Saturday, December 29, 2007

One Preacher, Eleven Presidents

"Those who believe that religion and politics are not connected do not understand either"--Mahatma Ghandi

Billy Graham became a larger-than-life icon for millions of evangelicals during the last seven decades. He is believed to have physically addressed more people in more places than anyone else in history, preaching the gospel to more than 210 million people, in 185 countries in 417 crusades! But becoming the first global ambassador for Christ is not the only unique role in Graham's life; he has also personally known, befriended, and counseled 11 U.S. Presidents in a row, from Harry S. Truman all the way down to George W. Bush. Think of all the history that has unfolded in the last fifty years: the Korean war, the cold war, the cuban missle crisis, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the women's movement, the student movement, the Iranian hostage crisis, roe v. wade, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Robert Kennedy, the emerging drug culture, counterculture, 9/11, etc. etc. Through it all, Billy Graham has been in the unique position to appeal to each sitting President from a spiritual foundation, offer counsel, prayer, and strict confidentiality. The story is a fascinating and sobering tale.

The Preacher and The Presidents: Billy Graham's White House Crusade, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, journalists for TIME magazine, who conducted multiple interviews over the course of a year with Billy Graham, chronicles the political aspect of Graham's ministry during the past fifty-odd years. Gibbs and Duffy, who remain surprisingly fair and objective, skillfully relate Graham's remarkable tale of spiritual counsel and influence on the world's most powerful leaders. Alas, influence comes at a price. Graham's sincere faith in both God and our nation's leaders led to occasions of political manipulation, over estimating certain presidents' character (hi, Nixon), and blind spots to the corruption that all too often accompanies power. However, Graham's humble demeanor, willingness to admit failure, and relentless pursuit of God's grace for all people set a higher example that far outweighs any shortcomings of his half-century ministry.

Gibbs and Duffy describe Graham as displaying a rare and unique quality:

"Sincerity, like a paint stripper, removing any pretense and pride. He volunteered regrets before we probed for them...He was perfectly transparent about his own failures, but slow to pass judgment on anyone else. 'We are all sinners,' he said, 'in search of grace.'"

In addition to depicting Graham's relationship with our nation's leaders, the book also reveals new dimensions to our Presidents' spiritual side, or lack there of, in some cases. Presidents, like all people, wrestle with matters of faith, and it is intriguing to see how that personal battle intersects with public leadership, policy, and the political machine that seeks to exploit it.

From influencing Eisenhower to push for "under God" to be added to the pledge of allegience to helping sow peace between race relations under John F. Kennedy and Linden B. Johnson, to counseling the Clintons after Bill's very public affair to witnessing to George W. Bush, Billy Graham, like no one else, has faithfully ministered (for better or for worse) to the most powerful men in the world. His story is well worth the read.


Mandi Ord said...

Hey Tia,
Do you read books on request? If so, I have one I think you will like - just as soon as I am done with it. Hope you guys are having fun!
Love you!

Tia Lynn said...

You bet I do! A book recommendation is one of the best gifts you can give a person! What's it called? I'm always adding new books to my reading list! Thanks for thinking of me! :)

Peter said...

Billy Graham is one of the rare few "mega" preachers that has managed to preserve his humanity and vulnerability. I am unaware of the depth of his interactions with american presidents, but I'm sure it's complicated (since religon and politics always are)and intriguing. I'll have to add this book to my reading list, too.

stephy said...

I can't keep up wtih you! I took your advice and read God's Politics and it blew my mind! So, I trust your recommendations, they all sounds so interesting, but I can't keep up! Slow down and watch some TV or something and give us slow pokes a chance to catch up!

Jeff Gill said...

"Those who believe that religion and politics are not connected do not understand either" --Mahatma Ghandi

I would contend that those who believe that the The Kingdom Of God and politics are not connected have it just about right.

Jesus very explicitly disconnected his kingdom from those of this world's system of power over people.

Politics means choosing sides. As soon as I align myself with one side or another politically, I build a wall between me and a bunch of people who need to know Jesus.

As soon as I frame a political cause as a Christian one, I insult all the atheists, humanists, buddhists, muslisms, etc. who are on my side in the cause. That means I've just built a wall between me and a bunch of people who need to know Jesus.

I've not read a lot about Billy Graham, but I greatly admire what I understand to be his (rare) ability to be in the world of politics but not of it.

Tia Lynn said...

Oh Jeff, don't worry, I'm a registered independent and do not think for a nano-second that any of the political parties has a monopoloy on God, or even morality for that matter. However, while I don't think christians should seal any political party, cause, or leader with God's unquestioned stamp of approval, I do believe that Christians can be involved in politics without sacrificing their higher calling to God. We live in a country that asks for out input, and if we can help to "do justice, {and} love kindness..." through SERVICE-ORIENTED political efforts, then we should.