There are factions of society today that hate God and everything that He stands for. But I did not expect such a vehement backlash [when I mentioned Jesus' name during the 2001 inauguration]. In America, where our currency declares "in God We Trust," it still surprised me that when a Christian minister does what he is ordained to do--read and quote from the Bible, share the truth of the Gospel, pray in the Name of Jesus--some people view those acts as borderline subversive!
In January of 2001, our nation was perhaps more divided politically than at any time I can remember. The controversy surrounding the presidential election vote count in Florida had polarized Americans. Even though most voters were pleased to see a change in the White House after eight turbulent years, according to pollsters, nearly 50 percent were disappointed and even convinced that Governor Bush and the Republicans had somehow manipulated the outcome. In hindsight, election officials and even the media concurred, after intense scrutiny and review, that this was not the case.
My father has had the honor of praying or participating in some way at eight presidential inaugurations, beginning with the ceremony for Lyndon Johnson in 1965. When it came time for Bill Clinton's second inauguration, my father was invited once again to offer an inaugural prayer. Because his health problems had flared, he asked me to accompany him to Washington, D.C.
During that ceremony, I was seated at my father's right side on the inaugural platform. To my left sat all of the Supreme Court justices in their robes and caps. Behind was the Democratic and Republican leadership from both houses of Congress.
This spectacular event always involves much pomp and circumstance. The election battle is over. The time now comes for the government of this mighty land and its citizens to inaugurate a president.
I had been impressed to see members of the opposing political parties--in heated battle for the prize of the White House just two months before--now shaking hands and greeting each other warmly. Life for both the nation and individual would move on. Bill Clinton would continue to govern. Bob Dole would return to private life, make speeches, and enjoy other productive activities outside the Senate chamber. What a great nation and system of government.
When the time had come for my father to pray, the only help needed was a firm hand to help him stand.
Though the day had been filled with historical pageantry, I was happy to put it all on the back burner and head for the hills of North Carolina and to my mountain home.
Now, four years later as the inauguration of the forty-third president approached, the inaugural committee eagerly wanted Billy Graham to participate in the ceremony. Perhaps more so than for any other president-elect, my father really wanted to do this for George W. Bush. Some years before, while visiting the Bush family at Kennebunkport, Maine, my father and George W. had had a conversation on issues of faith that had made a dramatic impact on Bush's life, as describes in his biography, "A Charge to Keep."
However, with weather forecasters predicting a cold, wet January morning in the Washington, D.C. area, my father's doctors at the Mayo Clinic had urged him not to put himself at risk by attending the inauguration, as it would be held outdoors. The Inaugural Committee, on behalf of President-elect Bush, called and asked me to give the invocation in my father's place. I had already been invited to speak at the president's prayer service at Washington National Cathedral the Sunday following the inauguration, but to deliver the invocation at the swearing in was another matter. Years ago I had told my father that I would stand with him and help him in any way I could, so how could I say no? With a deep sense of responsibility, I accepted the invitation and began to prepare. What an opportunity--to pray for the new president and his administration, as stand in for the man I love and respect so much. I also saw this as an awesome responsibility that could not be taken lightly.