Interview: Billy in the Oval Office: A Story of Faith, Friendship, and Temptation
March 13, 2018
Journalist Nancy Gibbs recalls Graham’s relationship with six decades of American presidents.
In 2007, Time magazine veterans Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy coauthored The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. The best-selling book chronicled Graham’s influence on American presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush.
On April 25, 2010, Graham hosted Barack Obama at the Graham family home in Montreat, North Carolina, making Obama the 12th chief executive to interact with Graham, something no other religious leader has done. The two of them prayed for each other during their 35-minute meeting, according to reports. (Donald Trump attended Graham’s 95th birthday party in 2013.)
Graham’s relationships with different presidents varied widely. He skinny-dipped in the White House pool with Lyndon Johnson, played golf with John F. Kennedy, and counseled the Clintons after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
But Graham acknowledged that his relationship with Richard Nixon, tainted by partisan politics, was the one most harmful to the evangelist’s gospel mission. Timothy C. Morgan, director of Wheaton College’s journalism program, interviewed Gibbs before Graham’s death.
As journalists, Michael Duffy and you had rare opportunities to interact one on one with Billy Graham. How would you describe him in personal terms?
One description I love is the writer who, looking at Billy Graham’s long arms and long legs, said that it looked as though God had designed him to be seen from a distance.
This figure could fill a stadium with 50,000 or 100,000 people, night after night after night. We imagined this huge public personality. What was most surprising to us the first day we went to Montreat was how completely disarming he was. We were struck by his humility, the gentleness, the quiet, confident …