fell to my knees and just told the Lord I was sorry, I didn't want to be that kind of mother." According to Morrow, Mom turned out just fine. "She's just a role model and everything else all in one," she says. "She has so many responsibilities, and yet she's such a great mom."

As much as she has come to enjoy preaching, Lotz looks forward to life at home. While Dan jogs, Lotz walks three miles a day, clearly unburdened by her legacy. "Who can be as good as Billy Graham?" she says. "I never, never think about that. What I would pray is that in a small way, God would use me for his kingdom like he's used my daddy."

Nick Charles
Don Sider and Gail Wescott in Atlanta

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