Beliefnet
What is your response to reading the transcript of what Billy Graham said to Richard Nixon?

It's very sad and I know that he deeply regrets it. But it demonstrates again that no matter who you are, but especially if you are a clergy person, conservative or liberal, any president can seduce one into supporting his policies or even himself, by this offer of access to his presence. And we've seen this on the left with Lyndon Johnson, when he clergy would not question the war in Vietnam.

Can you give us an example of such clergy?

Let's just take Nixon for example. I used to go to these Sunday so-called church services which were held in the White House by Nixon, and he or his people would screen the clergy. He had a Catholic Cardinal there once, and Graham was there on several occasions and a number of others, and not a single one of them opposed his policies in Vietnam or much else, so these were the safe clergy. And you didn't get in there unless you were a Nixon supporter of course, which I always thought was rather amusing to say nothing of the detriment it brought to the presidency by not offering the opportunity of hearing contrary viewpoints.

The same thing happened with Bill Clinton. His collection of supposed spiritual advisors following the Monica Lewinsky affair was all used as religious cover. All political people want to have the covering, the protection of religious authority on their side.

Did what Graham said on the tape surprise you?

Yes. Very much so. Because that's not the Billy Graham I know. You know, it's funny, because when the Nixon tapes came out originally, the first ones, with all the profanities on it, as I recall, Graham said HE was shocked because that was not the Richard Nixon HE knew!

So this is an interesting turnabout here, because now here, now Graham's voice comes out on the tape and, well, that is not the Billy Graham I know. If all of our comments were taped, I suppose, and played before God, as it is indicated they will be, all of us will be embarrassed by one conversation or another that we've had.

So what do you think happened? Why would he have said these things?

Well, you know, nobody knows another person's heart. I don't think Graham is such a bigot. He desegregated when he didn't have to, and it cost him a lot support in the South especially, and he was denounced by people like Bob Jones and a bunch of other people.

It was in the early stages of King's civil right activism, and Graham told me once that he had this conversation with King and said, "I can't do what you do, but I support what you do." And he recorded that King said to him, "That's okay, you take the stadiums and I'll take the streets." But I know for a fact in cities that practiced segregation, with blacks and whites in separate parts of stadiums, he wouldn't have it. His people tore down the barriers and invited black folks to sit wherever they wanted. And it was very rare, very brave at that time, especially in the South. He got death threats all the time.

Usually with bigotry, you don't like Catholics, you don't like Jews, you don't like whatever, but there's certainly no example of that with Graham, and I can only chalk it up to this ingratiating spirit that overcomes a lot of people who always want to say something complimentary to the President--and that's very, very dangerous. Jim Bakker came to my house and I asked him, "Jim, what started to go wrong? And he said, `I surrounded myself with people who only told me what I wanted to hear.'"

The whole idea of ingratiating yourself to the boss, whether it's the boss or the President, or somebody who works in the company, that's just human nature.

What was going on in 1972 that made this conversation even possible?

Nixon harbored the old canard that Jews were responsible for the a lot of the problems in the world-- this was the leftover Hitler philosophy, and others who have gone before blame it on the Jews. They're easy scapegoats because of their minority status. And, first of all, Nixon was paranoid.

In 1972, McGovern was the Democratic candidate. Nixon wasn't taking any chances, and it was a hot election year. Vietnam was raging. Nixon claimed he had a plan to end the war, but he wasn't specific about it. He wanted to bury the liberals, and he harbored this hostility toward the media. I can only conclude that this is an extension of that, and of Nixon hating the media as he did.

Graham had no reason to hate the media. They treated him with kid gloves. His whole career was made when William Randolph Hearst in 1949 in Los Angeles gave the order, "Hype Graham. I like this guy." And out of that the public came to notice a very gifted young preacher from North Carolina. So I don't think Graham ever had a bad working relationship with the media. Far from it.

But there is that need in some people. I could have understood a younger person perhaps being overwhelmed by the power, but Graham had been around the block a few times.

Certainly there has been a lot of change in the relationship between evangelicals and Jews since 1972. But what was going on in that relationship at the time?

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