Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Pastor (11/30/06)
TITLE: An Unlikely Friend for a Pastor?
By Donna Powers
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Richard buried his face in his hands and wept. He’d never thought it would come to this. He told the pastor everything he’d done and about how he’d let God down. He glanced sideways at the pastor as he did. After all, the pastor was one of the people he had betrayed. But the pastor told him that God still loved him. They prayed together. When the pastor said “amen,” there were tears streaming down Richard’s face.
The pastor was Billy Graham. The man was President Richard Nixon.
They seem like such a contrasting pair: the famous evangelist and the discredited president. Many have speculated that Nixon associated with Graham to legitimize his less honorable actions. But Billy Graham saw a different side of Nixon. They met in the 1950’s while Nixon was a senator. They began playing golf together, and became close friends. Graham felt that the Bible has the answer to all of America’s problems, and that certainly included the problems of its presidents. Nixon was raised as a Quaker but he admired Graham and gained spiritual guidance from him. Nixon was one of the men who first suggested that Graham hold a 1957 Crusade in New York City.
Billy Graham has been one of America’s most admired people for more than 50 years. Since his beginnings, his excellence as a speaker has brought him the acclamation of many. Graham has preached the gospel of Christ all over the world. Millions have responded to the invitations at the end of his Crusades. He is primarily an evangelist, but with every president since Eisenhower, he has served as an unofficial “White House pastor.”
Pastors are often judged for their sermons. If that’s the standard, few can argue that Graham has been a first class pastor. His Crusades are visible evidence of his speaking skills. Pastors also visit those who are sick and those in trouble. Graham visited many sick and troubled people, including Nixon. As an American citizen, Graham could have chosen to feel betrayed by the actions and decisions of his president. He may have – but he knew that he was called to offer God’s love and truth to one of God’s children. That’s what he did.
Many people envision a pastor as the spiritual leader of one church. While he isn’t behind the same pulpit each week, Graham has accepted responsibility for a unique pastorate: the entire world. He answers Jesus’ command to spread the gospel to every nation. At the same time, his friendship with Nixon and other presidents has allowed him the privilege of giving spiritual guidance to some of the important men in American history.
When Nixon began having church services in the White House, Graham was the first preacher there. Graham visited Nixon throughout most of his presidency and afterward. During the final months of his presidency, Nixon asked that his aides not allow Graham to come to the White House. Nixon later said that he hadn’t wanted Graham to be tainted by the aftermath of Watergate. When he finally met with Nixon after his resignation, it was Graham that heard the broken ex-president express his unending regret for his part in Watergate. Until Nixon’s death, Graham remained a faithful pastor to him; he even presented a moving eulogy at Nixon’s funeral.
A pastor has many types of parishioners. Some are easy to get along with. Others make his job difficult. Some even betray or hurt the pastor. I imagine that Billy Graham thought many things about his relationship with Richard Nixon. But he kept his focus on the role he has been called to play. Graham’s favorite Nixon memory is of one of the first White House church services when Nixon sat down at the Steinway piano and reverently played the old hymn “He Will Hold Me Fast”
It took a special pastor to see past the president to the child of God. Billy Graham was that pastor.
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