Michael Duffy, a 26-year veteran with Time magazine, is currently the Washington Bureau Chief and Assistant Editor. In his years with the magazine, he has covered the Pentagon, White House, national politics, Congress and national security. But among all the topics he has covered over the years, few have fascinated him like Billy Graham’s relationships with U.S. presidents.
In 2007, he, along with Nancy Gibb, released The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. The book chronicles details of Graham’s relationship from Harry Truman through George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama has also visited Billy Graham at his North Carolina home.
“There really is no one else in history who knew—much less ministered to—11 consecutive presidents. He worked hard at his friendships with them,” explains Duffy. “What really strikes me is that Billy Graham knew most of the presidents before they were in the Oval Office.”
One example of these pre-presidential friendships is the one he shared with Ronald Reagan. Graham first met Reagan in the early 1950s, around the time that he and his wife Nancy married. Their paths crossed again in the mid 1960s when Reagan served as the Governor of California. This time, the interaction was of a more serious spiritual nature. It is during that time that Ronald Reagan is believed to have tremendously grown in his faith.
Before they were presidents: Involvement in BGEA
Duffy tells the story of 12-year-old Bill Clinton from a small town in Arkansas who regularly gave some allowance money to BGEA. It was this same boy who, around that time, begged his Sunday school teacher to take him to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to attend a Billy Graham Crusade in the late 1950s. This happened to be an occasion where Graham agreed to come on one condition: that the crowds be desegregated.
A few years later, as a young man, Clinton took his then-girlfriend, Hilary Rodham, to a Crusade in Oakland, Calif., for a date. He wanted her to hear the preacher he so loved as a boy.
In addition to Clinton, Jimmy Carter also contributed—through service—to BGEA prior to his years in the Oval Office. Carter began reading Graham’s books and listening to his sermons long before he was elected. In 1962, he was even involved in the organization of a Crusade in Southwest Georgia.
Perhaps the most widely known of the spiritual mentoring relationships between Billy Graham and the presidents is the one with George W. Bush. When Bush was 40 years old, Graham visited with the family at their vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Graham spent some time answering questions about spiritual matters with the family, and spent some one-on-one time with the younger Bush. This is said to have been one of the most pivotal times in the spiritual life of George W. Bush.
This is but one example of Billy Graham’s investment into the lives of our presidents, as he sensed the pressures of the office and had compassion for these men.
“These meetings were far more than photo opportunities. In fact, many of the most important meetings between Billy Graham and the presidents were private—the ones that mattered are the ones that we didn’t know about,” said Duffy. “They knew Billy Graham was someone they could trust. His friendship was a safe place for them—almost sacred. They knew that their conversations would remain private.”
What spoke volumes to these presidents—along with those watching—is Graham’s friendship with the presidents, regardless of their political positions.
“He knew these presidents needed support, regardless of politics. Everyone has a great capacity for sin, but when you are the president of the United States, you have so much power, and that means you have more reasons to be driven to you knees.”
In Graham’s friendships with the presidents, the love of Christ was his motivation as he loved them and ministered to them through war, scandal and hardship. May we as a nation bear the fruit of the Gospel seeds sown into the hearts of our presidents by Billy Graham.