Famous evangelist Billy Graham told Christianity Today in January that he wishes he hadn’t been so political during parts of his career.
Graham, one of the nation’s most well-known evangelists, is now 92 and living in retirement in North Carolina. During an interview with the evangelical magazine, he was asked if he had any regrets over his long career.
Graham replied that he wished he had spent more time with his family, then added, “I also would have steered clear of politics. 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.”
Although Graham had a reputation as a largely apolitical figure who was willing to pray with leaders of all parties, he was in fact closely aligned with President Richard M. Nixon in the 1960s and early ’70s and often took conservative stands on issues.
During the Nixon presidency, Graham even became an informal White House advisor. As Nixon prepared to face U.S. Sen. George McGovern in November of 1972, Graham dashed off memos that offered advice on how to run the campaign.
“I would seriously question the wisdom of your becoming personally involved in the campaign before early September,” Graham wrote in one memo. “If the polls and the mood of the country continue as is you may be wise to do only a minimum of campaigning. I think Senator McGovern is perfectly capable of making further mistakes.”
Not long after that, McGovern’s running mate, Sargent Shriver, called Graham to request that he give a public invocation prior to Shriver’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Graham, in dismay, called the White House.
An aide’s memo to Nixon reported that Graham wanted to appear bipartisan “at least until about October,” when he would “throw his support to the side of the President more effectively.” Graham, the memo went on to say, had vowed to “do nothing to hurt the President or to help McGovern.”
In 2002, some audio recordings of Nixon and Graham in the White House surfaced. The tapes were made in 1972 without Graham’s knowledge and reveal him expressing anti-Semitic views.
Graham and Nixon were discussing the president’s reelection effort. When Graham mentioned he had a meeting coming up with the editors of Time, Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman, who was also in the room, interjected, “You meet with all their editors, you better take your Jewish beanie.”
Graham, laughing, asked, “Is that right? I don’t know any of them now.”
Nixon then launched into an anti-Semitic tirade, saying, “Newsweek is totally, it’s all run by Jews and dominated by them in their editorial pages. The New York Times, The Washington Post, totally Jewish, too.”
To this Graham replied, “The stranglehold has got to be broken, or the country’s going to go down the drain.”
Nixon is heard asking, “You believe that?”
“Yes, sir,” Graham said, to which Nixon replied, “Oh boy, so do I. I can’t ever say that, but I believe it.”
Responded Graham, “No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.”
Later in the conversation, Graham spoke of knowing Jews working in the media and said they “swarm around me and are friendly to me.” He went on to say, “They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.”
In 2002, Graham apologized for the remarks.
Graham’s religious empire has ended up in the hands of his son, Franklin. Franklin Graham seems determined to repeat his father’s mistakes. He takes far-right views on many issues, meddles in politics, seeks to get close to centers of power and has insulted other religions, including Islam and Hinduism.