These Are the Presidents Who Were Friends With Billy Graham (and Whether Donald Trump Was One of Them)
Most Americans are familiar with Billy Graham, the late pastor who became the most iconic evangelist in the nation. Many people turned to Graham for advice, including many American presidents. In fact, The New York Times reports that many presidents, recognizing Graham’s influence, made a point of conferring with him.
Read on to learn about all the presidents who met or became friends with Billy Graham. And find out whether Donald Trump also got advice from the influential evangelist.
1. Harry S. Truman became the first president to meet Billy Graham
- 33rd president of the United States
According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Harry S. Truman became the first president to meet with Billy Graham. Business Insider reports that in 1950, the 31-year-old minister met with Truman to discuss ways to combat communism in North Korea. But as the publication explains, Graham’s “first presidential encounter didn’t end well. Graham shared details of the conversation with the press, and Truman severed their fledgling relationship.”
As Time reports, “Graham’s meetings with every President since Harry Truman were no accident: both the preacher and the presidents had their reasons — sometimes spiritual, sometimes political, usually both — for getting together. Truman was something of an exception.”A front-page picture of Graham kneeling on the White House lawn infuriated Truman. And as Time notes, “it would be many years before they crossed paths again.”
Next: This president was the first to become close with Billy Graham.
2. Dwight Eisenhower developed a close relationship with Billy Graham
- 34th president of the United States
Business Insider notes that Billy Graham got a second chance at a relationship with a president when Dwight Eisenhower assumed office. (And as Time adds, the minister became much more discreet about his visits to the Oval Office.) Graham helped Eisenhower craft an inaugural prayer. Politico characterizes Eisenhower as the first president who really became close with Graham.
As Time notes, Eisenhower even “mused about recruiting Graham as a speechwriter, to help in the fight against ‘Godless communism.'” Eisenhower also took Graham’s advice during the 1957 Little Rock Crisis, when African American students were prevented from attending Little Rock Central High School. Graham urged Eisenhower to intervene. And Graham counseled Eisenhower as the latter recovered from a heart attack and, later, as he was dying.
Next: Billy Graham didn’t want this president to get elected.
3. John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign concerned Billy Graham
- 35th president of the United States
During the 1960 presidential election, Billy Graham opposed John F. Kennedy and supported Richard Nixon. The New York Times reports that Graham grew concerned that a Kennedy administration would be influenced by the Vatican. So he convened a meeting of more than two dozen Protestant leaders to discuss ways to defeat the presidential candidate.
Nonetheless, Time reports that Kennedy “sought out Graham for a round of golf in Palm Beach immediately after the 1960 election — a close-fought campaign in which religion had played a central role.” The publication reports that a Catholic priest referred to a photograph of Kennedy with Graham as “pure 14-carat gold, to be laid away at five percent interest until the day of reckoning.” And for the record, Business Insider reports that Graham’s views on Catholicism evolved.
Next: This president often invited Graham to the White House.
4. Lyndon B. Johnson frequently invited Billy Graham to the White House
- 36th president of the United States
The New York Times reports that Lyndon B. Johnson “assiduously” made a point of “seeking friendly relations” with Billy Graham. Time notes that Johnson summoned Graham to the White House soon after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The publication reports that “what had been planned as a 15-minute visit stretched into hours, and included a skinny dip in the White House pool — though that encounter was not photographed.”
Graham returned many times to the Johnson White House. Business Insider reports that the minister later said that he “almost used the White House as a hotel when Johnson was President,” so frequently did Johnson want him there. Politico reports that Johnson asked Graham to go to Selma, Alabama, in 1965 to help calm racial tensions. Graham even spent Johnson’s last weekend in the White House with the president in 1969, and remained at the White House to spend the first night with the Nixons.
Next: Graham grew close to this president, and their relationship eventually hurt his reputation.
5. Richard Nixon developed a close relationship with Billy Graham
- 37th president of the United States
The New York Times reports that of all of the presidents with whom he met, Billy Graham is most closely associated with Richard Nixon. The pair met in the early 1950s, when Nixon was serving as a senator from California. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Graham — despite his registration as a Democrat — offered Nixon advice in his campaign against John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic.
The Times notes that Graham gave the invocation at Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. And he came to be described as Nixon’s unofficial White House chaplain. Graham also looked the other way as Nixon’s Watergate scandal unfolded, which tainted his reputation. And when Nixon’s Oval Office tapes were declassified, it came to light that Graham had been recorded agreeing with many of Nixon’s anti-Semitic statements. Graham apologized for the remarks and acknowledged that he was “wrong for not disagreeing with the president.”
Next: This president played golf with Graham.
6. Gerald Ford played golf with Billy Graham
- 38th president of the United States
Time reports that Gerald Ford played golf with Billy Graham. According to Business Insider, Graham referred to Ford as “a man of tremendous integrity” in his book Ask Billy Graham. In addition to playing golf together, the pair met for a prayer session after Ford’s inauguration as president.
Business Insider notes that many of Ford’s advisors wanted the president to distance himself from Graham due to the pastor’s association with Nixon. Ford didn’t comply, and Business Insider notes that Graham may have even urged Ford to pardon Nixon.
Next: This president idolized Graham in his youth.
7. Jimmy Carter idolized Billy Graham
- 39th president of the United States
Time reports that Billy Graham visited Jimmy Carter and his wife in the White House. Business Insider characterizes both Carter and Graham as “devout Southern Baptists.” (Graham was brought up Presbyterian and later became a Baptist.) Carter “idolized” Graham in his youth, according to a biographer. Nonetheless, Graham skipped Carter’s first inauguration and seemed to favor his rival, Gerald Ford.
According to The New York Times, Jimmy Carter released a statement after Billy Graham’s death “saying that he had counted Mr. Graham among his advisers and friends, adding that the minister had ‘had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life.”
Next: This president convinced Graham that movies weren’t sinful.
8. Ronald Reagan had a decades-long relationship with Billy Graham
- 40th president of the United States
The New York Times reports that Ronald Reagan frequently entertained Billy Graham. Business Insider reports that the pair met at a charity benefit in 1953, long before Reagan became president. Reagan, then a Hollywood actor, managed to convince Graham that movies weren’t inherently sinful.
Time reports that Graham’s relationship with Reagan spanned more than 50 years, from 1952 until Reagan’s death in 2004. The two weren’t always on good terms, and Graham displeased the Reagan administration in 1982 when, following a visit to the Soviet Union, he spoke in favor of nuclear disarmament. Yet Reagan invited Graham to state dinners and private prayer sessions. And he also awarded Graham the Presidential Medal of Honor.
Next: This president wanted Graham at the White House as a war began.
9. George H.W. Bush invited Billy Graham to the White House on the eve of the first Gulf War
- 41st president of the United States
Business Insider reports that Billy Graham maintained a close relationship with George H.W. Bush. The New York Times reports that in January 1991, the day before American-led forces began bombing in Iraq, Bush invited Graham to spend the night at the White House.
In a statement released after Graham’s death, Bush referred to the minister as “America’s pastor.” Bush also wrote, ” I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. . . He was a mentor to several of my children.” Additionally, the Graham and Bush families vacationed together on a number of different occasions. Bush also asked Graham to lead Bible talks for his children. And Business Insider reports that during Bush’s inauguration, Graham left the parade to spend time with the president’s ailing mother.
Next: This president turned to Graham for help during a major scandal.
10. Bill Clinton asked for Billy Graham’s help during the Monica Lewinsky scandal
- 42nd president of the United States
The New York Times reports that Bill Clinton asked Billy Graham to offer prayers at his 1993 inauguration. Time notes that Clinton first heard Graham preach when the future president was a 13-year-old in Arkansas. Later, “when his marriage to Hillary Clinton hit the rocks 39 years later in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it was to Graham that the couple turned for help.”
The Times adds that Clinton said at the 2007 dedication of the Billy Graham Library, “When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel like he is praying for you, not the president.” Business Insider reports that Clinton honored Graham and his wife with the Congressional Medal of Honor. In a statement, Clinton referred to the minister as “one of the most important religious leaders in American history.”
Next: Graham helped this president become serious about his faith.
11. George W. Bush credited Billy Graham with helping become serious about his faith
- 43rd president of the United States
According to The New York Times, George W. Bush credits Billy Graham with helping him to decide to become more serious about his faith — and to quit drinking. Bush knew the minister through his parents, and the two would take walks together at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
One of those walks reportedly proved transformative for Bush. Bush wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “It was the beginning to a new walk where I would recommit my heart to Jesus Christ.” Nonetheless, Graham never visited the younger Bush in the White House, likely in part because of the minister’s growing health issues.
Next: This president met Graham at his home.
12. Barack Obama met Billy Graham at the minister’s home
- 44th president of the United States
The New York Times reports that Barack Obama visited Billy Graham at the pastor’s North Carolina home in 2010. Time reports that during that meeting, Graham presented Obama with two Bibles: one for the president and one for the first lady.
During that visit, Obama and Graham also prayed for one another. The pair discussed their passion for golf, their experiences in Chicago, and their wives, though Ruth Graham had passed away in 2007.
Next: Donald Trump met Graham, too.
13. Donald Trump met Billy Graham at Graham’s birthday party
- 45th president of the United States
Billy Graham made fewer public appearances in the last years of his life due to his health. But Donald Trump, along with Melania Trump, met Graham at his 95th birthday celebration in 2013. Business Insider reports that Graham’s son, Franklin, has allied himself with Trump. The younger Graham once said, “I believe it was God” when asked how Trump won the presidency.
Upon hearing of Graham’s death, Donald Trump infamously tweeted, “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”
Next: Graham didn’t just build relationships with American presidents.
14. Billy Graham struck up a friendship with the queen of England
As Business Insider notes, Billy Graham didn’t just meet with American leaders during his long career as an evangelist. Graham also met with Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. The publication notes that Graham delivered a sermon for the queen in the royal family’s chapel on Easter Sunday.
Graham later wrote of the queen in his book Just As I Am, “She is unquestionably one of the best-informed people on world affairs I have ever met.” And in 2001, he received an honorary knighthood. Biography reports that Graham’s friendship with the queen spanned decades even though the queen serves as head of the Church of England and Graham was a Southern Baptist.
Next: Graham met with other world leaders, too.
15. Billy Graham got access to other world leaders, too
Bloomberg reports that Billy Graham’s reputation as “chaplain to the White House” got him access to not only to U.S. presidents, but also to “countries untouched by evangelical Christianity.” He met with leaders including Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. And Biography notes that Graham once shared a stage with Martin Luther King, Jr. and visited North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung.
In a January 2011 interview, Graham did express some regret about his involvement in politics. “I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places,” he explained. “People in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
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