13 Presidents Who Were Influenced by Billy Graham

13 Presidents Who Were Influenced by Billy Graham
Billy Graham — who died Wednesday (Feb. 21) at age 99 — met with 13 American presidents, from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. Quotes from interviews, correspondence and other writings give a glimpse into the evangelist’s relationship with each successive occupant of the Oval Office. Each president with whom Graham met couldn't help but be impacted by his faith. These quotes allow us to see small glimpses of the truly monumental influence Rev. Graham had on these presidents as they sought to lead the nation.

Photo: Franklin Graham, Billy Graham, and former U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton bow their heads in prayer during the Billy Graham Library Dedication Service on May 31, 2007 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Approximately 1500 guests attended the private dedication ceremony for the library, which chronicles the life and teachings of Evangelist Billy Graham. Former U.S. Presidents Clinton, Carter and Bush made short speeches during the dedication ceremony.

Photo courtesy: Davis Turner/Getty Images

  • 1. Harry Truman

    1. Harry Truman

    “Don’t worry about it. I realized you hadn’t been properly briefed.”

    — Billy Graham in his autobiography, “Just As I Am,” recalling Truman’s acceptance of his apology in 1967 for his actions during a White House visit years earlier

    The Christian History Institute provides backstory to Graham's first encounter with Truman which went so terribly awry:

    "In July 1950 31–year-old Billy Graham and three associates met with President Harry Truman. Unschooled in presidential protocol, they offended Truman by spilling the contents of their conversation to a waiting press. They then agreed to a much-photographed prayer session on the White House lawn.

    As Graham’s fame spread and Democratic leaders noted his influence, Truman persistently refused further contact. He referred to Graham as “one of those counterfeits. He claims he’s a friend of all Presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was President.” Only much later did the two men find a modicum of reconciliation.

    No one could have predicted that this first disastrous encounter with a president would establish an unparalleled legacy. Billy Graham stood in the glare of public scrutiny with US presidents and other heads of state more than any other Christian leader. Their friendships gave him unprecedented opportunity for spiritual influence that also came with great risk. It is easy to cross the line between pastoral presence and political partisanship, and several times during his storied life, Billy Graham had to redraw that line."


    Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  • 2. Dwight Eisenhower

    2. Dwight Eisenhower

    “Billy, you’ve told me how to be sure my sins are forgiven and that I’m going to heaven. Would you tell me again?”

    — Graham, in “Just As I Am,” recalling a question posed by Eisenhower months before his death in 1969

    PBS.org notes, "It was Graham who helped advise Eisenhower on becoming a Presbyterian after it emerged in the 1952 campaign that Eisenhower had never been baptized.

    “Graham thought that if he could convert certain well-known individuals, that that would have a greater effect in terms of bringing others into the Kingdom,” the Rev. Randall Balmer, a scholar of American religious history, said in God in America. “That would make the Gospel more palatable to others.”

    In time, Eisenhower would evoke faith as a weapon against communism, just as Graham had done."


    Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  • 3. John F. Kennedy

    3. John F. Kennedy

    “Very interesting. We’ll have to talk more about that someday.”

    — Graham, in “Just As I Am,” recalling Kennedy’s response to his explanation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which Kennedy had asked Graham to discuss after a golf game a few days before Kennedy became president in 1961

    The Charlotte Observer notes, "America’s first Roman Catholic president invited America’s most famous Protestant minister to lunch and a game of golf in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1961. Kennedy knew Graham had favored his opponent, Richard Nixon, in the 1960 election. But at his father’s suggestion, Democrat Kennedy had asked Graham to come to Florida in hopes of defusing the issue of JFK’s religion. It worked. With the president at his side, Graham told reporters that Kennedy’s election had promoted better relations between Catholic and Protestant churches."


    Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  • 4. Lyndon Johnson

    4. Lyndon Johnson

    “Your message met the need. The knowledge that one of God’s greatest messengers was seeking Divine Counsel on my behalf provided me with a strong source of strength, courage and comfort. … I shall cherish this in the days ahead.”

    — Johnson, writing to Graham after the evangelist sent a telegram saying he was praying for the president after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Noted in “The Preacher and the Presidents” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.

    According to TexasMonthly.com, "Evangelist Billy Graham had known Lyndon Johnson since the fifties, when Graham was a rising young preacher and Johnson was the junior U.S. senator from Texas, but the friendship did not blossom until 1963, when Johnson turned to Graham following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Johnson’s assumption of the presidency."


    Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  • 5. Richard Nixon

    5. Richard Nixon

    “I have deeply appreciated the spiritual inspiration and guidance you have given me but, in addition to that, your political advice has been as wise as any I have received from any man I know. I have often told friends that when you went into the ministry, politics lost one of its potentially greatest practitioners.”

    — Nixon, in a letter to Graham after Nixon was defeated by Kennedy in 1960. Noted in “The Preacher and the Presidents” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.


    Photo: President Nixon, right, and Billy Graham bow their heads in prayer during the president’s visit to the Billy Graham East Tennessee Crusade at Knoxville, Tenn., in 1970.

    Photo courtesy: RNS




  • 6. Gerald R. Ford

    6. Gerald R. Ford

    “During the election period, I prayed constantly that ‘God’s will’ be done. This was the prayer of Jesus the night before the cross. He said, ‘not my will but Thine be done.’ For some mysterious reason unknown to us, Mr. Carter won.”

    — Graham, in a letter to Ford after he was defeated by Jimmy Carter in 1976. Ford saved the letter, reported Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in “The Preacher and the Presidents,” for his personal scrapbook.

    "After Watergate, Graham decided to stay politically neutral. The first president to feel this distancing act: Republican Ford. But Graham wasn’t neutral when it came to golf – they were photographed on the links – and Graham did press Ford to pardon Nixon, which he did," notes the Charlotte Observer.


    Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

  • 7. Jimmy Carter

    7. Jimmy Carter

    “Ruth and I came away with a new insight into the dedication of both of you to the causes of not only peace and justice in the world, but your evangelistic urgency. We are deeply grateful for your spiritual leadership and boldness in witnessing for Christ. We have vowed to pray for you more often that God will continue to give you wisdom, courage, faith and guidance in the months ahead.”

    — Graham, in a letter dictated to his wife, Ruth, and sent to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter after the Grahams spent the night at the White House in 1979


    Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

  • 8. Ronald Reagan

    8. Ronald Reagan

    “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.”

    — Graham, in a letter to Reagan as he concluded his second presidential term in 1989, reported by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in “The Preacher and the Presidents”


    Photo: President Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan greet Billy Graham, left, at the National Prayer Breakfast held at the Hilton Washington on Feb. 5, 1981. 

    Photo courtesy: White House/Creative Commons

  • 9. George H. W. Bush

    9. George H. W. Bush

    “Presidents need comfort that faith gives and Billy Graham was a great dispenser of comfort.”

    — George H.W. Bush, on ABC’s “20/20,” in 2007

    According to the Charolotte Observer: "Graham had known Bush’s family for years before his 1988 election and considered the Republican president a close friend. Graham gave the invocation and benediction at Bush’s inauguration. He returned to the White House on Jan. 16, 1991 – the night America and its allies launched an air attack on Iraq. The next day, Graham attended a worship service for top political and military leaders."


    Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

  • 10. Bill Clinton

    10. Bill Clinton

    “What he wanted me to know was that the Christ he believed in was a God of second chances.”

    — Clinton, on ABC’s “20/20,” in 2007 on Graham’s advice after the Monica Lewinsky scandal

    Clinton was one of thousands of mourners who came to pay his respects to Graham as he lies in honor in the US Capitol. "He was a profoundly good man who conveyed his central beliefs," said Clinton, according to NBCNews.com.


    Photo courtesy: Flickr.com

  • 11. George W. Bush

    11. George W. Bush

    “As a result of being with Billy Graham and being inspired by Billy Graham and, I guess, being led by Billy Graham, I started reading the Bible, and shortly thereafter I quit drinking.”

    — George W. Bush, on ABC’s “20/20,” in 2007

    Bush traveled to Charlotte this week to pay his respects to Graham and his family. “If there’s such a thing as a humble shepherd of the Lord, Billy Graham is that person," said Bush, who was deeply influenced by Graham. "I am unbelievably blessed to have met him. I also had the honor of bringing my Mother and Dad’s greetings to Franklin and the family. Billy Graham and Dad were great buddies, and I know he wished he could come, too. He’s not moving around too much these days, but his spirit and heart are here. God bless Billy Graham.”


    Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

  • 12. Barack Obama

    12. Barack Obama

    “Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me, as he had prayed for so many presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn’t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many? But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn’t know quite what to say.”

    — Barack Obama, speaking at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast and recalling his visit to Graham’s home


    Photo: President Obama meets with Billy Graham at his house in Montreat, N.C., on April 25, 2010. 

    Photo courtesy: The White House/Pete Souza


  • 13. Donald Trump

    13. Donald Trump

    “Melania and I were privileged to get to know Reverend Graham and his extraordinary family over the last several years, and we are deeply grateful for their love and support.

    “Billy Graham was truly one of a kind. Christians and people of all faiths and backgrounds will miss him dearly. We are thinking of him today, finally at home in Heaven.”

    Trump will be the only living president to attend Graham's funeral this week.

    — President Trump, in a Feb. 21 statement on the death of Billy Graham


    Courtesy: Religion News Service

    Photo: Wikipedia

    Publication date: February 28, 2018