Leaders, Faith and a Friendship

Presidents have turned to Reverend Billy Graham for spiritual guidance.

ByABC News
August 7, 2007, 6:55 PM

Aug. 8, 2007 — -- He's preached to every president since Harry Truman. It is one of the most unique series of friendships in modern politics, counseling these leaders under the tremendous stresses of war, politics and personal scandals. But evangelist Billy Graham simply refers to the last 11 presidents as his "friends."

"Each one I've known long before they ever became president, been in their homes many times, always called them by their first names, until they became president," Graham told Charlie Gibson at an extraordinary lunch with the three living former presidents, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, who came to help dedicate the new Billy Graham library in Charlotte, N.C., in May.

They are just three of the 11 presidents that Graham has known. The 88-year-old has been a guest at the White Houses of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as well.

And his influence is especially felt in the current administration. When asked where he would be without Graham, George W. Bush said "I wouldn't be president."

"It was just a conversation," said the younger Bush about a talk with Graham in the mid-'80s that changed his life. During the pivotal conversation Bush recalled saying, "'You know, Billy, I'm longing for something.' And I know that he sent me a Bible I still have. All I can tell you is that as a result of being inspired by Billy Graham I started reading the Bible and shortly after, I quit drinking."

That moment is part of a long kinship between the pastor and the Bushes; Graham has been friends with the Bush family for 50 years.

"I remember the first time I saw him. I was shocked by the eyes. They were they're so penetrating," said Barbara Bush, who along with her husband, George, hosted Billy and Ruth Graham during many Augusts at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

And another first lady remembers being struck by his presence as well. "He is to this day, so charismatic and just immensely attractive to everyone because of his spirit as well as these extraordinary, almost Old Testament prophet looks, that he has," Sen. Hillary Clinton told Gibson.