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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House

The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White HouseThe Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent book that not only gives you an inside view of Billy Graham but also of several presidents and some of their family members. If you are interested in Billy Graham and/or American Presidents this is a book you will enjoy! I trust you will enjoy the quotes below:

The Preacher and the Presidents
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

We are all sinners, he said, in search of grace. – Billy Graham

The presidents called for comfort; they asked the simplest questions: How do I know if I’ll go to heaven? Eisenhower wanted to know. Do you believe in the Second Coming? Kennedy wondered. Will I see my parents when I die? Johnson asked. They asked about how the world would end, which was not an abstract conversation for the first generation of presidents who had the power to make that happen.

By 1969, Graham was so important--and so well positioned—with both political parties that he could seamlessly spend the last weekend of Johnson’s presidency in the White House and stay over to spend the first night with Nixon as well. The week before Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, he tracked Graham down to talk it through; that conversation, Ford said later was crucial. Nancy Reagan called him to the hospital the day her husband was shot, twenty-three years later he was the first person outside the family she called when he died. When Hillary Clinton felt no one in the world understood how she could forgive her husband, Graham pointedly praised her for it.

p. xiv – “If I had not been a friend of the presidents,” he argued, “in most of these places, they wouldn’t have invited me to see them. The reason Yeltsin invited me was because he knew that I knew the president…. And so it was a way of the Lord using presidents for me to reach other people for Christ.”

His meetings with Reagan—the president with who he says he was closest of all—were almost entirely private, under the radar.

I didn’t have any other motives throughout my life but to proclaim the gospel. I’m amazed myself that I was able to see all those men become president.  –Graham on his calling

I know that I didn’t have any fear—and I should have, because I asked him about his personal faith. He said he believed in the Sermon on the Mount, tried to live by the Golden Rule. And I told him, “I don’t think that’s enough! – Graham on his first meeting with Harry Truman

To which Graham replied [to an old friend] in a way he often would to critics he respected. “I want and need your suggestions, counsel, advice,” he wrote back. “And any time you feel like jacking me up and kicking me in the pants, please do. I have enough people patting me on the back…. I need some real friends from time to time who will talk turkey to me.”

Eisenhower would soon become the first president to be baptized in office, and the second, after Calvin Coolidge, to join a church after being elected.

What followed was a burst of official religious promotion such as America had not seen in years. Eisenhower announced that cabinet meetings would begin with a moment of silence. (This took some getting used to; appointments secretary Tom Stephens recalled the time the president emerged from the cabinet room when he suddenly realized, “Jesus Christ, we forgot the prayer!”) The first National Prayer Breakfast was held in 1953, with Eisenhower and Graham both in attendance.

In 1954 the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. A newly formed Foundation for Religious Action in the Social and Civil Order brought together all the pillars of Eisenhower’s civil faith; its board included Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, Henry Luce, Henry Ford Jr., Herbert Hoover, and Charles Wilson of General Electric. In 1955 Congress opened a prayer room in the Capitol, and ruled that all coins and bills had to have the phrase “In God We Trust” on them. The following year that became the national motto, an improvement, lawmakers felt, on “E Pluribus Unum.”

When it was all over, Graham was heading to Scotland for a holiday to recover, but on the morning of May 25 he got a surprise call. Could he come have a visit with Prime Minister Churchill?

Churchill struck him as being in one of his dark moods. They talked about the state of the world: “I am a man without hope,” Churchill said. “Do you have any real hope?” Whether he was talking about the world or himself was not clear, so Graham acted a pastor.
“Are you without hope for your own soul’s salvation?”
“Frankly, I think about that a great deal,” Churchill said. And so Graham pulled out his New Testament and did what he always did, explaining the possibilities of grace and God’s plan.
And then, Graham said, he prayed for the prime minister, and as he was leaving they shook hands. “Our conversations are private, aren’t they?”
“Yes sir,” Graham said, having learned his lesson.

Graham’s historic journey through Asia – Graham’s reception was astonishing in its own way, in a country of 380 million with perhaps 5 million Protestant church members. The crowds were immense, curious, captivated: a hundred thousand people came to hear him in Kottayam—a town of forty thousand. William Stoneman, head of the foreign service of the Chicago Daily News, noted that the “objective observers” had concluded that “no American in this postwar period has made so many friends for America and gone so far toward offsetting the widespread conviction that material rather than spiritual matters are America’s sole significant concern as Billy Graham during his amazing tour of Asia.

Graham was on his way to Vietnam when he stopped to see the dying President Eisenhower. So Graham told him one more time, and they prayed together. He told him his whole past had been forgiven and he had nothing to worry about. “I’m ready,” Eisenhower said. “And before I left the room,” Graham said, “he gave his big smile, big wave, and he said ‘You tell those fellows over there that there’s an old doughboy here, thinking about ‘em and praying for them.’”

It was in West Virginia that Kennedy found his lines and his strategy: make the issue not religion, but tolerance; voters who were undecided between the candidates could at least enjoy the satisfaction of showing they were not bigots by voting for Kennedy. Sorenson had quietly drafted a letter to be signed by prominent Protestant clergy, urging their colleagues to fight religious prejudice; he made it clear to the ministers he approached that the statement would not come from Kennedy’s office or have Sorensen’s fingerprints: it was just a nonpartisan appeal for tolerance.

“We regarded Graham as a conservative who was at least implicitly if not explicitly backing Nixon,” Sorenson recalled. Kennedy’s team was more successful with other ministers, like the Very Reverend Francis Sayre, the dean of Washington’s Episcopal Cathedral and grandson of Woodrow Wilson. The ministers’ letter won 144 signatures from clerics testifying, “We are convinced that each of the candidates has presented himself before the American people with honesty and independence, and we would think it unjust to discount any of them because of his chosen faith.”

And now Johnson had one more favor to ask. Would Billy preach at his funeral? And make sure the message got through, because the world listens when a president dies. “Don’t use any notes,” he said, because the wind will just blow them away. And no fancy eulogizing either. “I want you to look in those cameras and just tell ‘em what Christianity is all about. Tell ‘em how they can be sure they can go to heaven. I want you to preach the gospel.” And he paused. “But somewhere in there, you tell ‘em a few things I did for this country.”

Graham wrote to Johnson when he got home, saying he was honored that Johnson would even think of him. “I love you and your family so much that it would be one of the most difficult tasks I have ever performed,” he wrote. “Yet in another sense, it will be a triumph: for I know that not only in your head but in your heart you have put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. We are not saved because of our own accomplishments or good works; we are saved totally and completely because of what Christ did on the cross for us….I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times—I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me.’”

After Nixon was elected, he asked me to come and see him. He said, “Billy, what job do you want? I’ll appoint you to any ambassadorship if you want it.” I said, “Mr. President, I don’t want anything.” I said, “God called me to preach and I’m never gonna do anything but that.” That’s what I told him. – Graham on political temptation

The first service was held on Nixon’s first Sunday in office, with Graham as the preacher. Nixon’s aides Dwight Chapin and John Ehrlichman picked Graham’s brain for how the service should work: Nixon would preside like a master of ceremonies, welcome the congregation, introduce the preacher, and praise the visiting choir. So which preachers should they invite, should there be a denominational quota? Graham sent them a list that included Norman Vincent Peale, Graham’s brother-in-law and surrogate Leighton Ford, his father-in-law L. Nelson Bell, National Council of Churches head Dr. R.H. Edwin Espy, Christianity Today editor Harold Lindsell, several prominent black preachers, and prominent Christian sports figures like Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.

If God is, then what God says must be absolute—man must have moral boundaries. He cannot devise his own morals to fit his own situation. ~Billy Graham

“To be President is a great and thrilling attainment,” he [Graham] wrote. “However, there is one thing far greater than being President—and that is being a committed child of God. There is a thrill, a joy, an adventure, an excitement, a satisfaction awaiting you in that direction, no matter what the circumstances around you, that is indescribable.”

Ford began each day in the White House by quietly repeating the same verses from Proverbs that his mother taught him years earlier or help in times of trouble: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” It was the same verses he had thought of as he clung to the side of an aircraft carrier in a December 1944 typhoon in the Pacific. And it was the passage he and Betty cited in their prayers the night before he became president.

Graham’s worries about Nixon did not abate. That fall, after Nixon was admitted to a hospital with phlebitis, Ruth Graham appealed to a friend to hire a private plane and troll back and forth about the hospital, pulling a banner that read, “Nixon—God Loves You and So Do We.” Nixon saw it from his hospital window, but did not know its source until later. “We would like to think it was an encouragement,” Graham said.

For the most part, Graham watched the Ford presidency from a distance. In May 1975, Billy and Ruth went to hear him speak in Charlotte, sitting in a special section at the front of the crowd. When a shirtless and barefoot demonstrator moved adjacent to Ruth in the aisle, holding up a sign that read, “Eat the Rich,” and apparently blocked her view, Ruth grabbed the sign and placed it under her feet. When he asked for it back, she refused. Later, when he sued her, she vowed to go to jail rather than pay a fine. (The case was dismissed after a forty-five minute hearing, but Ruth caught up with her accuser afterward and presented him with a Bible.)

For the lead epigraph of (Jimmy Carter’s book, Carter chose Niebuhr’s observation that the “sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.

Graham gathered twelve fellow preachers at a Dallas hotel to talk and pray about the future of the country. Graham didn’t merely attend the early October session; he organized it and composed the guest list, according to Dallas evangelist James Robison. Attending were many of the nation’s regional, if not national, evangelical powerhouses. Among them, Robison, televangelist Rex Humbard, and Adrian Rogers, who had just led a conservative theological takeover of the Sothern Baptist Convention that was to alter the character and direction of the SBC. Joining them were Charles Stanley and Jimmy Draper, who had played key roles in Roger’s SBC election, as well as Clayton Bell, Graham’s brother-in-law. The men took over the entire floor of a hotel near the Dallas airport. These men were not part of the new breed of preachers who had one foot in the pulpit and another in the Republican National Committee. They were older and, at least in public, far less partisan. None was buying, as Falwell’s Moral Majority soon would, millions of dollars in radio spots across the South to defeat Carter. But each was a conservative Christian, who had by 1979 given up on the notion that Carter was a partner worth keeping.

Robison added, “We did not see Carter as the necessary strong leader in the face of a grave threat.” And he said, “No one was talking about Jimmy Carter’s faith. It was his ability to lead.

As president, Reagan would often, before an important speech or meeting, tell his chief of staff, James Baker, “I need a minute.” Baker would turn and see Reagan saying a silent prayer in preparation. “Faith was part of him and always was,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, who began working for Reagan in 1966. “Whenever there was a disappointment or a setback, his response was always, ‘There’s a reason for this and we’ll find out someday what it is. But it’s all a part of God’s plan.’ He wasn’t sappy about it. He as almost matter-of-fact.”

“You don’t face a problem but what God can help you solve it.” – Billy Graham writing to Ronald Reagan

Reagan wrote both Graham and his wife a letter of thanks for all their help over the previous eight years. “Thank you for your prayers, I know they have been answered, and to steal Lincoln’s words, I have had help from One Who is stronger and wiser than all others.”

Graham sent Reagan off into private life with a letter… the bulk of the letter is devoted to Graham’s dissection of Reagan’s success in office. “You had a philosophy of government and life that did not change, no matter what the circumstances. You believed America could be great…. Secondly, your strong faith in God and your willingness to talk about it publicly, no matter what the critics might say…. Thirdly, you have a compassion for people. God gave you a marvelous charisma that did not come just from your Hollywood days as some would like to assert. It came from something God gave you. No matter how bad the circumstances or how harsh the questions from the reporters were, you always had a smile, you had a way of saying the right thing. I doubt if America will ever see another Ronald Reagan.

“When we come before the Lord in humble prayer, that’s the most we can do.” Billy Graham writing to Nancy Reagan as she cared for her sick husband

Both Reagans asked Graham to preach at the president’s funeral, but when the time came, Graham was too frail from a pelvis injury to make the trip.

When Reagan passed away, the first call that Nancy placed outside the family was to her husband’s old friend in the hills above Montreat.

Her [Hillary Clinton] faith was one place where she touched the ground. It was in the first six months that she joined a bipartisan prayer group; a circle of friends took turns praying for her that spring and throughout her time in the White House. When she traveled out of town, she carried a handmade scrapbook of sayings and scriptures that raised her spirits when they needed a boost.


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