Biography of Famous Preacher and Evangelical Billy Graham Part 3

About the famous American preacher and evangelist Billy Graham, biography and history of the evangelical.

BILLY GRAHAM (1918- )

But the handsome evangelist's obvious political assets were most effectively exploited by the Nixon Administration. Graham and the self-made man from Orange County shared similar backgrounds and almost identical views on the issues. They were friends long before Richard Nixon became President. Each time Nixon ran for office, Billy went to elaborate lengths to profess impartiality. Yet somehow, he always managed to convey his preference in terms that were clear enough.

Graham's immense popularity below the Mason-Dixon line made him a key player in Nixon's 1968 "Southern strategy." And the preacher was among the President-to-be's closest advisers the night Spiro Agnew was served up to the American people from a Miami hotel room (although it should be noted that Graham favored Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon for his track record as an active Christian and for the balance he would bring to the GOP ticket).

On Inauguration Day, 1969, Graham delivered the opening prayer, giving thanks that "in Thy sovereignty Thou hast permitted Richard Nixon to lead us at this momentous hour of our history." Billy became a familiar fixture of the 1st Nixon term, along with moon astronauts and White House guards in their unforgettable comic-opera get-ups.

Less than 3 weeks after 4 students were shot to death at Kent State, President Nixon chose to relate to students by appearing at a Billy Graham rally at the conservative University of Tennessee. While the President and the preacher spoke of the need to obey authority, 47 protesting students were arrested for disturbing a "religious" assembly, and a football all-American threatened to stomp any hippie who dared touch the flag.

Months later, Graham hit the peak of his career as defacto high priest of civil religion speaking at "Honor America Day," a political "nonpolitical" rally he organized with Nixon chums Bob Hope and J. Willard Marriott. Facing thousands of flag-waving patriots and a half-dozen television camera crews, Graham stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and summoned his audience to honor the nation and its institutions, to shun extremism, and to embrace "the American dream."

When the floods of Watergate broke, Billy steadfastly refused to cast a stone at his old friend. But when the seamy language of the White House transcripts found public print, Graham allowed as how reading the presidential conversations was "a profoundly disturbing and disappointing experience," though he had "no intention of forsaking him now."

Billy was conspicuously absent at the White House during the yearlong death throes of the Nixon Presidency.

Even without the glamour of presidents and kings, Graham is big business in his own right. The Billy Graham Evangelical Association operates on a $20 million annual budget, with headquarters in Minneapolis and branch offices in Paris, London, Frankfurt, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Atlanta, and Burbank, Calif. About 1/3 of the budget goes for radio and television time. Each year 3 crusades are filmed and then shown in prime time on a syndicated basis. Graham's weekly radio program, "The Hour of Decision," is heard on 900 stations. Another $7 million or so goes to publish Decision magazine, which has a circulation of 3.5 million in 5 languages. His Evangelical Association also owns World Wide Pictures, making and distributing movies, and Grayson Company, which publishes his writings.

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