Billy Graham on Watergate
This article originally appeared in the January 4, 1974 issue of Christianity Today.
During a visit last month to Washington, D.C., where he preached at a White, House Christmas service attended by President and Mrs. Nixon, Vice-President and Mrs. Ford, Senator Edward Kennedy, and other dignitaries, evangelist Billy Graham met with the editorial staff of Christianity Today. The time was spent in a candid discussion of the Watergate affair and Graham's association with President Nixon. The following is an edited distillation of that discussion.
What was your reaction when you received the invitation to speak at the White House?
I was in Switzerland attending an administrative committee meeting of the International Congress on World Evangelization when Mrs. Nixon called. She asked if I would come and hold a Christmas service on December 16. Naturally, I realized the delicacy of such a visit in the present "Watergate" climate. However, I recognized also the responsibility of such a service and the opportunity to present the gospel of Christ within a Christmas context to a distinguished audience. I have said for many years that I will go anywhere to preach the gospel, whether to the Vatican, the Kremlin, or the White House, if there are no strings on what I am to say. I have never had to submit the manuscript to the White House or get anybody's approval. I have never informed any President of what I was going to say ahead of time. They all have known that when I come I intend to preach the gospel. If Senator McGovern had been elected President and had invited me to preach, I would gladly have gone. I am first and foremost a servant of Jesus Christ. My first allegiance is not to America but to "the Kingdom of God."
How do you answer those who say this implies a kind of benediction on everything that happens at the White House?
That view is ridiculous. Twenty years ago we called such thinking "McCarthyism"—guilt by association. This was the accusation of the Pharisees against Jesus, that he spent time with "publicans and sinners." Through the years I have stated publicly that I do not agree with all that any administration does. I certainly did not agree with everything that President Johnson did, and I was at the White House as often under Johnson as under Nixon. I preached before Johnson more than I have preached before Nixon and had longer and more frequent conversations with him. But I did not agree with everything Johnson did. I publicly stated so on several occasions. On one of those occasions, I think he was irritated with me, but he soon got over it. Since then, I have tried to make it a point, which I am sure is obscured and blurred, that I go to the White House to preach the gospel and that my preaching visits have absolutely nothing to do with the current political situation. It is quite obvious that I do not agree with everything the Nixon administration does.
Do you think Watergate and its related events were illegal and unethical?
Absolutely. I can make no excuses for Watergate. The actual break-in was a criminal act, and some of the things that surround Watergate, too, were not only unethical but criminal. I condemn it and I deplore it. It has hurt America.
Some of our evangelical friends wonder why you don't go into the White House like a Nathan and censure the President publicly in these services. What's your response?
Let's remember that I am not a "Nathan." David was the leader of "the people of God," and it was a totally different situation than today's secularistic America. A better comparison would be with ancient Rome and Paul's relationship with Caesar. Also, when a pastor has in his congregation a mayor or a governor who may be in some difficulty, he doesn't point this man out publicly from the pulpit. He tries to encourage and help him and to lead him. Perhaps in private he will advise him on the moral and spiritual implications of the situation, but I don't think the average clergyman in the pulpit would take advantage of such a situation and point to this man and say publicly, "You ought to do thus and so."