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.
Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of the large Windsor Village United Methodist Church in suburban Houston, was scheduled to deliver the benediction. Reverend Caldwell was a friend of the Bush family and had introduced George W. at the Republican National Convention the previous summer.
The nation was still licking its election wounds. I pondered the turmoil that the country was still feeling as I wondered how I should close the prayer. Many times Christian pastors praying in pubic forums just finish their prayers with ".in the Name of God." But for me to do so would falsify who I am. I would be disobedient by denying the One I follow. I have always prayed in Jesus' Name. I know of no other ground on which a sinner like me can come before a God who is holy.
Here is another way of looking at it. England's Queen Elizabeth knighted my father in December 2001, but he was unable to travel to the United Kingdom to receive this honor. Instead, the queen authorized the British ambassador to the United States to confer the knighthood upon my father in Washington, D.C., on her behalf. What if the ambassador had acted on his own, without Her Majesty giving him that power? His knighthood would have been meaningless. Similarly, we have no basis or authority to come to God any way except through the Lord Jesus Christ-the Representative God Himself personally sent to us when, through our human striving, we could not reach Him.
Years ago as a young man I sensed that if opportunities came for public ministry they were from God. Now He had opened a door. I had been given a larger platform-the opportunity to help direct the eyes of the nation to God. To honor His Son, wasn't even a question. How could I do anything different than to pray in His Name?
The Friday afternoon before the inauguration, I attended a meeting of the platform participants conducted by the Inaugural Committee. We met at a Washington hotel to review the order of the service. It was in that conference room where I met Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell: tall, handsome, articulate-a powerhouse of a preacher. After introductions, his personal warmth made me feel as though we had been longtime friends. We found a few minutes to talk privately, and Reverend Caldwell said, "Franklin, I want to ask you a question. Are you going to pray in the Name of Jesus?"
"Yes," I answered, "I always do."
"Good!" Kirbyjon said, flashing a great big smile. "I am too."
I chuckled to myself and thought, I like him; he's got guts for Jesus.
My wife, Jane, and I arrived at the Capitol Building at 9 a.m. and were taken to a holding room with other platform participants. A couple of hours later we were led ot the top of the Capitol steps by a marine, where a spokesman announced our arrival over the P.A. system. I was seated in a chair placed in the same spot my father had occupied four years earlier. I could not help but realize how God had used that experience to prepare me for this day. From the noise in front of the Capitol, I could tell a large crowd was assembled, but seeing faces was impossible due to a large bank of TV cameras in front of the stage that blocked the view.
I was struck again by this smooth transfer of power as dignitaries descended the steps and took their seats. Although the presidential election had been vigorously contested in a way unprecedented in American history, the time had come for America to honor and install a new leader. And in spite of political hostilities, our country has always risent o the occasion with dignity.
When the last guests were seated, the president-elect and his family were announced and escorted to the platform as thunderous applause echoed through the fog. Directly in front of me sat the outgoing team of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Across the aisle sat the incoming team of President-elect George W. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.
Anticipation swelled. People of such diverse backgrounds and political persuasions had come together in a moment of unity. The Lord, in His sovereign power, was allowing me the privilege of telling others about Someone more important than anyone on that platform-the One bearing the Name above all other names.
The time of invocation came and I made my way to the podium. Speaking into the bitter January air, I offered this prayer to God Almighty as my breath turned to white puffs.