“First of all, politicians want votes,” Franklin Graham said. “They saw Billy Graham as someone who was popular, with a large following. So it was in their political best interest to align themselves with him. There’s no doubt that some people may have used my father for that.”
How Watergate Wrecked a Friendship
When the Watergate tapes were released, Billy Graham didn’t even recognize the man he heard.
Graham first met Nixon as a young boy, through his mother, Hannah, who had attended Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. The evangelist came to know Nixon not only as a president, but also as a personal friend.
When Watergate came to light, he was blindsided. He had held Nixon in such high regard for so many years that it was difficult for him to reconcile the character of the man he knew with that of the man heard on the tapes.
“Never, in all the times I was with him, did he use language even close to that,” wrote Graham. “I felt physically sick and went into the seclusion of my study at the back of the house. Inwardly, I felt torn apart.”
“There was a side of Nixon that my father had never seen, and that concerned him,” Franklin Graham explained. “He wondered if he had gotten too close to Nixon, and maybe stepped out of a role he should have really stayed in.”
The President had not confided in him about his mounting troubles. After the full story broke, he all but blocked the evangelist’s access to him during the rest of his presidency.
“I wanted to believe the best about him for as long as I could,” Billy Graham wrote. “When the worst came out, it was nearly unbearable for me.”
Pastoring Clinton Through a Sex-Scandal
In large part, it was Billy Graham’s popularity that made him appealing to most modern presidents. Being seen with “America’s Pastor” gave politicians inherent cachet with Graham’s constituency of evangelical Christians.
On the other hand, Foundry United Methodist Church pastor J. Philip Wogaman preferred to work behind the scenes. A soft-spoken, personable man with a background as a seminary professor of Christian ethics, Wogaman had only begun preaching at the age of 65. Situated down the street from the White House, the church was accustomed to visits from various Washington politicians. Wogaman never anticipated that merely making his church available to the President would lead to him being thrust into the middle of public scandal.
One Sunday in 1993, the last thing on Wogaman’s mind was meeting a president. A snowstorm hit Washington, DC, with the wind chill bringing temperatures below zero. Many nearby churches had canceled services. Roads were closed. Some of the church staff were unable to get to church, and Wogaman wasn’t sure about the parishioners.
But Foundry was close to a subway station, and Wogaman was determined. If someone showed up, he would be there.
Just as he was wrapping up the 9:30 a.m. service, two unexpected visitors with earpieces arrived and whispered in his ear. Less than an hour later, President William “Bill” Clinton and his family walked through the door.
There was no fanfare or drama on that Sunday. The Clintons became a regular fixture at the church, and the church adjusted in subtle ways. The church members got used to seeing the Secret Service and agreed to extra security measures like installing metal detectors at the door. With Democrats and Republicans alike in the congregation, including Clinton’s future political rival Senator Bob Dole, Wogaman worked hard to keep sermons on a spiritual track rather than a political one. The Clintons attended at least once a month, regularly participating in the life of the congregation.