The Closest Thing To
A White House Chaplain
by Edward B. Fiske
from The New York Times Magazine
June 8, 1969
Billy Graham lives on a mountain. To get there you drive through the tiny vacation preserve of Montreat, N.C., and up a winding road to a pair of brown metal gates. The Graham aide who is driving pushes a button under the dashboard and the gates swing open. Inside, a sign warns the visitor about the "vicious dogs" let loose at night, and as you proceed up past a row of dogwoods toward the final curve, there's a misspelled sign that you hope is meant to be funny: "Trespassers will be eaten."
The 50-year-old evangelist spends about a third of his time on the mountain in a 10-room house that he and his wife Ruth had built out of old logs and timber. It's a cozy place, filled with things like hutch tables and antique silver soup tureens. Above a large friendly fireplace in the living room are the German words for "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," carved on what used to be a diving board. Out on the lawn are the rocking chairs that Lyndon Johnson had sent up from the ranch in Texas; they face out over the soft rolling hills toward Charlotte.
The problems of the world seem remote on Billy Graham's mountain -- war and racial strife and immorality and, most of all, the final Judgment Day. These are the things that Graham feels called by God to warn mankind about, however, so this Friday he will come down from his mountain for a 10-day crusade in Madison Square Garden.
The last time he was in New York for a major campaign was in 1957 when he spent 16 weeks at the old Garden. It was a smashing success -- more than 2 million attended -- but there were many who predicted that it would be Graham's last stand. The surging postwar religious revival was ebbing, and they were certain that mass evangelism would soon be as pass as the Lindy Hop. But Graham, with the help of a new ally, television, has proved them wrong. Anyone inclined to write him off would have done well to study the list of prominent businessmen who, back in 1966, invited him to resume his drive to instill some spirituality in New York City this week; it included the name of a Wall Street lawyer: Richard M. Nixon.
Today the Rev. William Franklin Graham is the closest thing we have to a White House chaplain. During the pre-inaugural period the focus was on the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, which the Nixon family frequently attended while in New York. It was Peale who married Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower. But Graham and the President have known each other for almost 20 years, and when Nixon started having services in the White House, Graham was his first preacher.
It is not hard to understand why Nixon, or anyone else, might like Graham. The charisma that he generates in front of 100,000 of the faithful in the Los Angeles Coliseum is matched in private by a genuine warmth and relaxed humor. He is a tall man with angular features, very blue eyes, thick wavy blond hair and magnificent hands. Seated in his rather untidy study, cluttered with books and papers and decorated with photographs showing him with the great and near-great, Graham bends all his attention on a visitor as though this were the only audience in the world.
In his youth, Graham was the best Fuller Brush salesman in North Carolina; the reason soon becomes apparent. He talks of his work, his crusades, in an easy, friendly manner, but all his words are infused with a sense of confidence based upon the certainty that he is selling The Best Product In The World.
This same kind of dedication is exuded by his wife, Ruth, who was raised in China, the daughter of a missionary. She is a gracious hostess who wears pants suits and prepares a first rate Oriental meal. But she has larger interests as well; recently she helped establish an institution in London to help young women drug addicts.
The evangelist is an engaging conversationalist and well-informed on current events, though one suspects that he sometimes reads as much for sermon illustrations as out of intellectual curiosity. He peruses nine newspapers regularly, including The Times and Daily Mirror of London and follows both Time and Newsweek, several Protestant journals and The New York Times Book Review. But he confesses that he hasn't read a novel for years; his preference in books leans toward the memoirs of modern figures like Winston Churchill, Bobby Kennedy and Arthur Krock.
Graham's conversation rarely runs for more than five minutes without an account of something that some great man has told him. "I don't think we can ever solve the race problem apart from the renewal of the human heart," he says, leaning back in a soft leather chair in his study. "I used to think we could. I remember the night they passed the '64 civil-rights bill. Hubert Humphrey came over to the White House, where I was a guest. He came straight over to me, and he said, "Billy we've done it," But he said, "Now it's up to you and people like you because legislation alone is not going to solve these problems." And I've lived to see that Hubert Humphrey's prediction is correct."
Graham first met Richard Nixon in the early nineteen-fifties after Nixon had become a Senator. The evangelist was having lunch at the Burning Tree Country Club with another Senator. Nixon came by, was introduced and invited Graham to join him for a round of golf. "We had about the same handicap, and we like to play with each other and kid with each other."
During the period that Nixon was out of office he and Graham used to meet at least three or four times a year for dinner or golf in California, New York or Key Biscayne. They talked about world events for hours at a time, often while on the golf course. Graham has an inconsistent golf game with a handicap that varies from 15 to 11 depending on how much he has been practicing. He used to employ a cross-handed grip, but he took the cure with Gary Player and now he uses that grip for putting only. Nixon often received gifts of golf balls with his name engraved on them, and once he passed a box on to Graham. Later Nixon complained to the preacher that friends had been finding the monogrammed balls in the rough and commenting on his accuracy.
Nixon has appeared at a number of Graham rallies, including the grand finale of his last New York crusade. Graham, a registered Democrat, has in turn done little to conceal his political preference for the President. He came close to an outright endorsement of Nixon in 1960 and admitted before the election that he had cast an absentee ballot for him. During the same campaign he wrote an article for Life magazine setting forth his views of Nixon as a man, but he says that pressure from John Kennedy killed it shortly before publication. Graham preached at the funeral of the President's mother, Hannah Nixon, last year, and Nixon publicly credited the evangelist with a role in convincing him to try again for the Presidency.
Much has been said about Graham's part in the selection of Spiro Agnew as Nixon's running mate last year in the famous late-night session in Miami. As Graham tells the story, he went up to Nixon to congratulate him on his nomination, and the candidate invited him to the session. "He wanted me to see how the process worked," Graham says. "Dewey was there. Goldwater was there. And one of the interesting things that I shouldn't really quote was the fact that even though the papers said that Strom Thurmond had something to do with Agnew's selection, I was there until about 5 in the morning, and he had nothing to do with it. He was holding out for Reagan till the dying end. Mr. Nixon asked me if I had any preference, and I said yes. I said "I think to give balance to your ticket, I would prefer Senator Mark Hatfield. First of all, he's a great Christian leader. He's almost a clergyman. He's been an educator and has taken a more liberal stand on most issues than you, and I think the ticket needs that kind of a balance."
Sceptics have noted that the friendship between Graham and Nixon is helpful to both because they are public figures with essentially the same middle-class constituencies. They are also two slices from the same apple pie. "They were just born to gravitate toward each other," said a veteran Washington journalist. "They're a couple of Eagle Scouts with all their badges to show, and their association is the most natural thing in the world."
Their similarities extend to religious backgrounds. Nixon is a Quaker, but of a particular kind. As they moved westward, members of the Society of Friends shed much of their pacifism and picked up the evangelical theologies and revivalistic forms of worship that characterized frontier religion. As a result, Quakers in Whittier, Calif., where Nixon was raised, tend to be fundamentalists and deeply suspicious of the American Friends Service Committee and other Eastern Friends with penchants for sailing into nuclear test zones and sending medical supplies to North Vietnam.
President Nixon's beliefs seem to be somewhere between those of his mother Hannah, a devout, traditional Quaker, and the evangelicalism of the East Whittier Meeting. Associates say that he conceives of religion largely in personal and ethical terms and has little interest in orthodox dogma. One of his few public references to religion came in the November, 1962, issue of Graham's monthly magazine Decision. He wrote of the importance of religion for the nation's health and declared that the "strength of a nation's faith in God can be measured only in terms of the personal faith of each of its individual citizens." Then he recalled: "I remember vividly the day just after I entered high school, when my father took me and my two brothers to Los Angeles to attend the great revival meetings being held there by the Chicago evangelist, Dr. Paul Rader. We joined hundreds of others that night in making our personal commitments to Christ and Christian service."
Graham was born in Charlotte on Nov. 7, 1918, the son of a successful farmer. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but at the age of 16 he went through the sort of conversion experience that was a firm part of Southern culture and resolved to become a preacher. To satisfy his parents, he tried three months at ultra-fundamentalist Bob Jones University (named after a famous evangelist), found it too restrictive and moved on to the Florida Bible Institute. In 1939 he was ordained a Baptist minister and went on to get a B.A. at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., the most academically respectable of the nation's evangelical institutions.
For a year, Graham served as a pastor in a small church in Western Springs, Ill., and then became a barnstorming evangelist for the Youth for Christ movement. His big break came in 1949 in Los Angeles, where he managed to convert several well-known figures, including a gangster, and caught the attention of William Randolph Hearst. The publisher reportedly sent a wire to his staffers: "Puff Graham." The evangelist says that he does not know to this day why Hearst singled him out and insists that he "never had communications with him at all." He says he is now checking out a tip that Hearst heard about him from one of his maids who had attended a Graham rally.
Graham's theology -- what might be called enlightened fundamentalism -- is a major part of his appeal for millions of people. His views have altered somewhat over the years, but his basic approach has remained steadfast.
Graham says that he can't prove the existence of God but that he knows He exists because "there were periods when I felt like God was actually talking to me -- not physically, but in my heart." He things of Jesus as one who had "a very strong face and a very magnetic personality filled with tremendous charisma." Graham believes in the existence of a "personal" devil and demons and says that heaven is actually a physical place, though not necessarily in our particular solar system. "Some people have speculated that it's the North Star," he said. "But this is all speculative."
Each person has a choice to make regarding whether he goes to heaven or hell, Graham believes. "Man rebelled against God, and so he was separated from God by sin. Christ died, was buried and He rose again, and men need to repent of their sins and receive Him as their Savior. That in a nutshell is my message. I approach it from a hundred different angles, and I illustrate it in a thousand different ways. But that essentially is my message every night."
Graham sees this sort of judgment as an outgrowth of God's love. "God could have just come and patted man on the back and said, "You're forgiven, so be reconciled." But then God would not have been just, and God is primarily and basically a God of justice and holiness. He would have been a liar. He said, 'If you break My law, you'll die.' Man had to die. So death came upon the world -- physical death, spiritual death, eternal death." And what about those who never hear the Gospel preached? Do they automatically go to hell? "I don't like to speculate beyond what the Bible teaches," the evangelist replies. "You see, God hasn't intended to reveal everything to us. He doesn't try to satisfy curious minds. I think God is going to judge every man on the basis of the light that he has. And he'll make no mistakes. Nobody will deceive God. He knows our faults and our instincts. He knows the pressures."
Some of Graham's early ideas have been tempered. He no longer draws vivid verbal pictures of the fires of hell, nor does he still assert that heaven is 1,600 miles in each direction.
But he is still willing to describe in detail the way in which Christ will return to earth and rule for 1,000 years. Christ will govern as a king because "God's perfect form of government is monarchy," and there will still be "hotels and cities and worlds and ships sailing the sea." Graham believes that there are signs that the beginning of this age is near because 27 relevant Biblical prophecies have now been fulfilled including the reunification of Jerusalem during the six-day war.
The evangelist has a varied constituency. A typical crowd at one of his rallies includes a broad cross-section of lower-middle and middle-class society, with a substantial majority of women. He and his aides say that in recent years the percentage of young persons has increased considerably and that they are planning to increase the number of youth nights for just this reason. Critics claim that Graham appeals largely to social outcasts and those in search of some sort of escape. There is an aura of middle-class respectability to his rallies, however, and those who attend are largely typical of the membership of Protestant churches everywhere. Half of the seats every night are reserved for organized groups, primarily from local churches, and a majority of those who go forward to make a "decision for Christ" already have some association with a church.
A Greenwich, Conn., investment banker summed up Graham's appeal to many persons during a recent conversation on an airplane. He said that he didn't go to church but that he had already made plans to attend one of the rallies in the Garden. "I figure that anybody who brings them in like he does must be a pretty good salesman and showman," he remarked. He also described Graham as comforting. "He's talking about a part of America that doesn't exist any more and probably never did. But it's a part of America that people want to relate to -- the old-time-religion-Little-Brown-Churc h-in-the-Vale sort of thing. And let's face it, it's nice to get away from all of the problems of the cities and the universities for an hour and listen to someone who sees everything in such simple terms. Instead of smoking pot, you go hear Billy Graham."
The evangelist takes the position that social action is not at the heart of the Gospel. "My goal is the salvation of the individual," he says. "These other things are on the periphery, and while I'm greatly concerned with them as a human being, the thing that will really count a hundred years from now is whether this man really found Christ."
This attitude challenges a basic theological trend of our day -- the attempt to address man in his strength rather than in his weakness. Modern industrial man has become increasingly able to answer his questions and solve his problems without what the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the "God hypothesis." Present-day theologians tend to reject a Christianity that speaks largely to man's helplessness and ignorance. They find theological meaning in man's conquest of his God-given environment and see God working through man to solve social problems.
For Graham, however, man's weakness remains all-important. The admission of powerlessness and guilt is the necessary prelude to conversion, and this applies both to the personal and the social spheres. He is fascinated not by the complexities and ambiguities of racial conflict, poverty and war but by their very existence as problems. They stand as irrefutable proofs of man's sinfulness and need for repentance. Insofar as he deals with the solution to such problems, he consequently becomes essentially utopian. If social problems are signs of man's rejection of God, their solution must lie down the road of salvation. "I don't think we're going to solve [the race problem] apart from some radical change," he said, "and that change is not going to take place until Christ comes back again and rules as a benevolent monarch."
Graham's theology has won him millions of adherents, but it has also made him a controversial figure in religious ranks. The Council of Churches of the City of New York sponsored his previous crusade here but never seriously considered sponsoring this one. The Rev. Robert Edgar, pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church, speaks for many church liberals when he calls Graham "escapist" and complains that Protestantism in New York has enough problems without another Graham crusade. "Any intelligent person who might be about to become involved in the church," he says, "will be driven away for good if he takes Graham seriously."
The evangelist's relationship with extreme fundamentalists is also poor. One reason has been his openness toward the ecumenical movement and his participation in meetings of both the National and World Councils of Churches. Bob Jones University has declared Graham crusades off-limits to its students, and when Bob Jones himself died recently, at a time when Graham was ill, Jones's son sent a telegram warning that the evangelist's personal representative would not be welcome at the funeral. One result of Graham's ecumenism has been beneficial, however. Twelve years ago, when Graham began his crusade here, the Roman Catholic Chancery instructed all pastors to preach a series of sermons on the fundamentals of Catholicism. Nothing similar has occurred this time around, and the lines of communication between Cardinal Cooke and Evangelist Graham are open. "He's one of the most gracious, gentle, sweet, godly men that I know," says Graham of Cooke. "He's the type of man I'd go to for counsel and advice."
When Graham does speak to social issues, his views are characteristically conservative. He has taken an ambivalent position on Vietnam: early in the war he called on the country to "get in with all we've got in Vietnam or get out," and now he professes uncertainty about everything except that it's "over-Americanized." He is deeply concerned about the ruling against prayer in schools and finds it "very interesting to note that the prayer rulings have almost paralleled the disturbances in our schools." He is suspicious about miliary research on university campuses but backs R.O.T.C. there on the grounds that eliminating it could "easily lead to development of an officer lite as happened in Germany." Graham thinks that universities need to be restructured because they are too big and impersonal, but he is against giving students a voice in policymaking. He in the past identified Christianity with capitalism, but of late somewhat softened this stance.
Such views were given an enthusiastic reception recently at a communion breakfast of the St. George Association, the organization of Protestant policemen in New York, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He began his talk with a paraphrase of the section from Romans 13 on the obligation to submit to authority, substituting the word "policeman" for "authorities." "The Bible teaches that the policeman is an agent and servant of God," he declared, "and the authority that he has is given to him not only by the city and the state but is given to him by Almighty God. So you have a tremendous responsibility at this hour of revolution and anarchy and rebellion against all authority that is sweeping across our nation."
Graham then listed a number of "sirens" that are trying to lure the country onto the rocks with their seductive voices. These included the notion that "crime can be reduced by our present approach." He said that "something is wrong when the Supreme Court makes ruling after ruling that protects individual rights but opens up a Pandora's box of criminal activity." Then he told of a country he'd visited where there had been a rash of rapes until the reinstated use of the cat-o'-nine-tails.
The major Graham rallies are more elaborate affairs, lasting about 90 minutes. During the first half-hour there are hymns and greetings to delegations and prayers and invitations to contribute to the crusade. Then the television cameras begin to grind; the choir sings, a celebrity (Bobby Richardson of the Yankees was a recent example) gives his personal testimony, there is a vocal solo.
Then Graham enters, unobtrusively, without introduction. He speaks for about 40 minutes. His long arms fly about like windmills, slicing the atmosphere into a thousand tiny pieces. His fists pound the lectern, and he brandishes his index fingers like a two-gun sheriff in Dodge City.
Graham insists that he does not play on people's emotions in the manner of old-time evangelists. But he admits to using the emotions of fear and guilt to some degree. "Fear is a legitimate thing if it's used correctly. We have a lot of rattlesnakes around our house. And I teach my children to beware. That's a legitimate fear. By the same token, I believe there is a coming judgment." Then he adds: "People have guilt now everywhere. They're conscious of it. I can see it in the mail that pours in. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. The danger would be if I were not offering any relief from guilt. This is what motion pictures do. They get the emotions aroused, but there's no relief."
Ultimately, though, the guilt Graham arouses is the sort that will not make any middle-class American too uncomfortable. The sins he attacks are those of Elizabeth Taylor or Mark Rudd or the Communists -- not those of the men and women in his audience. And ultimately, the message is reassuring.
Forty-nine minutes into the television show, a white light flashes on the lectern warning him that five minutes of video time remain. (There is a green light for two minutes and a red one for one minute.) He delivers his invitation to the crowd to make a "decision for Christ" and the massive choir softly sings "Just As I Am" and the crowds began to move slowly down the elevators and the aisles to make their religious commitment. Graham turns to the television cameras and makes an appeal directly to them; the cameras record the crowds moving forward and the voice of Cliff Barrows, Graham's longtime music director, signs off. Back at the rally, Graham is making sure that no practical problems will interfere with a possible "decision." "Don't worry," he says to the crowd, "the buses and your friends will wait."
It is not entirely clear exactly what the signing of a decision card means. Graham and his aides technically refer to those who sign as "inquirers." Statistics on the number who "keep the faith" vary with the viewpoint of the person doing the survey. Some hostile studies show virtually none. Graham's people claim that 80 percent remain permanently affected in some way or other. For many, if not most of those who go forward the decision seems to be little more than an affirmation of vaguely spiritual intentions that are somehow difficult to disentangle from The American Way of Life. "You get a pat answer to all the nagging questions of modern living," says a former associate, "and he's such an obviously nice guy. You go forward in the presence of thousands of others like you're wrapped in a massive security blanket. All you do is walk down the aisle and get eternal life. Where else can you get a bargain like that?" Graham and his colleagues, however, can cite endless stories of individuals who have had their lives changed at one of his rallies, and even if the number of these is only a small percentage, they say, this justifies the whole thing.
Though Graham's ideas may not be ultra-modern, his methods are. He is conscious that he is speaking to what he terms an "electronic generation" and has adapted the techniques of Dwight L. Moody and other predecessors -- promotional campaigns, the use of non-church buildings, advance men, fund raising among prominent businessmen. Everything, as much as possible, is reduced to a science. Thus his staff is able to predict that on any given evening somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 percent of the audience will come forward and that on youth nights this figure will double.
The organization that makes this possible has offices in more than a dozen cities throughout the world and last year had operating expenses of $15,782,174. More than a third went for radio and television time. Each year three crusades are filmed and then shown in prime time on a syndicated basis. His weekly radio program, "The House of Dedication," is heard on 900 stations. Another $7-million or so goes to publish Decision magazine, which has a circulation of 3.5 million in five languages. World Wide Pictures, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Evangelistic Association, makes religious films which are shown in theaters, schools and churches around the country by a staff of 85 persons. "The Restless Ones," a melodrama aimed at teenagers, has been seen by 4.5 million persons in the last three and a half yeas and has produced more than 346,000 "decisions for Christ." The association also owns Grayson Company, a taxpaying firm that distributes Graham's writings and other religious literature, books and records. Graham is helped by nine associate evangelists based in Atlanta. They help him with his major crusades and conduct more than 100 campaigns of their own every year in cities of all sizes.
Graham himself operates out of his home and a small office in Montreat, but the headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is in Minneapolis and under the direction of George Wilson, who set up the association in the early fifties when Graham started receiving more mail than he could handle himself. Wilson is a short, dark-haired man with a brisk manner and a businesslike dedication to the cause. His imagination has produced a variety of spiritual products ranging from the Billy Graham Pavilion at the New York World's Fair to an "Hour of Decision" key ring with postage stamp-sized cards that pull out to reveal Bible verses suitable for any personal crisis that might arise.
Wilson is proud to take visitors on a tour of the premises, which are clean and neat and obviously terribly efficient. He takes you through the library and the research section where thousands of articles by or about Graham are being catalogued for scholarly use. There are the well-stocked photo library and the locked room where incoming mail is screened for contributions and the stock rooms for items the public can buy -- records and key chains and books like "Meals from Manse: Favorite Recipes from the Wives of Great Preachers with Devotional Gems for Homemakers." Spiritual problems have been broken down into 35 or 40 categories, with form letters for each, but there is also a staff of pastors to write individual responses for those with out-of-the-ordinary woes.
At the end of the tour Wilson takes you into a small chapel and pushes a button on the back wall. The lights begin to dim, and the curtain divides to reveal a larger-than-life painting of Jesus with his hands opened toward you. An organ sounds and a deep voice is heard: "He comes to some as One unknown." For seven minutes the voice speaks in the semi-darkness, telling of the death of Jesus on the cross; gradually the darkness deepens until only a solitary circle of light shines upon Jesus' face. But then comes the Resurrection, and the light returns, and the organ peals forth in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Then the mood turns solemn again, and the deep voice asserts that everyone must face Pilate's problem of what to do about Jesus. "Will you accept or reject him. This is life's great decision."
The financial scope of the operation is impressive, but Graham is careful not to be tarred with the Elmer Gantry brush. Billy Sunday was known to have accepted more than $1-million in unaccounted-for "love offerings," but Graham has gone to great lengths to dispel any suspicion that he is seeking primarily to do well by doing good. He personally receives no funds from the crusades he leads, living on a fixed yearly salary of $24,500. Money matters are entirely handled by others; Graham refuses even to write a check. There is some personal income from family property in Charlotte and from book royalties, but this is in a special trust for his wife and children and he has no control over it. As for the crusades, a corporation is set up in each city to receive and dispense all monies, and it must publish an audited accounting immediately after the crusade is done.
The magnitude of Graham's success has led to a longtime familiarity with the White House. He got off to a bad start with Harry Truman when the evangelist emerged from a conference with the President and knelt down on the White House lawn to show reporters how the prayer session had proceeded.
Graham was not a close friend of the late President Eisenhower but used to meet with him once or twice a year. The evangelist likes to tell about the time he was called out of the shower at Burning Tree and spent 15 minutes talking to Eisenhower and then Vice President Nixon in the locker room with nothing but a towel around his waist. After Eisenhower left the White House, he and Graham sometimes played golf together. On the day of the general's funeral, Mrs. Eisenhower asked Graham to stop by to see her. Shortly after Eisenhower's death, Graham felt led to tell a radio interviewer that the President "not only believed in an afterlife, but he was looking forward to it."
Graham got off to a potentially disastrous start with President Kennedy by getting Norman Vincent Peale to attend a Washington meeting of clergymen to discuss the religious issue during the campaign. The session backfired, with charges of anti-Catholicism filling the air, and Peale's prestige suffered irreparable damage. Graham himself, however, had not attended the meeting. Kennedy later invited him over on four or five occasions.
Graham was a regular White House visitor whenever he was in town during the Johnson Administration. In fact, he was there during the first hours of the L.B.J. Presidency. "People don't know it," Johnson told one interviewer, "but Billy Graham spent two or three nights in the White House. He got up at 3 in the morning and got down on his knees and prayed for me. At 6 he'd have coffee with me, and we'd talk over the problems facing the country." In a speech to a group of Southern Baptists, Johnson said jokingly that he had kept the White House swimming pool full largely for the sake of his Baptist acquaintances. "I wish you could have seen Billy Graham and Bill Moyers in that pool together one day," he said. "Everyone else was already a Christian, so they took turns baptizing each other."
Aides say that Graham also used to visit Johnson at the Texas ranch and stay up until well past midnight discussing Vietnam and other crises. He was a frequent participant in the famous tours of the Johnson ranch. Graham says hat he approached Johnson once -- on a subject he won't reveal -- but that normally Johnson asked him to come by, often when the President faced serious problems. "Most of them would be personal, like with Walter Jenkins," says the evangelist. "If I happened to be in England, I'd come back and spend a couple of nights with him -- things like that."
Graham says that he developed a deep affection for Johnson. "I love to be around him, because I love Texas, and he's all Texas. And I think you have to be in that Pedernales river valley to understand President Johnson. I understand a little bit of the background of where he came from and where his roots were and what made him tick. And the things people thought of as crude were not crude to me, because I had been there, and I knew that that is the part of Texas he came from."
Graham's relation to Nixon is obviously the deepest of all and poses special problems. The evangelist claims that he has received more than 3,000 requests since the election to use his influence in behalf of persons seeking favors. He says that he once went to see President Kennedy for a staff member who feared he was about to lose his job but adds, "I think that was the only time I've ever done anything like that with any President. I wrote Mr. Nixon a letter and said that I will not use my friendship with him for any of these people."
Shortly after the election last fall Graham and Nixon went to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church together, and Graham noticed that the President-elect was getting a little fidgety. "Mr. Nixon leaned over to me and said, 'Billy, I notice they're going to take up a collection, and I don't have any money on me.'" So Graham lent him what he thinks was a $10 bill.
Several weeks later Graham began his service as the de facto Presidential chaplain with a 600-word inaugural prayer that bordered on being a political treatise. He confessed to God that the nation had become too "materialistic and permissive" and that its citizens have "sown the wind and are now reaping a whirlwind of crime, division and rebellion." He asked God for a "moral and spiritual restoration" in the land and gave thanks that "in Thy sovereignty Thou hast permitted Richard Nixon to lead us at this momentous hour of our history."
There has been speculation from time to time that Graham himself might enter politics. But he has consistently turned down offers to serve on government commissions and has usually resisted efforts to involve him in the fray -- including an organized campaign that produced, he says, 2.2 million telegrams urging him to support Barry Goldwater in 1964. He admits that he considered politics once in the early fifties when he was approached by Democratic leaders in North Carolina about running for the Senate, but he turned them down. He says that politics would sidetrack him from his real calling. He also feels that it could endanger his radio ministry: "If I got into politics the Federal Communications Commission would be after me overnight."
Graham has found that success has its price. There have been several incidents involving intruders, and this has led to the gate and the signs and the dogs at night. There is also a direct emergency radio hook-up to the local sheriff's office. He and his wife have taken pains to keep their children, three girls and two boys, out of the public limelight; they rarely, for example, attend his crusades
Because he is tall and has a distinctive face, Graham cannot travel without being recognized, and he is forced to eat most of his meals in his hotel room. He refuses to use a private jet, feeling that this would be an extravagant use of his followers' donations, so he travels by commercial airliner, wearing dark glasses and a hat. Once, on the way from New York to Charlotte, a large man, obviously drunk, was a fellow passenger. The man was flirting with the stewardess and at one point tried to help the pilot fly the plane. In an effort to ease the situation, a friend of Graham's leaned over to the man and whispered, "Do you know Billy Graham is sitting over there?" As Graham tells it, "The fellow got up and swore and exclaimed, 'You don't say.' He came over to me and asked, 'You Billy Graham?' I said that I was, and he stuck out his hand and said, 'Well, boy, put it there. Your sermons sure have helped me.'"
In moments of reflection, Graham admits that he sometimes misses anonymity. "I remember in 'The Shoes of the Fisherman' the cardinal who was taking care of the pope told him, 'The longer you're in that office, the office of pope, the lonelier that chair will get.' There is a loneliness to it. There are a very few people that I can really open to and share my total heart with who wouldn't go out and tell it. I have people sharing their problems all day long, but I, too, have problems, and I have to keep my own counsel. I can only share them, really, in the privacy of my room with God and with my wife."
Graham appears to be a contented man, though, and says that he is sustained by a faith that what he is doing is not entirely of his own making. He says he used to have doubts about what he preaches, but this was a long time ago. He professes some amazement at the success he has had and attributes it to the fact that he has stuck closely to the Bible and has never attempted to establish institutions that would compete with the churches for members. He also believes that God has singled him out for a particular kind of leadership at this particular time in history. "If anything bothers me," he said, "it is the thought that at Judgment Day I may find that I have not been as faithful as some other minister who is slugging it out day after day with few visible achievements in a storefront in Harlem."
Does he have some sort of special gift? "Yes," he said. "At the invitation. I believe that there's a gift that God has given me in asking people to come forward and make a commitment to Christ at the end of my sermons. And in the 5 minutes, or the 10 minutes, that this appeal lasts, when I'm standing there, not saying a word, it's when most of my strength leaves me. I cannot explain that. I don't usually get tired quickly. But I get tired in the invitation. This is when I become exhausted. I don't know what it is, but something is going out at the moment."
Like that of the Presidents he serves, his responsibility is a heavy one.