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September 2007 Archives

September 1, 2007

The Preacher and the Presidents

If you were to look upon the frail, weak, almost blind, 88 year old Billy Graham today, one might be tempted to overlook the gargatuan impact he has made in not only American religious life but American political life as well. But "Time" magazine correspondents Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy attempt to put the tremendous role he has played in perspective with their excellent book "The Preacher and the Presidents". Graham cooperated with the authors by supplying them with his memories and correspondence dating all the way back from the Truman administration to the current one. The book to its credit covers the good and the bad of those pastor/president relationships. Graham it might be said had a symbiotic relationship with the occupants of the White House. They used him when it was prudent to do so and Graham certainly wasn't immune to using them when a door needed to be opened to him.

While Graham supplied pastoral care, spiritual counsel and prayer to all the men holding the office of president, he also often times offered political advice. In fact when reading the book one might get the impression that when America's great preacher wasn't holding a crusade, he was at the White House. In the cases of Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, Graham certainly had more influence than most of their political advisors and cabinet members. While he took an official position of staying out of politics and not endorsing candidates, Graham always let it be known in subtle ways where he stood. What is particularly disheartening and unsettling is his relationship to Nixon. Those infamous Nixon tapes at one point caught Graham in agreement with Nixon's disparaging racist rant about American Jews. Most damaging is Graham's insistence even after the aftermath of Watergate that Nixon was just too decent to commit any crimes. After all he had known the man for decades and vouched for his character. When everything was said and done, Graham unbelievably said that he didn't really know Nixon. What else didn't Graham know about not only Nixon but all the other White House occupants? Sometimes you have to risk friendship by speaking truth to power.

The book doesn't overlook Graham's many accomplishments: holding integrated crusades in the segregated south when it wasn't just unpopular but dangerous, helping to bring religious freedom to the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe, lending his support and help to LBJ's anti-poverty programs, and at times being a diplomat when no other U.S. official would or could help diffuse international tensions. Perhaps the book is a cautionary tale of what happens when a great preacher and spiritual leader becomes entangled with the political. Maybe in the end, Graham needs a little of what most of us need a whole lot of - forgiveness.

About September 2007

This page contains all entries posted to DR. BYNUM'S SHOW in September 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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