"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.