I got a chance to screen the 20/20 piece on Billy Graham and the presidents and it really is a must-watch.
More than any other article or TV program of late, it tells the story of faith and politics in the most pragmatic of ways. It highlights the reality that a wall of separation may exist between church and state but one does not exist between a president and God.
When asked the question about faith and the White House each president declared with some passion that they couldn’t imagine being in the White House without faith in God. That, it seems, is where Billy Graham’s real power came from – from the desperate need of lonely and isolated men to know that they were not really alone. Charles Gibson makes the point that for Graham, who had pastored no particular church, the presidents were his congregation.
Among the interviews Gibson conducted was one with a frail looking Nancy Reagan who talked about asking Graham whether she would see her beloved Ronnie when she died. “Oh yes,” she reports Graham saying, “he will be there.” As she reflected on it she said she believed it… because Graham had said so.
Graham’s intimacy with those who have lived in the White House raises all sorts of questions including whether he was able to speak truth to power or whether he was somehow seduced by power. The revelation a few years ago of his anti-Semitic remarks while talking to President Nixon certainly provide ample evidence the he was sometimes seduced. I suspect, however, that when that day comes when all things are known it will be revealed that what Graham said to a president in secret helped make history better.