I recently read President George W. Bush’s Decision Points. It was an enjoyable and insightful read for me. I must say though, the one story that was extremely disturbing was when Bush recalled an evening his extended family spent with Rev. Billy Graham.
This was during the presidency of Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush. The entire family was in Maine. Billy Graham had been invited to spend some time with them. One evening, everyone retired to a large room in the house and any who wished, could ask Rev. Graham a question. President H.W. was first. With H.W.’s mother sitting right there in the room, he put forward the following question. “Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?” (p. 31)
Wow! Talk about being put in the hot seat! Before I continue, let me just say, President H.W. Bush was wrong in putting forth that kind of question in that kind of setting with his mother right there in the room. Manipulation of the highest order. If he genuinely was concerned for his mother’s salvation and genuinely believed Rev. Graham to know the answer, he would have spoken with him privately about such things. He made it personal, and therefore shifted the answer in his favor from the beginning, and being a politician, he knew what he was doing. (BTW-I do happen to like President H.W. Bush!)
Having said that, Rev. Graham replied in a most disturbing, disappointing, and unbiblical manner. Quoting George W. “We all looked at Billy. In his quiet, strong voice, he replied, ‘George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian’” (p. 31).
When I read those words, my mouth hit the floor and so did my heart! That statement is one of the most anti-Gospel statements that could be uttered, and even more shocking was the source from which it came.
To be fair though, immediately after this episode, George W. tells that he spent some time alone with Rev. Graham later. During their talk, Rev. Graham did what he is known for, he shared a clear Gospel presentation, and George W. never forgot it. However, he has never forgotten Graham’s comment about his grandmother either!
So even though I enjoyed the President’s explanation of key moments during his presidency, I walked away from this book extremely disappointed with what I had read. Which is why I was so encouraged to read just weeks later of another comment Rev. Graham has made recently.
When asked what are some things he would do differently looking back over his ministry, Graham said that he wished he would have spent more time with family, study more, and preach less. Also, he said the following, “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.” (For entire quote, click here.)
I don’t know what lines Rev. Graham had in mind when he made that statement, but I’m sure that conversation in Maine was one of those times he knows he “crossed the line.”
I really appreciate Rev. Billy Graham. He remains a hero for faithfully preaching the Gospel to thousands. He is just a man and has made terrible mistakes, as we all have. Yet, he demonstrated for us all great humility and maturity in reflecting on his ministry. He is even more a hero now than ever, as far as I am concerned!