Time Magazine’s Nancy Gibbs on Billy Graham and The Preacher And The Presidents
HH: He may be the most well-known American over the last fifty years. He may have spoken in person to more people than any other person in history. His name, of course, is Billy Graham, and he’s the subject of a brand new book by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Preacher And The Presidents. He’s always in the headlines, really, but Billy Graham is very much alive in this book, and Nancy Gibbs, welcome, what a wonderful effort you’ve put out here. This is just grand reading.
NG: Oh, I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. It was quite a project for us. We had no idea what we were going to discover before we got into this.
HH: Just give the parameters quickly when you began it.
NG: We began after the 2004 election, really out of frustration with all the misunderstanding about the role religion played in that race, and we…
HH: And how timely is it now with the Romney issue coming? In fact, as I read the account of the 1960 campaign, I was stunned by the parallels of what’s going on right now, although Dr. Graham, of course, not playing a big role here.
NG: I found that fascinating, too, and we’ve talked about that before, and you know, there are so many echoes, and because you have this fifty years sort of political ministry with so many presidents, which I always thought going into this was sort of just a public thing, that there is Billy Graham on Inauguration Day, I had no idea of all the private and very personal dimensions to it with all these presidents, Democrats and Republicans, and that was the real surprise to us.
HH: I’m going to jump around at the beginning, and then go chronologically through the presidents, beginning with Truman all the way to the current occupant of the Oval Office, George W. Bush. But first, I want to hit you with a couple of just the stunning little details, great reporting, by the way, Earl Warren leading a prayer vigil when Billy Graham is heading to England. I stopped and put the book down when I saw this. I said can you imagine the Chief Justice today doing such a thing, Nancy Gibbs?
NG: And the outcry that would happen. I mean, this was really what got us started. So much of the coverage, I think particularly of the last couple campaigns in the Bush presidency, suggest that this is all somehow new, and that the role that religion was playing was new, and there, fifty years ago, you have Earl Warren leading this prayer service, you have a prayer room being set up in the Capitol, you have Congress passing all of their laws about the Pledge of Allegiance, they inserted ‘Under God,’ they changed the currency to In God We Trust, all of these things happening, and it was non-controversial.
HH: But Billy Graham was basically the American ambassador to the world for a period of time in the 50’s.
NG: He was, and at this point, it was astonishing that sort of an unknown sawdust trail preacher five years before that could, by 1954, be going off to England. And you know, much to the shock of the British who were sort of horrified at the idea of this Yank coming over to save their souls, ended up, you know, filling Wembley Stadium night after night after night. You know, he was as astonishing a phenomenon there as he had been here. And by the time he came back, he really was recognized as being a kind of force that was unlike anything anyone had seen in that generation.
HH: And if people are wondering the level of detail about the presidents in this book, let me give a second anecdote, Billy Graham skinny dipping with LBJ. I’m not even sure I want to visualize that, but it’s a remarkable…did he get in the pool?
NG: He got in the…I mean, he was a country boy, so this is probably a less shocking proposition to him than to some people who we know would go to the White House for a meeting with the president of the United States, and have Johnson propose almost in mid-sentence that they all take a break, strip down, because of course, people don’t tuck a bathing suit into their briefcase when they’re going to the White House, and go to the White House pool for skinny dipping, and in this case, with Graham. It occurred just a couple of weeks after Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson is now in the White House. He’s reaching out in all directions, trying to establish his legitimacy as president. He summons his old friend Graham to come see him for a meeting which Graham thought would last fifteen minutes. It goes on for hours and hours, and it includes a skinny dip in the White House pool.
HH: It also includes many conversations at the ranch and other places about salvation. I don’t know how you got all this material, Nancy Gibbs. You and Michael Duffy must have been to all of the presidential libraries, and talked to everyone who’s been a biographer. I saw Doris Kearns Goodwin quoted here. Let me do my third one before we go a little bit more chronological, and that is Joe Kennedy realizing he had to bring his president-elect son together with Billy Graham, and using that great solvent of America, golf.
NG: You know, the Graham golf games with presidents would make their own book. But in this case, it’s four days before Inauguration Day, the country has been split down the middle, Protestant and Catholic, through that whole campaign, and Joe Kennedy realized that nothing could be more valuable in the interest of healing, going forward, than have his son be seen shooting a round of golf with Billy Graham down in Florida, which they proceeded to do, and Graham, I think as they hoped, announced you know, I think that this election proves there’s a lot less religious prejudice in this country than people thought.
HH: Now let’s go a little bit higher, up to 5,000 feet for a moment, and talk a little bit about Billy Graham. It’s interesting in the early pages of the book, you talk about that marker at Forest Home. I’ve stood there where he gave way to faith, I guess, just said I’m going to believe, just choose to believe this book. And he’s nobody from nowhere, Billy Graham.
NG: You know, it’s an amazing moment, because all that year, his friend and fellow evangelist, Charles Templeton, who was a brilliant Canadian preacher who had kind of, whose faith was sort of faltering that year, kept challenging him. You know, Billy, you’re out of date, you can’t be preaching the literal truth of the Bible, no one’s going to believe that. If you want to reach out to young people, you’ve got to modernize your message, and new Biblical scholarship is viewing it as much more metaphorical. And he’s really pushing him to kind of bring his message a little more up to date, and not be such a literalist. And Graham, it’s a real crisis for him. And you know, he goes out into the woods in the middle of the night with his Bible, and he basically feels like he has a decision to make, that I either accept the Bible as it is, or I go home and be a dairy farmer. But he couldn’t see himself kind of picking and choosing what scripture he wanted to accept on faith, and what he didn’t. And he talks about having had this sense of real revelation and release, that if he didn’t try to interpret the Bible, if he didn’t try to modify it, if he just preached the Gospel, that God would be working through him.
HH: And clearly, that’s happened. Now how much time did you get to spend with Dr. Graham?
NG: Well, we were…this was where we were so fortunate, because we really felt the whole project depended on him being willing now, you know, at age 88, to reflect on these friendships, where he had always been very protective of the presidents’ privacy, as was appropriate. He learned his lesson early on.
HH: With Truman. Yeah, we’ll get to that.
NG: And so…but he agreed. I think he checked us out pretty well, and in some sense, knew that there were lessons that are probably more relevant today than ever, and so we had a series, we had many hours with him up at his house in Montreat over a period of about thirteen months, around starting in 2006, and then again this past, in January of 2007. And then we got to speak to him again just this summer, right after his wife, Ruth, died, about how he was coping with the loss of his soul mate of 64 years.
HH: Very nice portrait of Ruth Graham in here. In fact, on Page 50, I wrote down fascination with power would forever be his weakness, you write of Graham. And against its lure, he often had no protection beyond the ever-levelheaded Ruth telling him he needed to stay away from politics, and keep his eye on his Evangelical mission. That’s a wonderful tribute to her.
NG: She was quite something, and you know, really a force in her own right. She, having grown up the daughter of missionaries in China, her ambition was to come to the United States for college, but then go back to Tibet to be a spinster missionary. And so when this hulking, young North Carolina farm boy sweeps her off her feet, there’s a real argument over whether he’s going to follow here into the mission field, or she’s going to follow him into evangelism, and these were two very strong souls, strong wills, and I think she had an enormous role, along with is sort of team members who were with him from the beginning, in keeping him anchored and grounded, and not having the extraordinary celebrity that came to him just make him crazy. I mean, the fame that he had, and the power that he had, was the kind of thing that we have seen destroy so many religious and political leaders. I think Ruth was a big reason why he remained humble, and was able to largely keep his focus on what he viewed as his main calling.
HH: I’m talking with Nancy Gibbs of Time Magazine, author along with Michael Duffy of The Preacher And The Presidents: Billy Graham And The White House. I want to go to the end of the book and read three graphs here. “Late in our session, we asked him the question that we had been living with for two years. How did he manage it? How did he handle the enormous cross pressures of politics and faith without sacrificing principle, cutting corners, being thrown off balance? ‘I didn’t sit down and try and manage it, or thing it through,’ he said. ‘I just tried to be myself, I think. I have five children, and each has their own temperament, their own ideas, they’ve grown up in difference cultures, and they all have different points of views, and I accept all of them. I love them all, and I do the same with people.’ We began to get a glimpse,” you write, “Of where he was going. We had thought this was two stories, the private friendships of public men, the political ministry of the great evangelist. But to him, the presidents were the same as family, the same as friendships. The principles did not shift with the circumstances. He loved them, he forgave them, and he tried to be there for them, no matter what. ‘In the end, we are all the same,’ he said, ‘and need the same things.'” That’s a very important insight, Nancy Gibbs.
NG: And it really did come at the end, because we had really been wrestling with this for so long. And he goes on to talk about how, you know, he’s talking about politicians, and he talks about how, you know, Jesus really spent his time with sinners who needed forgiveness. And we all need forgiveness, and this attitude that he brought with them, and remember, you know, he is ministering to the most powerful men in the world, who every decision they make is a hard one. And they probably feel the need for forgiveness more than anyone.
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HH: One more global observation you made on Page 321, Nancy. “This was trademark Graham. The more trouble a president was in, Johnson over Vietnam, Nixon over Watergate, Clinton over Monica, the more prepared Graham was to publicly stand by his side.” At the time, that didn’t look smart. In retrospect, it looks like exactly what a preacher should do.
NG: Well, you know, he was…it’s so interesting over where we had the advantage of getting to look at his conduct over fifty years is that he would be criticized by the left for not being more outspoken about civil rights or Vietnam, and then be criticized twenty years later from the right for not being more confrontational with presidents about abortion or gay marriage. And he was very consistent. What he viewed his mission was bringing the saving love of Jesus Christ into the Oval Office. And so any other message, any political agenda, any other priority, would have gotten in the way of that. And so while he was always accused of being inclined to be too conciliatory and too forgiving of the presidents, I was struck by how especially in these private letters and some phone calls that you can now listen to, how fully willing he was to be very confrontational with them when it came to what they needed to do to be right with God. But in order to continue to have that kind of witness, he was also very forgiving on other matters, and quite willing to stand beside them and talk about forgiveness when they got into trouble. And that was true whether they were Democrats or Republicans, or whether it was the 60’s or the 70’s or the 90’s.
HH: Have you ever heard him preach?
NG: I got to hear him preach at his last crusade, which was…
HH: The New York crusade, oh.
NG: …the one here in New York in June of 2005, and it was the most extraordinary thing you have ever seen, to see a hundred thousand people speaking I don’t know how many different languages, out in Corona Park in Queens in the shadow of that big World’s Fair globe. That was an extraordinary thing.
HH: I’ve heard him preach twice, the audience has heard this before, at the funerals of Mrs. Nixon and President Nixon. At both occasions, he preached boldly the Gospel, even when a very distraught President Nixon was sitting just ten feet in front of him. And he looked at him, and he talked about Pat being in Heaven, and people needing to make a decision. He was always blunt, and he never used any occasion…I think he did the same thing at the Oklahoma City Memorial for the victims of the bombing. It was always Gospel, Gospel, Gospel in the middle of a message.
NG: And this is where…I mean, this is what’s such an interesting inside into all of our kind of prejudices and priorities, is that you know, the criticism that Billy Graham wouldn’t speak truth to power, well, that kind of depends on which definition of truth you’re talking about. For him, it was the Gospel truth that mattered. And as you say, he was always eager to preach that. And yes, every occasion. He would, I mean, this extended to the point that whenever he was doing the Today Show, and he was probably interviewed on TV more than anyone that we’ve known, when he would do the sound check, they would tell him to count to then, and he would recite John 3:16. Who knows? Maybe the sound technician needed to hear the Gospel. I mean, this was so much a part of his very fiber, that…I think it’s one of a number of things that the presidents really responded to. Most of them, this is another thing that I found really surprising, is the extent to which every one of these presidents, with…almost without exception, had been raised in very religious homes. It’s almost like a missing piece of the biography that we know of all of them, and that he was able to speak to, something that they had learned often at their mother’s knee, and it was a very core part of them, that he touched when he would sit down, and in this very kind of ingenuous innocent way, talk to them about the state of their soul.
HH: You know, I either did not know or I had forgotten that Ike was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness…
NG: It’s not widely known.
HH: It was wild. Great research there.
NG: Isn’t that amazing? Here you have the leader of Western Civilization, and the great armies defeating Hitler, whose mother is an ardent pacifist…
NG: …you know, doesn’t believe in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and this sort of got him in trouble. I found a letter he wrote to one of his brothers in 1943, where there was some criticism about how here’s this mother of this general who’s herself a Jehovah’s Witness. And he was very upset by this. He said you know, she takes great pleasure in her faith, and I don’t want anyone giving her a hard time about this. But it also, you know, I think is one reason why Eisenhower wasn’t really a regular Church-goer in adulthood, and he ended up asking Billy Graham, you know, I think the American people, if I’m the president, they’re going to want to see me going to Church. What Church should I go to? And who can baptize me? And so that was a very surprising thing to me.
HH: Interesting story about National Pres, where I often attended in Washington, it was my wife’s Church, and we would go to NPC almost every week, and it was down, it has moved since that time. But the Ike got mad as the pastor for outing him as going to Church. What a different time.
NG: Yeah, he thought that maybe all their conversations were supposed to be private, and the next thing you know, he’s reading about it in the paper, and he says if he breaks out again, I’m going to go to a different Church.
HH: Well, tell us in the two minutes in this segment, let’s cover Truman and Ike. Truman is easy, Ike is much more difficult and complex. Truman didn’t like him.
NG: Truman didn’t like him, although, you know, they should have gotten along fine. They had a perfectly nice meeting. Here’s this 31 year old evangelist, and a president twice his age. The problem is that when Graham left this meeting, the White House press corps descended on him. Graham didn’t know that he shouldn’t have said anything. And he certainly didn’t know that he shouldn’t kneel in front of the White House and have his picture taken in prayer that would land on the front page of the papers the next day. Truman was furious. He though okay, this guy’s just a publicity hound, and literally banned him from the White House, refused to attend the Washington Crusade two years later that pretty much everyone in Washington, the Supreme Court, members of Congress, they’re all going to Graham’s crusade. He’s preaching on the steps of the Capitol, and Truman refuses to come near it.
HH: Yeah, that’s very remarkable. But Ike was the opposite direction, relying on Graham both privately, and also his role in the civil rights movement was a revelation to me.
NG: You know, Graham was way ahead of Eisenhower on civil rights. From early on, he was refusing to preach to segregated audiences. He would personally tear down the ropes that the ushers put up to keep black and white members of his congregation apart. And Ike really understood that as a Southerner himself, as a Southern Baptist, that Graham could be a very useful kind of under the radar ally in helping to move the Churches, to move people peacefully towards progress on civil rights, so that it wouldn’t all have to be done in the streets or in the courts, or you know, with the National Guard as ended up happening.
HH: And…but he also ministered to Ike in a very personal way.
NG: He did, and in the early years, you can tell in the letters and the communications that this is a fairly formal, you know, cordial but formal relationship. But something happens in 1955, where Eisenhower invites Graham, tracks him down, says can you come out to my farm in Gettysburg. Now only his closest friends were invited out to the farm. And Graham comes and spends the day, they walk around the battlefield where one of Graham’s grandfathers lost a leg in the battle at Gettysburg, and Eisenhower wants to talk to him about things like how do you know if you’re going to Heaven?
HH: It’s an amazing account.
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HH: In this segment, it’s about a six minute segment, Nancy, three complicated relationships. Billy Graham and JFK, Billy Graham and Lyndon Johnson, and then Billy Graham and Richard Nixon is really complicated. Can you give sort of the brief outline of the high points and low points of each of these three?
NG: Well, because Graham was such good friends with Nixon from the beginning, he was really his first…showed him around Washington when Nixon was Vice President, they became friends, so by the 1960 campaign, Graham is very clearly on Nixon’s side. He is giving him all kinds of advice behind the scenes, who his running mate should be, where to spend his TV money, how to deploy Eisenhower on the campaign trail. But he writes to Kennedy, and he says you know, this is not about religion. I’m not going to speak out on the religion issue as a lot of other Protestant leaders were, warning about the dangers of a Catholic in the White House taking orders from the Vatican. Graham’s saying I’m not going to speak out on the religious issue, and if you win, he said I’m supporting Nixon because I think he has the experience and talent to be a great president. But if you win, I will support you in any way you need. And he ended up being true to that promise. I think I would say he was least close to Kennedy of all of the presidents, but they had a sort of surprisingly cordial relationship, given the role that the Kennedy camp knew that Graham had played in the 1960 race.
HH: But Lyndon Johnson, just a Southerner who likes him, and Nixon, of course, relied on him especially through the harrowing days of Watergate. You wrote earlier, one’s burden was Vietnam, the other was Watergate, and Billy Graham was there for both of them.
NG: Well, Johnson was the man he was closest to pastorally. Nixon was the one he was closest to politically. You know, with Johnson, he would summon Graham to the White House, and have him next to him on his knees, by his bed, in the middle of the night, praying about the war, and talking about the deepest questions of faith. He really, you know, Johnson’s daughter Lucy was amazing describing how the whole atmosphere in the White House changed when Graham was around. Nixon, on the other hand, being a very shrewd judge of people, understood how valuable it was politically to be seen with his old friend, Billy Graham, to have him conducting Church services in the White House. You know, here’s Graham sweetly thinking this is setting a great spiritual example for the country, and Nixon’s men seeing a great opportunity for fundraising and arm twisting and deal cutting. I think Graham was probably characteristically naïve about the political uses that the Nixon administration found for him. But he genuinely loved Richard Nixon, and admired him, and was heartbroken when he started to realize that there was a whole other side to this man than he had ever seen. You know, Nixon…interestingly, towards the end, as we’re getting deep into Watergate, Nixon stops returning Graham’s calls, and basically won’t have any contact with him. And there are some who said to us this was actually Nixon trying to protect him. He saw that the end was coming, and he didn’t want Graham to be ruined by the friendship.
HH: Probably the worst press Billy Graham has ever received is because of his meeting with Richard Nixon in which Jews were discussed. Did you discuss that with Billy Graham?
NG: Oh, we certainly did, and he…I almost feel like he was eager for us to raise it, because he is so horrified by it, and ashamed of it, that he…any chance he has…
HH: Remind people of what he said.
NG: …apologize for it. Well, Nixon is going on about, basically as he often did about his enemies, and particularly in the press, and how the Jews are his synonym for all of the editors who hate him. You know, he talks about the good Israeli Jews who are strong and tough and understand the communist threat, as opposed to the Jews who control the American media, and don’t understand how dangerous the world is. And he’s going on and on, it’s a vile conversation, and Graham is not just sort of not confronting him about what he’s saying, but he’s echoing it and agreeing with it. And when that tape came out in 2002, Graham himself was shocked to hear himself, hear himself saying yes, the Jews all think that I’m their friend, but they don’t know how I really feel about them, and I think they’re destroying this country. And so this was, he said at the time, that he would crawl on his knees to apologize to Jewish leaders, that he didn’t remember ever feeling that way in his heart. And you’re right, it is certainly the low point of his entire career, and it’s one that he is so contrite about that I think any chance he has to apologize again, he’s eager to take. And he certainly was prepared to explore it with us.
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HH: Let’s flash forward and go to Jimmy Carter, because here’s this Southern Baptist who really ought to be very, very close with Graham, and he’s not. And in fact, on Page 258, Carter sent Graham a telex asking for his support on the SALT treaty, and inviting Graham to the White House for a briefing and discussion. Compared to other presidential messages, the form letter was perhaps as impersonal as any evangelist had ever received. That’s just surprising to me.
NG: It is amazing, and we went down and talked to President Carter about it, and he, of course, he sort of recalls their relationship fondly, and Graham was very respectful in talking about Carter. But the two really were not close. Even though Jimmy Carter’s the only president who can say that he personally organized a Billy Graham crusade in America’s Georgia in 1966, in a way, though, this makes perfect sense. One, Graham was so closely associated with Nixon that a candidate who is running as the I will never lie to you antidote to Watergate isn’t going to be reaching out to a guy who was seen as Nixon’s White House pastor. Plus, Jimmy Carter didn’t need anyone to testify to his religious sincerity. And Graham himself was not looking to play the kind of role he has played in the past, because I think he really came to understand after Nixon the enormous risks and temptations that are involved in too close an association with the White House. And so he had pulled back, and was really focusing his energies on starting to preach behind the Iron Curtain, in Eastern Europe, and his overseas missions, and wanting to stay away from politics for a while.
HH: Now I love the chapter titled the family pastor, with the quotation, We went to Kennebunkport every summer for a while, Billy Graham on his invitations from George and Barbara Bush. It’s an unlikely alliance in many respects. It’s the Yale Andover, almost high Chuch Episcopalian at a parody, almost, and Billy Graham. But yet, Doug Wead brought them together, and their relationship developed. Can you explain the Bush family relationship with Billy Graham?
NG: It actually goes back to the current president’s grandmother, who had Billy Graham in to do a Bible study with her Bible study group back in the early 1950’s. He knew the Bush family for decades, even before George Herbert Walker Bush is in the White House as vice president. By that time, the two families are vacationing together, Ruth are Barbara Bush are very close friends, he would go to Kennebunkport in the summer, and it was on one of those summer visits that he ends up taking the famous walk on the beach with George Walker Bush, who at the time, was approaching forty, and his life was not exactly on track, and he and Graham had a long, hard conversation about what it means to live a Christian life, and that in his own memoir, A Charge To Keep, Bush says that conversation planted a mustard seed in my soul. And so I think almost of all the presidents, Billy Graham was closest personally to George Herbert Walker Bush, who these days can’t even, he can’t get up and talk about Graham without starting to cry. At the dedication of the Graham Library this past May, it was just an extraordinary testimony to the depth of that friendship. And it posed something of a problem when Bush was running himself in 1988, for how does he take advantage of what is a very valuable friendship with the most admired evangelist in the world without exploiting a genuine friendship.
HH: As you quote Graham, I can see him sitting here now. He’s not yet governor, he’s not even in politics, talking about President Bush, the current President Bush. And so, obviously, he goes back many, many years. Is it still strong? Are they still…I know you recount their couple of phone calls here. They can’t get it together, they can’t meet, and Billy Graham’s health is failing. But is it maintained anyway?
NG: It is. I mean, and certainly, I know after Ruth died, President Bush called several times to talk to Mr. Graham, and was trying to arrange for him to come to the White House to see him all through the fall. Ruth’s health was so fragile these last couple of years that Billy Graham really was reluctant to leave the mountaintop, you know, even for a little while. And so it has just been practically difficult for him and the President to be in regular contact. But I think he will always be an enormously influential figure in the life of everyone in the Bush family.
HH: Now let’s talk Bill Clinton, and the whole saga of Billy Graham’s relationship with him throughout the whole Lewinsky affair.
NG: Isn’t that an amazing one?
HH: Yeah, it is.
NG: Again, this is a relationship that goes back again to the 1950’s when Bill Clinton talked his Sunday School teacher into taking him to Graham’s crusade in Little Rock, and was just overwhelmed at the sight of actually an integrated audience coming down to make a decision for Christ, black and white, side by side. It left a huge impression on him. He’s dating Hillary in law school, and they’re spending the summer out in Oakland. And his idea of a hot date is I wanted to take her to go hear Billy Graham preach. And so you know, when they finally actually meet in person when he’s governor, you can imagine this, Clinton just grabs him and pulls him aside, and sits him down to talk to hours, because this really was someone that he admired so much. So by the time Clinton’s in the White House, there’s an established relationship there. There was an Arkansas crusade that Clinton helped put together as governor. And yet here you have this terrible scandal erupting, and Billy Graham is one of the first people to come forward and talk about forgiveness. And he came under all kinds of fire for doing this publicly, when the President is being seen as having this enormous breach of faith with the American people, and by the way, with his wife. What we didn’t know until during the research for this book was that privately, Graham was talking to Hillary, too.
HH: Yes, counseling her, right?
NG: And talking to her about the issue of forgiveness, and saying…it was very interesting hearing the way she talked about this. You know, there’s sort of an edge of bitterness about how everyone was judging her and analyzing her and her marriage, and her decision making. And no one understood what this was all about, and that here was Billy Graham who comes and talks about how this is the hardest thing we’re called to do. This is not easy. This is the hardest thing that we are called to do as Christians, is to forgive those who have wronged us. And he says, I’m just so proud of you for trying to do this. And it was such an important voice of support to her. And this was a private conversation. There’s this whole public drama going on, and then there’s this private drama going on, too, between them that I don’t think anyone outside of that marriage will ever really understand. But both of them talked about Graham as being the one person who they both really felt comfortable talking to about these hardest questions.
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HH: Thank you, Nancy Gibbs, for spending all this time, the author, along with Michael Duffy, of The Preacher And The Presidents: Billy Graham And The White Housel. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. I’m curious, Nancy, as we conclude the conversation, wonderful book, it’s just such fun for people like me and people who like the presidency and like issues of faith and politics as well, was Billy Graham concerned with your soul?
NG: Oh, no one, I think, will ever come into his presence without being touched in some way. And so, it’s perfectly natural that you begin and end your interviews with prayer, which is not your standard way of conducting interviews with your average global superstar. But he’s way too humble and modest a man to make anyone uncomfortable, and yet being with him was just an extraordinary experience. And when he’s praying for your children, you really come away feeling very deeply moved, and moved, also, I think, by the life he has led. He tried to do something extremely difficult. He put himself in a position of enormous risk and temptation. And I think for all the mistakes he made, and that he admitted to making, I can’t imagine anyone who could have handled it better than he did. And for that, I think we’re as a country probably very fortunate.
HH: Also say one overwhelming impression left by The Preacher And The Presidents is that he grew in humility almost linearly, starting with not much of it, and ending with an abundance of it. And I don’t know many public people who do that.
NG: You’re exactly right. You are exactly right. And I think that what the people close to him would immediately say is well, that was what he prayed for. He was very aware of the dangers of pride, and of thinking that all of this acclaim, and the millions and millions of people who’d come out to hear him, that it was all about him, and that he constantly prayed that God would keep him humble. And you can say, if you want the evidence of a modern miracle, the fact that Billy Graham remained a humble man probably qualifies.
HH: Oh, Nancy Gibbs, a wonderful book, and congratulations to Michael Duffy as well. Are you surprised by the reception it’s received?
NG: I’m delighted by it. I think that these are such important issues. I mean, obviously, any author hopes that people will read their book, but we, this conversation, as you know very well because of you cover it so well, is such a central one right now that I’m delighted that people are really willing to engage with these issues.
HH: It’s wonderful, it’s fully explored, it’s a wonderful book. Nancy, I look forward to talking to you again throughout the campaign, whenever this issue arises generally, and I’m so glad someone had a chance from MSM to go and sit down with Billy Graham, and really appreciate him as a man in full, and a preacher in full, and as a huge participant on the world stage. Thanks, Nancy.
NG: Thank you so much.
End of interview.