Last night I finally watched a videotape of the ABC special program a few weeks ago, Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents. (The link is to an article about the show, but unfortunately the show itself is not posted on abc.com.)
It shows the longing of the presidents to connect with someone with whom they could be authentically themselves. And the way Billy Graham has consistently been himself throughout his ministry. The question kept being raised by anchor Charles Gibson, did Graham use the presidents, and did they use him? Using of others involves a borrowing of self from the other, which occurs to some degree in every relationship, and perhaps even more among powerful people. But the presidents interviewed, and first ladies Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, all seemed to have a sense that they could express their authentic selves with Graham. Clearly he had challenged the Clintons as he worked with them post-Monica. No one said anything about challenges he had offered from a moral perspective about the great events of the day. Every pastor has to deal with that prophetic-pastoral tension and Graham no doubt more than most in these relationshps.
Spiritual leader meets political leaders. An opportunity for growth on both sides, and for being co-opted on both sides. Graham apparently learned something from his experiences with Nixon, and was more careful with succeeding presidents not to be viewed as supporting a particular political position. A fascinating slice of American history, as the program noted, unlikely to come again in quite the same way.
I always admired Graham’s willingness to take stands, on issues such as integration and cooperating with mainline churches, for his financial and sexual integrity, for his consistency of message. He is who he is, and at the same time he has clearly learned from his experience over the years.