Pastor to Presidents: 13 Presidents Evangelist Billy Graham Ministered To
Evangelist Billy Graham, one of the most influential Christian leaders in the last century, passed away in Montreat, N.C., on Wednesday. He was 99 years old, and he had preached to millions — including to the last 13 U.S. presidents.
“Whether the story of Christ is told in a huge stadium, across the desk of a powerful leader, or shared with a golfing companion, it satisfies a common hunger. All over the world, whenever I meet people face-to-face, I am made aware of this personal need among the famous and successful, as well as the lonely and obscure," Graham said.
Every U.S. president since World War II has met with Graham, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who sought Graham the most, also offered him high positions in government, which the evangelist "quickly and politely refused."
Without further ado, here are the photos of Graham after or during his meeting with each president, from Harry Truman to Donald Trump.
1. Harry Truman (1950).
In July 1950, Graham met with President Harry Truman at the White House, to pray for the Korean crisis before the U.S. entered the Korean War.
Without any briefing on protocol, Graham spoke with Truman, bringing his three colleagues Jerry Beavan, Clifford Barrows, and Grady Wilson. Truman told Graham he lived by the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The two prayed together, and years later Graham visited Truman at his home in Independence, Mo.
2. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1961).
President Dwight D. Eisenhower met Billy Graham numerous times throughout his presidency. “Eisenhower was the first President that really asked my counsel in depth when he was sending troops into Little Rock,” Graham recalled, according to the BGEA. Graham was referring to the military escort for the "Little Rock Nine," nine black students who attended a previously white school and were escorted there on September 24, 1957.
Graham visited Eisenhower on his death bed, where they spoke about the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. After praying with Graham, the former president said he was ready to die.
Eisenhower once called Graham "one of the best ambassadors our country has but he told me, 'I am an ambassador of heaven.'"
3. John F. Kennedy (1961).
President John F. Kennedy met with Graham four days before he was inaugurated, and the evangelist spoke at the president's funeral. "We drove around in JFK's white Lincoln convertible," Graham recalled of the meeting in early 1961. "During our conversations, I became aware that he was concerned about the moral and spiritual condition of the nation.”
During Kennedy's funeral in 1963, he stood about 30 feet from Mrs. Kennedy and the family.
4. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963).
According to the BGEA, Graham was closer to President Lyndon Johnson than he was to any other president. The evangelist was invited to Johnson's family ranch several times, and he spent more than 20 nights at the White House during Johnson's tenure. Every time Graham prayed with LBJ, the president would get down on his knees to pray.
In a letter to Graham, Johnson wrote, "My mind went back to those lonely occasions at the White House when your friendship helped sustain a President in an hour of trial."
5. Richard Nixon (1969).
Graham had been friends with (future) President Richard Nixon since 1950. Beneath the surface, Graham found Nixon "warm and compassionate, quite different from popular caricatures," the BGEA reported. Nixon strongly believed his Quaker faith.
When Graham visited, Nixon asked him to pray with him and read the Bible. In the last year of Nixon's presidency, he did not invite Graham to the White House. A Nixon associate later passed on the reason why. Nixon reportedly said, "Don't let Billy Graham near me, I don't want him tarred with Watergate."
6. Gerald Ford (1974).
Graham had a friendship with (future) President Gerald Ford before Nixon resigned in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. Ford hosted Graham many times at the White House. Indeed, he even defended inviting Graham over, answering critics.
“I’ve heard the comments from some sources that Billy mixes politics with religion. I never felt that and I don’t think that thousands and thousands of people who listen to him felt that," Ford said. "Billy dropped by the Oval Office on several occasions while I was President. They were get-togethers of old friends. They had no political or other significance.”
7. Jimmy Carter (1976).
Graham had a friendship with President Jimmy Carter before he entered the Oval Office. “Billy and Ruth Graham have been to visit us both in the governor’s mansion in Georgia and in the White House,” Carter testified. “His reputation is above reproach or suspicion.”
In 1966, Carter chaired a film crusade to bring the gospel to Americus, Ga., and as governor, he served as honorary chairman of the Atlanta Crusade.
8. Ronald Reagan (1981).
Graham met Ronald Reagan a year after he married Nancy, and he rushed to Washington, D.C., after the attempt on Reagan's life in 1981. "I remember when Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild, a union leader, and a very strong Democrat," Graham recalled.
Reagan testified, "It was through Billy Graham that I found myself praying even more than on a daily basis ... and that in the position I held, that my prayers more and more were to give me the wisdom to make decisions that would serve God and be pleasing to Him."
9. George H.W. Bush (1989).
Graham said he found George H.W. Bush more willing to talk about spiritual issues, "easier than other Presidents I have met. He says straight out that he has received Christ as his Savior and that he is a born-again believer."
Graham prayed with President Bush and his wife Barbara at the White House in 1991, the night the Gulf War began. "Billy Graham has been an inspiration in my life," Bush said. "It is my firm belief that no one can be President ... without understanding the power of prayer, without faith. And Billy Graham helped me understand that."
Bush joined Carter and Bill Clinton at the dedication for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., in 2007. In a statement Wednesday, Bush hailed Graham as "America's pastor." The former president added, "I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend."
10. Bill Clinton (1993).
Bill Clinton remembered Billy Graham long before Graham knew Clinton. "When I was a small boy, about 12 years old, Billy Graham came to Little Rock, Arkansas, to preach a Crusade," Clinton said. He recalled the event because Graham refused to segregate the audience racially.
Clinton joined Graham at a crusade in Little Rock while he was governor of Arkansas in 1989. Graham later visited Clinton in the Oval Office.
"Billy and Ruth Graham have practiced the ministry of ... being friends with Presidents of both parties ... always completely private, always completely genuine," Clinton said.
11. George W. Bush (2001).
As with Clinton, Billy Graham influenced George W. Bush long before he became president. In his 1999 campaign autobiography A Charge to Keep, Bush said a private talk with Graham in 1985 inspired a turning point in his faith. Graham's words planted the "mustard seed in my soul" that eventually led to a decision to "recommit my heart to Jesus Christ."
He visited Bush many times in the White House.
12. Barack Obama (2010).
President Barack Obama visited Graham at his home in Montreat, N.C., in 2010. He was the first sitting president to meet Graham at his home, where the two prayed together. A White House spokesman said Obama was "extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him." Graham also said he was pleased to have the president visit his home.
13. Donald Trump (2013).
President Donald Trump never hosted Graham at the White House, but he did meet the evangelist in November 2013, at Graham's 95th birthday party. Graham's ministry has continued with his son, Franklin Graham, the current president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham has prayed with Trump many times.
As news of Graham's death broke, Trump tweeted that "There was nobody like him!" The president added that the "very special man" will "be missed by Christians and all religions."
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that "Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, 'well done good and faithful servant.' Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you."