American evangelist Billy Graham — who has been called “the pastor for presidents” for having met and prayed with every U.S. president in the last six decades, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama — has publicly acknowledged regret at sometimes crossing the line between ministry and politics.
In an online question and answer with the American evangelical magazine Christianity Today, Graham, 92, said he “would have steered clear of politics” — without specifically mentioning his friendship with the late Richard M. Nixon and defending the scandal-ridden president during the Watergate era.
Graham is also said to be close to former President George W. Bush.
Graham told the magazine in a Jan. 21 web post: “I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; 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,” said Graham, who has rarely been in seen public in recent years due to his increasingly frail health.
Among those critical of Graham for his closeness to those in power, including Nixon, was the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. In a 1969 essay, “The King’s Chapel and the King’s Court,” Niebuhr warned that the “establishment religion” espoused by Graham risked becoming a vocation practiced by “high priests in the cult of complacency and self-sufficiency.”
“Perhaps those who accept invitations to preach in the White House should reflect on this,” Niebuhr wrote, “for they stand in danger of joining the same company.”
As for other regrets, Graham said in his q-and-a that he would have spent “more time at home with my family, and I’d study more and preach less.”
Asked about the success of the American and global evangelical movement, Graham said he was “grateful for the evangelical resurgence we’ve seen across the world in the last half-century or so. It truly has been God’s doing.”
But he warned that “success is always dangerous, and we need to be alert and avoid becoming the victims of our own success. Will we influence the world for Christ, or will the world influence us?”