Part 10 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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Before I wrap up this series on inaugural prayers, I’d like to examine several prayers offered by the Rev. Billy Graham. No religious leader in our nation’s history has been more involved in presidential inaugurations than Graham. He has offered several prayers, as well as sermons at worship services associated with inaugurations.
Several of the texts of Graham’s inaugural prayers have been collected in the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, and have been made available online. This collection includes:
January 20, 1969 – Inaugural prayer for Richard Nixon
January 20, 1989 – Inaugural invocation for George H.W. Bush
January 20, 1993 – Inaugural invocation for William J. Clinton
January 20, 1997 – Inaugural prayer for William J. Clinton
I don’t have the resources to know if these texts are exactly what Graham said. Curiously enough, the archive text of the 1989 prayer for George H.W. Bush contains no closing, no “in Jesus’ name,” no “Amen,” no “Play ball!” It also appears to omit some words from the center of the prayer, because it now reads, “May we never forget that . . . .” I seriously doubt that Graham actually said, “dot dot dot” or “yada yada yada.” But, at any rate, we do have four of Graham’s inaugural prayers, more or less. I think it will be interesting to examine them. If you do too, keep reading. If not, come back to visit in a couple of days.
Some General Observations on Graham’s Inaugural Prayers
First, there’s an interesting variation in prayer length:
1969 – 654 words
1989 – 298 words (edited)
1993 – 298 words
1997 – 525 words
Did Graham sense that Richard Nixon needed a lot more prayer than the others? And that Bill Clinton came in a close second? Both Presidents got in a heap of trouble in the terms following Graham’s long prayers. Nixon resigned. Clinton was impeached. Is a long inaugural prayer a jinx? (Rick Warren’s prayer for Obama was 482 words. Without the Lord’s Prayer, it was 415 words. That seems to bode well for President Obama.)
Among the 1775 total words that Billy Graham uttered in these four inaugural prayers, you’ll find words we associate with Christianity, such as “love,” “faith,” “hope,” “justice,” and “forgive.” But what I find most curious is that in all four of Graham’s prayers you will not find the words “Jesus” or “Christ.” You’ll find references to Jesus, even blunt requests for people to come to faith in Christ, such as “Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, ‘Ye must be born again.’” (1969 prayer). But for some reason, Graham never named Jesus by name, using his English given name, “Jesus,” or his title that has become synonymous with his name, “Christ.” In four prayers, no name of Jesus appears. (Rick Warren made up for this by using four names of Jesus in his one prayer!).
I would love to ask Billy Graham why he chose not to say the words “Jesus” or “Christ” in his inaugural prayers. One could surely not accuse him of being ashamed of Jesus in public. In fact, he has probably said the name “Jesus” to more people than any other person in history. I wonder of Graham if somehow sensed that using the literal name of Jesus would be unhelpful in some way.
Tomorrow I’ll get more into the substance of Graham’s prayers. For now, I want to note one other bit of fascinating inaugural history. According to the Billy Graham Archives website, in January, 1969, Graham spent the last night of the Lyndon Johnson presidency with the Johnson family in the White House. Then, the next day he prayed at Nixon’s inauguration. Twenty four years later, he spent the last night of George H.W. Bush’s presidency with the Bush family in the White House, before praying at the inauguration of William J. Clinton. This speaks volumes about the unique ministry of Billy Graham, who wasn’t just a preacher who prayed in public, but a pastor to presidents from both parties. (Photo: Billy Graham [left] and three former presidents at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in May 2007.)