2016-06-30
Ruth Graham The third daughter of the famous televangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, Ruth is the head of the Ruth Graham Ministries. She has three children of her own and is a published author of numerous books. Her most recent book is "A Legacy of Love: Things I Learned From My Mother."

You mention throughout the book that Windsor's father left the marriage and that you got a divorce when she was a girl. You wrote that you felt that contributed to her need for love.
Yes, my husband was involved in extra-marital affairs for a number of years when she was a little girl.

How old was she when you divorced him?
She was 13. We had been separated for three or four years before that. And he was involved in the extra-marital affairs when she was a baby, so he was not very present to us at that time. He died in 1997.

What impact did those losses have on her?
I do not think we can underestimate the role of a father in his children's lives, especially little girls. I think the father is really the one who gives the little girl her sense of self and her sense of confidence and self-assurance and love and beauty. And when that's not there, she's going to find it somewhere--a little girl wants affection. And she's going to go find that affection somewhere. And if a father doesn't do that, then more than likely some boyfriend is going to show her.

She did go live with him for about six months after she'd had the second baby, and I think that brought some healing, which was a real blessing.

What was your experience with the church during this period?
I think the church is learning. I think when this happened to us, this was--and to some extent still is--something that the church doesn't know how to deal with, doesn't want to deal with, doesn't want to even admit happens. And when it did happen to us and we sought out counsel, some were very helpful and some were not. And I think very often we want our theology to be tidy and neat. An unplanned pregnancy doesn't allow for tidiness.

Do you think that's specifically true of evangelicals or do you think of all Christians?
I don't know that I can speak for all evangelicals or all Christians. I know that it happened in our experience, and at the time I was going to an evangelical church. They labeled her as rebellious, and I did not think she was rebellious. I thought she was just desperately hurt and looking for love in the all the wrong places.

It was tough to go through, but I felt, too, that I handled it wrong at times...I think I was trying more to please the elders of the church than I was looking out for my child. And I wanted the theology to fit and I wanted to make sure I did everything by the rules.

When you say you wanted a theology to fit, what do you mean?
We were talking about sin and repentance and we were doing everything just the right way. The acknowledgement of sin, the confession of sin, then the restoration and then we were going to watch to see that this was taking place in the right fashion and the right steps...and it doesn't happen that way necessarily. Life is messy. And emotions are running high and topsy-turvy. It's a tough thing to go through. And some do better than others. And I think that the young girls who go through this who have goals and have plans, they do better than young women who don't have goals and plans. And Windsor was just one of those who didn't have (plans). I mean her goal was to get married, and she believed these young men that they wanted to marry her and live happily ever after. And of course, that didn't happen.

Do you have a message for the church about behaving better?
I would have a message to the church concerning anybody who is wounded. And the message that I want to give the church, and I do think that the church is getting better, is that we learn to accept--not condone, there's a fine line--those who have fallen, those that have shown their sin. And we sit in church, and I think sometimes when we get to church, we think that all the sinners are on the outside. And we wear these masks and everything's perfect and we're victorious and we've got it all together. And we sit there with our self-righteousness and pride. When a little girl comes along and sits besides us in the pew with her tummy pouching out, we can look askance at her.

"Jesus was always most tender with sexual sin..." Read more >>

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  • But Jesus was always most tender with sexual sin. Jesus was much harder on the self-righteous and the prideful. And so we've got it turned around a little bit. And I think it's important to look at it the way Jesus would and say you know, we are all flawed. We are all sinners saved by grace. And getting pregnant out of wedlock is not worse than sitting in a pew with our self-righteousness thinking we're better than somebody else. And we need to change our perspective and see it the way God does.

    Did either of you, you or your daughter, ever consider an abortion?
    I think if we want to be honest...my daughter did not. But when the second baby came along, was due, I thought, well my daughter is not getting something here. Something's missing. And can we go through this again? Can she emotionally go through this again?

    So I will tell to be perfectly honest, that that was a fleeting thought--but I think that was human. And I'm very grateful that my daughter, in both cases, did not consider it, nor did the young man pressure her to get an abortion.

    This may be self-evident, but why not? Why not have an abortion?
    I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe it's the taking of a human life. I believe that it creates many more problems than it solves. You may think it's solving a problem immediately--you're getting rid of evidence of bad behavior, illicit behavior, but there are so many post-abortion trauma symptoms that can appear up to 15 years later, that I believe we are being fed a lie. That abortion is just a blob of tissue and you can go on with your life. And I have talked to way too many women who say that that is not true.

    Did you and your daughter feel shame about what happened?
    I think we both did at some level, but at the same time, our concern really...when a young woman gets pregnant, your first response is now what do we do? What are people going to say? But then you realize there's a baby that's coming. And this is life; it's not death. It can be a parenthesis in your life--it's not the end of your life. There is life after pregnancy. There is life after the release for adoption. And I believe that adoption is the best option, because statistics are not on the side of single mothers. And young women who marry the father of their babies--95 percent of those marriages do not work out, and the other 5 percent are miserable in their marriage, so it's not worth it.

    What was the impact of your being Billy Graham's daughter and of your daughter's being Billy Graham's granddaughter? You write that you knew there would be homes for unwed mothers that would have been happy to have your daughter because of who she is.
    I have come long ago to understand that's other people's problems. I could not worry about being Billy Graham's daughter--I had to worry about being my daughter's mother. And that was our first priority. If other people had a problem with it, that was their problem and we had to let it go.

    But as you write in the book, it wasn't exactly the easiest thing.
    I don't think having a teenage daughter who's pregnant is easy. And I think it does illustrate, it can happen to anyone's family. And I think a lot of people have been encouraged by that...if Billy Graham's family has gone through this, then they know what it's like. They're comforted.

    We wrote the book to get information out there. There's no other book like it. And it's a resource for families, communities and churches that are going though unplanned pregnancy. We bring together so many of the issues and so many of the questions together in one place.

    One of the most moving passages is the story of your daughter's taking the baby home from the hospital for four days and then signing the adoption papers. It's incredible to me that you were able to get through that. How did you feel?
    You feel terrible, because you want to be able to rescue your child. But I had settled that issue long before, when I sought God out and said, "God, am I supposed to help Windsor raise this baby?" And I felt very definitely that I was not to take on Windsor's responsibilities or Windsor's consequences. And I also knew that I couldn't provide a mother and a father for this child. And this child deserved a mother and a father and the best possible start in life. Adoption was the very best thing for this baby. So I had to stick to my guns, and it was heart-wrenching.

    "There are no illegitimate children--there are only illegitimate acts. Read more >>

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  • Especially because you could have given in and helped her raise the baby.
    Well, I could have but it would have been extremely difficult.

    Why?
    I'm a single parent, and she was still in high school. I had to support myself -- I had a full-time job. So raising a grandchild just didn't seem feasible.

    Did your parents offer any help?
    My parents were in their seventies with full ministry responsibilities. There really wasn't any help they could offer. And we didn't ask them for any help in that sense.

    What was their reaction? What did they say?
    My parents are such loving, accepting people. They are just amazing. I am amazed at what they are able to do. And they told Windsor that they were disappointed but that they loved her and that they would pray for her. And they absolutely adore this new little great-grandson.

    How did the experience affect your relationship with your siblings?
    I don't think it affected it at all. I think, again, they were supportive as they could be. My older sister had had difficulties with her children--and she's written about it. He son was on drugs and in jail, and now he's a preacher. So we've experienced a lot as Grahams. We're not perfect.

    And we have been blessed. No life is a mistake. God has plans for each life. And there are no illegitimate children--there are only illegitimate acts. And I believe that birth mothers are very courageous. They are living in a society that tells them they don't have to carry to life. It's legal in this country to have abortion, but they choose life. They lay down their lives; literally, their reputations, their figures, their school careers, sometimes their families kick them out. And the Lord said that there's no greater love but that a man lay down his life for his friends, and these young women lay down their lives for their children. And I applaud them.

    What is the book's primary message?
    That abortion is not a good thing. They don't have to have an abortion. Adoption is a good thing. And that life does go on. There are ways of getting through this and one of the ways is this book. And there's so much positive that comes out of adoption. And when a baby is adopted there is a lot of applause and attention on the adoptive couple, as there should be. But people forget that in the shadow there stands a young woman with a broken heart. And I want to shed light on these young women and say, "You are courageous. We applaud you, we stand with you." And, as a church, if we are going to encourage young women to carry to life then we had better support them.

    I guess you want to help women stop feeling shame.
    That's right. They feel shame regardless. My daughter has said, "I feel enough shame for everybody." And they do. They may act belligerent, they may act rebellious, but they're feeling it and they're embarrassed and I think we have to see through some of the front and love them, support them, but not condone...and that's a fine line. But to love them and support them...and very often when they are the most unlovely is when you need to love them the most.

    How is your daughter doing? What is she doing?
    She's doing well. She just started a new job and she's real excited about it. Not exactly sure what she's doing, it has something to do with commercial real estate.

    Is she in Philadelphia?

    She's in Philadelphia. She finished college with honors and she got her real estate and her insurance licenses and she's planning on getting married this summer to a very nice man who I think is very good to her.

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