While everyone finds inspiration for their faith in different places, it is undoubtable that some individuals have been able to impact the lives of millions through their words, actions, and faith. Such individuals proudly stand for their beliefs, encouraging their audiences to become better versions of themselves and to enact change in the world. Who are some of these influential leaders? Here are five of the most influential Christian leaders of the past century.
A Christian evangelist of Puerto Rican heritage, Samuel Rodriguez Jr. wears many different hats. He has been a pastor, a movie and television producer, an author, and a civil rights activist. Twenty years ago, he founded the largest Hispanic Evangelical Christian organization in the world, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, of which he is currently the president.
His sermons often advocate for the development of a strong Latino Christian community, an idea that has been one of the uniting threads of his career. Rodriguez has cited both Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the two most influential people in his faith journey, saying that he wished to “reconcile the salvation message preached by Billy Graham with the justice message of Dr. King.” In 2013, Time Magazine nominated Rodriguez as one of the “100 Most Influential People In The World”.
Samuel Rodriguez Jr sermons will move you to new heights in your faith and encourage you to be the best person you can be.
Billy Graham became an internationally-known evangelist in the late 1940s, with his sermons being broadcast over the radio and on the television to families everywhere. He was famous for his “crusades,” in which he would preach the Gospel to an enormous crowd, inviting listeners to step forward and affirm their faith. He was no stranger to politics, either.
He gave spiritual advice to twelve consecutive presidents of the United States, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and he was a good friend of Queen Elizabeth II of England as well. Often lauded as “America’s pastor” and “an ambassador for Christ,” Graham died peacefully on March 2, 2018.
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła, John Paul II occupied the Throne of St. Peter from 1978 until his death in 2005. Upon Cardinal Wojtyła’s election by the papal conclave, he became the 264th pope and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years since Pope Adrian VI in the 16th century. His accomplishments during his years as pope were many, including helping to end Communism in Eastern Europe.
He always advocated for compassion and emphasized the universal call to holiness, and worked to improve the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam, and the Eastern Orthodoxy. During his pontificate, he authored 14 papal encyclicals, and his teachings have often been praised as ushering the Catholic Church into the modern era. Early in his pontificate, John Paul II was even called the “keep-fit Pope,” but after two attempts on his life and the Great Jubilee of 2000, his health declined steadily.
By the time of John Paul II’s death, he was the second longest-serving pope in history, surpassed only by Pope Pius IX.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or “MLK,” was a mid-twentieth century Christian minister and activist who fought relentlessly for civil rights, advocating for non-violence and civil disobedience. Beginning his career in seminary school, he always beseeched others to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
He himself often said that he was often inspired by both his unshakeable Christian beliefs and by Mahatma Gandhi’s mantra of nonviolent activism. MLK’s now iconic and much-copied speech, “I Have a Dream,” was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963, resulting in MLK being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the next year.
MLK was tragically assassinated in 1968 on April 4th, though he is honored on the third Monday in January every year, in commemoration of all he did for the civil rights movement in America.
Often considered to be a protégé of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson is likewise a minister, civil rights activist, and politician, who rose to prominence in the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1971, Jackson founded both Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and the Rainbow Coalition in the interest of pursuing equal rights for African Americans and women. Although it is not widely known, Jackson ran for the position of president of the United States twice, in 1984 and 1988.
All of these men rose up from humble beginnings, but reached countless people’s lives through the messages they preached. They never forgot where they came from, and drew strength from their roots. Their determination, as well as their faith, is partly what made them so influential. When faced with opposition, they did not step back—and in doing so, inspired many to follow the path they had laid.