Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents

Charles Gibson interviews former presidents, first ladies and Graham.

ByABC News

July 17, 2007 — -- He has preached to more people on more continents than anyone in the history of the planet. He's provided spiritual guidance to hundreds of millions and is one of the most revered religious figures in modern times.

The Rev. Billy Graham, the world's most famous evangelist, has also ministered privately to the world's most powerful men: the presidents of the United States.

In a special edition of "20/20," Charles Gibson explores the untold story of Billy Graham's ties to 11 U.S. administrations -- from Harry Truman to George W. Bush.

"Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents" airs Friday, August 10, at 10 p.m., EDT, to coincide with the publication of "The Preacher and the Presidents" by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy of Time magazine.

In exclusive television interviews, former presidents and first ladies reflect on their relationship with Graham, sharing details about the private bonds forged in office that continue today.

These White House occupants provide key insight into the role of faith and the presidency and the man who was -- and is -- their counselor and confidant. Graham, in turn, shares his reflections about them.

In a remarkable, exclusive roundtable discussion with Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Rev. Graham, now 88, tells Gibson, "I thought of them as just wonderful human beings who were wonderful personal friends as I knew them, each one."

Graham has been privy to some of the most intimate details of the presidents' professional and personal lives, providing counsel on everything from war to the existence of heaven.

He prayed with George H.W. Bush as the first bombs of Desert Storm fell on Baghdad. "It's the toughest decision a president can make," Bush Sr. told Gibson during a recent visit to his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. "He alone can make it, or she alone. And you've got to hope like heck you're right."

Graham also helped Bush Sr. address questions about an afterlife. "I don't think the president is any different than anybody else when it comes to wonder," Bush Sr. told Gibson. "Especially as you get older … I find myself thinking about it more and more: What's it going to be like?"

Sometimes considered a "Republican pastor," Graham transcended political parties, ministering to Democrats as well. Bill Clinton was just 13 when Graham brought his Crusade to Little Rock, Ark., and Clinton, who attended, was so moved he sent a portion of his allowance to Graham's ministry for years afterward. The two would later develop a close friendship.

When asked if faith is something a president must have, Clinton tells Gibson: "It'd be much harder to do the job without it. It'd be a much lonelier job, a more uncertain job and a person would have to have extraordinary ethical and moral fiber without it."

Through interviews with Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton, the broadcast also illuminates Graham's relationship with the first ladies and the guidance he provided in the White House and beyond.

In a revealing interview, Hillary Clinton confides that during the worst days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, she turned to Graham. "He was someone who could understand both Bill and me, and there aren't many people who can," she said. "Forgiveness is probably the hardest challenge that any of us face … but when you're faced with having to do it yourself, especially when it's playing out in front of the world, it is hard." Graham, she said, gave her confidence "that what I was doing, no matter what the rest of the world thought, was right. Right for me, right for my family and right for my country. And I will never forget that."

This special edition of "20/20" will be broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with stereo sound.

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