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 ofCHRISTIANITY 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.
Question. What was your reaction when you received the invitation to speak at the White House?
ANSWER. 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.”
Q. How do you answer those who say this implies a kind of benediction on everything that happens at the White House?
A. 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.
Q. Do you think Watergate and its related events were illegal and unethical?
A. 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.
Q. 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?
A. 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.”
Let’s also remember that in America a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. As far as I know, the President has not been formally charged with a crime. Mistakes and blunders have been made. Some of them involved moral and ethical questions, but at this point if I have anything to say to the President it will be in private.
Q. Dr. Graham, have you had second thoughts about stating publicly that you voted for Nixon?
A. I am a Democrat, but I thought Mr. Nixon was the best qualified man to be President. Secondly, he and I had been personal friends for over twenty years. I hardly knew Senator McGovern, though I know Sargent Shriver very well and consider him to be a close personal friend. Mr. Shriver has been in my home and I have been in his.
Q. One of the famous examples in church history is Ambrose of Milan, who publicly rebuked the Emperor Theodosius when he came to church and told him he couldn’t come in until he had made a public confession for certain things. What about this?
A. That’s not a proper parallel, though I greatly admire Ambrose for his courage. Ambrose was a political as well as a religious figure. I am not a bishop, as was Ambrose, nor is President Nixon my subject, as was Theodosius. As I have already stated I have no proof that the President has done anything illegal, and I would have no ecclesiastical power over him to do anything about it if I did have proof. I think the President comes into the church with the same status as anyone else: either a sinner saved by God’s grace or a sinner in need of that grace.
Q. You say there is no crime for which the President could be censured directly or obliquely. What about the sin of misleading the people by making such a statement as, “I have ordered John Dean to make a thorough investigation; he reports that nothing is wrong”; or “I ordered Ehrlichman to make his investigations, and he reports nothing wrong”; or “I am going to tell the full story.” This has been going on for twelve months now and there’s more to come. Is this not censurable?
A. If the President knew and withheld the information, then he might be accused of obstructing justice. But I do not know the full story. The full story as he knew it should have been told. It may have been told—he may have told all he knew at that moment. I don’t know! The mass of information and contradictions is so confusing that I cannot make a fair judgment at this time except to say that apparently someone has committed perjury, and bearing false witness, or telling a lie, is a sin. I’m not privy to what has been going on; I’m not a confidant or counsel to the President on such matters.
Q. What do you think about the idea of a religious service in the White House on a regular basis?
A. I wish the President could set an example and go to a local congregation, but since the assassination of President Kennedy it’s a problem for a President to go where he wants. The Secret Service gets nervous. And then we had a period when people demonstrated on every conceivable subject, and many church services might have been torn apart by this type of thing. President Nixon wanted to avoid that. Those who wrote that there had never before been services in the White House just didn’t know their history. I conducted services at the White House for President Johnson as well as at Camp David and the LBJ ranch.
Q. Some say the White House is simply making you a tool to assure respectability in the eyes of people who would be influenced by seeing the President at prayer or listening to a sermon. What is your reaction to that remark?
A. That’s foolish. Did Kennedy make a tool of Cardinal Cushing? Of course not. If Mr. Nixon wanted to make me a tool, why has it been so long since he invited me to the White House? During the period when he might have needed a person like me the most he didn’t have me.
Twice this year I offered to talk to the President. One of his aides said that one of the reasons Mr. Nixon didn’t have me is that he didn’t want to hurt me. Now whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I remember in 1960 when he was running for President there was a rumor that I might endorse him and he called and told me not to endorse him if I was thinking of it. He said, “Billy, your ministry is more important than my election to the Presidency.” Many Presidents have had close relationships with clergymen. I have a research scholar who has been spending many months doing research on the relation between Presidents and clergymen, and I would say that my relation with Mr. Nixon is not as close as that between other Presidents and clergymen of their day. For example, the relation between John R. Mott, called the architect of the ecumenical movement, and President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson went to Mott for advice and counsel not only on religious matters but on political and diplomatic matters as well. I don’t think people credited or blamed Mott for what went on in the Wilson administration. I also don’t think people held Cardinal Cushing accountable during the Kennedy administration. And he certainly was with the Kennedys a great deal more than I have been with Mr. Nixon. Cardinal Cushing acted as a pastor to the Kennedy family. He might have given political advice privately. I knew Cardinal Cushing quite well, and I know that he wasn’t above giving a political word here and there. Throughout the years I have said things to various Presidents that could be construed as political advice. I’m not so quick anymore to make political judgments.
Q. Because of your geographical location at the time, some people feel you were very involved in 1968 in the selection of the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate …
A. That’s wrong. I had been invited to lead a prayer at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. The invitation had come while I was visiting the Johnsons on a Sunday at the White House. Mr. John Criswell, who was in charge of arrangements at the Democratic convention, asked if I would be willing to come and lead a prayer on President Johnson’s birthday. I said I would be glad to lead a prayer at the Democratic convention but only if I was invited by the Republicans also. Thus I attended both conventions briefly and said a prayer at both of them.
As I recall it, after his nomination I went to the hotel to congratulate Mr. Nixon. It was after midnight. He had invited several Republican leaders to meet with him privately. He grabbed me by the arm and said, “Billy, wouldn’t you like to sit in?” Naturally, I was curious about what went on at such occasions. I sat in the rear. Mr. Nixon sat in the middle of a circle of about twenty people. He asked everyone in the room for his opinion. And I never heard the name Agnew mentioned at that meeting. Senator Thurmond and the Southern group were holding out for Governor Ronald Reagan. To my surprise, Mr. Nixon turned to me and said, “Billy, you’ve heard all this. What do you think?” I answered, “Well, Dick, you know who my candidate is—it’s Mark Hatfield. I believe in his spiritual commitment. I believe that he’s a moderate liberal and that you need a balanced ticket because you are considered to be a conservative. You need the spiritual strength he could bring to the country. The country needs it.” Mr. Nixon thanked me and I went on back to the hotel—it was two or three in the morning—and went to bed.
Q. Did you help engineer Mark Hatfield’s endorsement of Nixon prior to the convention?
A. Emphatically no. In fact, Senator Hatfield had already decided what he was going to do before I saw him. He had made a public announcement to that effect a month earlier.
Q. Many media people, both liberal and conservative, have become infuriated with President Nixon because of what they feel is his incurable self-righteousness and his unwillingness to admit to any mistake. This has cost him the support of a lot of people like Buckley and Kilpatrick. If a person is unwilling to admit a mistake, that appears to be a spiritual problem, too. Would that be something you should concern yourself with if you’re in a kind of pastoral relationship?
A. I won’t say what I have already said to him privately on this present visit, but I have personally found that when you have made a mistake it’s far better to admit it. I’ve had to admit errors in judgment, and I’ve found Christian people more than generous in understanding my faults. I think they would try to understand any President’s position, too. It’s better to show humility and it’s better to say “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry” when you’ve made a mistake.
The Bible says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” That commandment has never been rescinded, and lying is wrong no matter who does it.
Let’s put the situation in context. We’ve tended over the past forty years to make a “monarch” out of the President. Every President needs some people around him who still call him by his first name and tell him exactly what they think so that he doesn’t become isolated from the thinking of the people. He becomes isolated partially because even his friends are afraid to tell him the truth. Everybody needs some friends around him who will just say, “You are wrong!” And that includes me. I really value the friendship of people who’ll just tell it to me like it is, even though I may try to defend my position for a while. Mr. Nixon has made mistakes, and I would say that this has been one of them: you cannot, as President, isolate yourself. The whole Watergate affair has taught the country something. I’m sure if Mr. Nixon could redo many things he would. That’s the reason I feel that if there’s any way he can get his credibility back, which may not be possible, he now would make a stronger and better President. I’m sure he’s learned some very valuable lessons through this whole experience.
Q. Isolation seems to be one of the major problems. Mr. Nixon had a housecleaning. Haldeman and Ehrlichman resigned, or were fired. Haig and Laird came in. Yet it seems that the isolation is still there.
A. It’s hard for outsiders to know what goes on, but I have read that he is meeting with people every day. However, there are only so many hours in a day. I haven’t been there until this weekend and haven’t had the kind of relationship with him lately to be able to know, but the newspapers seem to indicate that he’s meeting with people from morning till night. I’m sure, from what I’ve read, that some of the sessions have been quite candid.
Q. What kind of a man is Nixon, really? Most people think that he is a loner and isolated, that people don’t see the real Nixon.
A. This is probably true of every President. We probably know more about our President today than any other generation in history, because of the mass media. This may be one of the problems. All Presidents make serious blunders and mistakes. Yet a mistake made by any President today is far bigger than a mistake made, let’s say, by President Coolidge. Today, a mistake is beamed by television, radio, and the printed page to the entire world in a matter of minutes.
We need to remember two things. Number one is that most of us deal with imaginary power. We think what we would do if we were President. But nothing comes of our imaginary decisions. Yet the instant electronic media make us all feel as if we are a part of the decision-making process. When the President makes a decision, numbers of people are involved. He tries to get the best advice he can, just as we try to get the best doctors we can if we are sick, or the best surgeons if we need an operation. Now, I would not go into an operating room and presume to point out to a surgeon what he should cut out or how he should proceed. In fact, I would be scared to death in an operating room for fear I might bump into his elbow. I have felt this when I have been around Presidents. The decisions they make are so involved and affect so many people and are so often on matters that involve the highest degree of skill that I would not presume to speak on many matters that people think that I have spoken of with the President.
The second thing to remember is that President Nixon or any President is only a human being. He is finite, and no President I have ever met considered himself really big enough for the job, especially after the first year. I don’t think there was even a White House press corps until McKinley’s administration, and then there was only one reporter. All of this tends to drive a President into some isolationism in order to live with himself, think a little, read a little, and spend some time with his family. However, I have to speak about the Nixon I knew before he became President. To me, he was always a warm and gracious person with a great sense of humor. He was always thoughtful. Sometimes I have been with him when he was preoccupied, but I never had the impression that he was cold or diffident. Of course, other people know him better than I do and have known him in a different way. For example, some people have accused him of using profanity, but the strongest word I have heard from him is “hell,” and that only on a few occasions. But you know, people act differently around clergymen than they do other friends. I have always admired Nixon’s close family life. I admire his love for his mother, his wife, and their daughters. I admire his tremendous passion for “peace,” which I think came partly from his Quaker background. I also admire his personal discipline. I’ve known few men that live such a disciplined life. He once told me that the reason he gave up golf was that there were too many books to read, and too many interesting conversations to hold. He said, “I may never be elected President but I’m going to continue preparing myself.”
That brings up another interesting point. During 1967 and early 1968 he really did not want to run for President. He almost decided not to. He was actually afraid that what is happening now would happen to him. I think his running for President came partially as a result of ambition but mostly as a result of sheer patriotism. He really felt he could make a contribution not only to America but to the world, especially foreign affairs. He seemed to feel the mid-seventies would be very dangerous for America and the world.
Q. Is any blessing possible out of all this? What does the future hold, spiritually speaking?
A. First, I think we will reform the political process by which we elect our officials. I think this whole matter of candidates’ depending on wealthy people for election is deplorable. Secondly, I think people in public life will think twice before they do something wrong. Thirdly, I think the loose handling of thousands of dollars will be a thing of the past. Fourthly, I think there’s going to be a look at the whole American system. I think we demand too much of our Presidents. We haven’t had a stable Presidency since Eisenhower. The budget today is double what it was in John Kennedy’s day. John Kennedy was shot. Johnson was brought to the point where he didn’t run for re-election. Now Nixon is in deep trouble, and I think that part of it is the system itself. I’ve read that there are 1,300 separate commissions reporting to the President. He probably doesn’t know that many of them even exist, much less what they’re all about. Yet he is responsible in the eyes of the public for everything they do! If they are right or wrong, the news will say, “the Johnson administration” or “the Nixon administration,” and the President may not even know about it. Then the President is also the ceremonial head of the country. He has to lead the major ceremonies for visiting dignitaries. And then he is the executive head. Now this function is separated in nearly all of the countries of the world, like Britain or Germany or the Soviet Union. I hope the Watergate Committee in its recommendations for new legislation will go into this. We demand too much of a President. The physical and psychological wear and tear is far too great. Fifthly, Watergate will cause Americans to realize how fragile our democracy is, how fragile our security is. And I think this was demonstrated in the case of Viet Nam, and the energy crisis as well. We’re beginning to realize that we are vulnerable, both outside and within. We’re not almighty, as we thought for a while. These things should bring us to a point of great humility. And sixthly, I think it should bring us to a point of national repentance, from the White House on down. I think of Jonah, who preached repentance to the people of Nineveh. The king repented and the people repented. And God spared the city of Nineveh. I think that these crises are all part of God’s judgment on this country. I hear God saying we need to repent as individuals, as a Church, and as a people. Repentance means that we acknowledge our sins, and change our way of living. You know, when six per cent of the world’s population controls so much of the world’s wealth, we have a terrible responsibility. I think God is saying something to us, through Watergate. We had better listen! He was trying to speak to us through the prosperous years. Now he’s trying to speak to us through some judgments. And unless we do repent, unless we do turn, I think the judgment is going to get more severe and we’re going to see even greater crises ahead.
Q. How do you think that the seemingly good, upright men of the Nixon administration went wrong?
A. First I would like to clarify one other thing. I noticed one or two religious press articles that tried to tie evangelicals in with the men that had been accused in the Watergate affair. As far as I know there were no evangelicals involved with the possible exception of one.
I think these men have what I would call a “magnificent obsession” to change the country and the world. A year before Mr. Nixon decided to run for President, he listed to me point by point what he thought ought to be done. One thing was to end the cold war. He also wanted to balance the budget. Another goal was to control crime, which was growing rampant at about that time. And another one was ending the Viet Nam war. This was his number-one concern, and I think he really thought he could end Viet Nam much quicker than he did end it. (It was interesting to me—by way of parenthesis—to watch the show on the late President Kennedy the other night in Europe. His speeches were hawkish. I mean, if Nixon were saying the things Kennedy said ten years ago, we would condemn him. We forget how fast things change. We have become dovish and isolationist, in many of our viewpoints.)
These Nixon aides thought his re-election was the most important thing in the world. They thought that future peace depended on him. I think most of them were very sincere, but they began to rationalize that the “end” justified the “means,” even if it meant taking liberties with law and the truth. They had seen the law broken by people who had other “causes.” They had heard people call for all kinds of civil disobedience. They felt that their “cause” was just as great as peace in Viet Nam and civil rights. In fact, they felt peace in Viet Nam could only be achieved by the re-election of Mr. Nixon. Many of these men were very young. In fact, the President had the youngest staff in the history of the White House. In addition, I think the President himself was so occupied with “détente” with the Soviet Union and China and giving so much time and thought to it that he gave little thought to his re-election campaign. I think he was so sure of his election that he just left it to other people, and I think that this was part of the problem.
Q. Do you think that the absence of an absolute standard of right and wrong contributed to wrongdoing?
A. Yes, I do. We’ve been told by popular theologians for some years that morals are determined by the situation, and now we are reaping the bitter fruits of that teaching. Some of the men involved in Watergate practiced that kind of ethics. If God is, then what God says must be “absolute”—man must have moral boundaries. He cannot devise his own morals to fit his own situation. The Bible tells us that with what judgment we judge we shall be judged. So we must avoid hypocritical and self-righteous glee at the evil that has been done. The Bible also teaches us, “Lie not one to another.” There is no blinking at the fact that Watergate has become a symbol of political corruption and evil. But let us hope that by God’s grace we may turn the corner. Let’s hope we realize that there is one crisis more urgent than the energy crisis and that this is the crisis in integrity and in Christian love and in forgiveness.
Q. Do you think that the McGovern campaign did as many “dirty tricks” as the Nixon campaign?
A. I don’t know whether they did as many or not, but you still have the same “absolute” involved, even if they did only one, don’t you? The principle would be the same whether it was one or a hundred tricks. Also, don’t forget that corporations gave money to both parties, and both parties have historically been guilty of unethical practices that do violence to the sincere Judeo-Christian conscience. No political party has any corner on ethics.
Q. Do you think that President Nixon will resign or be impeached?
A. I do not know. I think that if no other bomb explodes he might well survive. He still has time to recover a great deal of lost credibility in his remaining three years. If another bomb explodes he is in serious trouble.
Q. Do you think that evangelical Christianity is now America’s civil religion? Is there an alliance between government and evangelicalism?
A. I don’t think that at all, any more than there was an alliance between President Franklin Roosevelt and the old Federal Council of Churches. I don’t recall Roosevelt ever seeing evangelical leaders. During his administration, evangelicalism was at a very low ebb. It was the heydey of modernism and liberalism. Perhaps he did have evangelicals to the White House, but I don’t recall it. In the Truman administration, I don’t recall evangelicals trooping in and out of the White House either. Dr. Edward Pruden was his pastor at the First Baptist Church here in the city, and he was a wonderful man. Under the Eisenhower administration it was largely Dr. Edward L. R. Elson who had the influence, though I was at the White House a few times myself and knew Eisenhower quite well. Evangelicalism has become so strong in the country in recent years and has gained such momentum that now “we” are targets of criticism at every level because we are, as someone has said, “where the action is.” By we, I don’t mean Billy Graham. I mean the evangelical movement as a whole. Today almost all denominations are divided between the evangelicals on the one hand and the liberals on the other.
I think another point ought to be made: having a conservative theology does not necessarily mean a person is a sociological or political conservative. I consider myself a liberal on many social subjects, but in the eyes of most informed Christians I am a theological evangelical. I gladly take my stand with them. However, some of the criticism hurled at evangelical theology lands on me, and I suppose when I make a mistake it hurts the evangelical cause. I sometimes put my foot in my mouth. I’ve made many statements I wish I could recall. I am an erring, fallible disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ and am subject to all the temptations, human frailties, and errors of other disciples of the Lord.
One of the leaders of the evangelical revival has been CHRISTIANITY TODAY, along with other para-church organizations that have come to the front in recent years. I think these things have given an intellectual respectability to evangelicalism that did not exist in the country twelve years ago.
Getting back to civil religion, I don’t recall a single President, including President Nixon, talking about Jesus Christ publicly. Nearly all Presidents in their public statements have talked about God. Our civil religion in America has always been a sort of unitarianism. This was true of Kennedy, of Eisenhower, and Presidents all the way back. I don’t think America has ever been an all-out Christian nation, such as Great Britain, where you have an official relationship between church and state. The London Telegraph last September made an interesting point along this line. They said, “Why should we ask Billy Graham about Watergate any more than we ask the Archbishop of Canterbury about our scandals?” And they said the Archbishop of Canterbury is tied in far more closely with the government than Billy Graham is in Washington. That’s quite a valid point. In countries where there is a state-church relationship, people don’t necessarily hold the church or church leaders responsible for all the political decisions. I’ve never quite understood why I am considered in some way responsible for or part of any administration, whether under President Johnson or Nixon. I just happened to be friends with both of them long before they became prominent in public life. We should guard against guilt by association. As I said before, twenty years ago we called it McCarthyism. Since you are someone’s friend you are supposed to be guilty of the same things he’s guilty of.
Q. You’ve been criticized for not criticizing President Nixon, or accusing him of various kinds of wrongdoing. Several people have defended you by saying, Well, if Graham has been a pastor of Nixon, then of course he could not violate the President’s confidence in public in any way. Has this sort of thinking influenced you at all?
A. When you have the confidence of a public official like that and he tells you things in private, if you ever once break that trust you’ll never again have that opportunity, with him or with anyone else. I don’t think that clergymen should go around telling private conversations any more than a psychiatrist or a private attorney or a doctor should. We clergymen should certainly have as high ethics as the medical profession—in fact, much higher. I wouldn’t be free to talk about some of these things for at least some years to come.
Q. Has the President told you that he has considered you to be his pastor?
A. No. He has several friends among the clergy.
Q. So that while a lot of people think you are the President’s pastor, neither by his word nor by actual time spent with him is that a justifiable statement.
A. I have been more a personal family friend than a pastor. I actually met Mr. Nixon twenty-three years ago through his father and mother. They had attended my meetings in southern California.
When a friend is down, you don’t go and kick him—you try to help him up. I have a personal high regard for the President. I think many of his judgments have been very poor, especially in the selection of certain people, or the people who selected others for him. I think there’s a difference between doing the wrong thing and being wrong. For a person to err in his judgments is not wrong, or not sin. I also think there is a difference between judgment and integrity. Until there is more proof to the contrary I have confidence in the President’s integrity—but some of his judgments have been wrong and I just don’t agree with them.
Q. You continually preach that a change of heart in the individual is the answer to our problems. The criticism we keep getting is that regeneration in so many people does not seem to be having the effect we claim it will have, and that we are not seeing the fruit of the Spirit among believing Christians in America. Our compassion is so minimal for people who are downtrodden and wanting for one reason or another …
A. I think evangelicals have been far too much on the defensive at this point. Many of the great social movements of our generation have had their roots in regeneration and in evangelical theology. They asked Martin Luther King, when he was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, where he got his motivation, and he said, “From my father’s preaching.” Well, his father is a real evangelical preacher. However, I think that beginning about the middle of the 1920’s, in reaction to modernism evangelicals went too far in defending the redemptive Gospel to the exclusion of the great social content of Scripture. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a dramatic case in point. We have a social responsibility, and I could identify with most of the recent Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. I think we have to identify with the changing of structures in society and try to do our part.
Q. What is your reaction to Nixon’s disclosure of his charitable giving for the past few years?
A. I must say I was surprised at the small amount he reported giving to charities in relation to his total income, but there may be some other explanation in that his finances and contributions were left to other people. I believe that every Christian should give 10 per cent of his income to his church or charity, and above that if the Lord so prospers him.
Q. From what has been revealed about the way that his estates in California and Florida were acquired, for example, and the way federal tax money was spent in upgrading them, do you think Nixon has been ill served by those who were handling his finances so that they do appear questionable? What of the way he stretched the claiming of deductions? Hasn’t the President set a poor example?
A. I think that is right. He had some very bad advice. The General Accounting Office said “too casual an attitude prevailed.” Apparently that was right. I know that I told the people who handle my own tax affairs to always pay the tax if there’s any question. I think this ought to be the attitude of all taxpayers, but especially one in such a sensitive office. And this is why I believe he didn’t know. I think he left his finances to other people and rarely went into them himself. However, we have to realize that after the assassination of President Kennedy the Secret Service became terribly sensitive. I’ve been out to San Clemente and seen their operation out there. The landscaping was done after the Secret Service tore up the yard and put in their wires and cables. I read recently that it cost the government $300,000 for President Kennedy to go see a cup race in New England one afternoon. We have read that it cost $400 million to bury President Kennedy. It cost a large amount of money to set up all the operations at the LBJ ranch that the Secret Service insisted on. Let’s don’t put all the blame on President Nixon, though it seems to me some of these expenses probably should have been called personal. But again they apparently were handled by lawyers, friends, and government officials. It’s the “system” that has developed. Wherever he goes, the world’s most powerful office travels with him and all of its trappings. Whether this is right or wrong is something the Congress should decide. But this system has been developing for a number of years. I think we should put these matters in perspective with other Presidents.
Q. Do you share the fear that the Agnew admission of income-tax evasion and the questions raised over the President’s returns will encourage more widespread cheating by the public?
A. Not necessarily. The public could react the other way—I hope so.
Q. What should the Christian’s attitude toward government be in the light of Watergate?
A. The Bible teaches several things, but the Christian has one primary duty to those in authority: to pray! “I exhort therefore that first of all supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1, 2). And Nero was then emperor!
Q. Dr. Graham, most people tend to turn to the Church more in times of trouble. Does it concern you that during this crisis the opposite seems to be true of Mr. Nixon, that he has attended hardly any religious services in the past year and sought hardly any spiritual counsel?
A. I would like to see any President who is a professing Christian go to church every Sunday, and attend the prayer meetings at the White House—and show up once in a while for the Senate and House prayer breakfasts. It is my prayer that all the events that have happened during the past few months will tend to deepen the religious convictions of the President. The agonies of the Civil War caused Lincoln to turn to God in a greater dependence than ever before. This tends to be true of most Presidents in periods of crisis.
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