Dr. Jerry Johnston Interviews Dr. William Martin

24 July 2019

Dr. William Martin is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor Emeritus of Religion and Public Policy in the Rice University Department of Sociology. He serves as the Chavanne Senior Fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice.

Dr. Martin’s research and writing have focused on issues ranging from religion to criminology and drug policies. He is the author of many important works including the recent, “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.”

Dr. William Martin visited Houston Baptist University and talked with Dr. Jerry Johnston, HBU VP of Innovation and Strategic Marketing. Martin is known for his 50-year tenure at Rice University. In addition to his academic work, he is an accomplished writer, penning pieces for magazines like Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic and Esquire.

At age 16, Martin determined he would like to be a college professor. That led him down the path of working in higher education. It was an article he wrote about evangelist Billy Graham, however, that marked an important milestone in his life. He was later asked by Graham to write an in-depth biography of the legend’s life and work.

“Billy Graham said, ‘You know me better than anyone except Ruth. I don’t know that a biographer could get a better compliment than that,” Martin says. Martin went on the write, “A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story.” The title is a play Jesus’ words in Mark 6:4: “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’”

In writing the biography, Martin spent many hours interviewing the Grahams and those closest to them. “Billy Graham said, ‘I want you to be absolutely fair about this.’ I wanted him and members of his team to read it for factual accuracy,” Martin remembers. After the original publication in 1991, Martin released an updated version in 2018.

Martin describes Graham as someone who had the ability to connect with many people. Graham was involved in multiple areas – from education to politics. In fact, he spoke at HBU (then Houston Baptist College) in 1963. Graham was connected with religious leaders and political leaders alike. “Billy was fascinated by presidents,” Martin says.

Martin concludes that Billy Graham was very successful in doing what he needed to do. “Certainly, he was a person of integrity. Some said you could split him all the way down and he was the same,” Martin says. “A couple who worked for them said the Grahams were the same inside the house as they were outside. The humility was genuine.”