As the nation's top politicians gathered May 2 in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to laud Billy Graham, the evangelist used the occasion to make a prophetic call to stop the nation's "descent into new depths of crime, oppression, sexual immorality, and evil."

With an audience that included 170 congressional representatives, Graham warned that problems such as racial tension, crime, poverty, illegal drugs, and teenage pregnancy threaten to rip the country apart. "We have confused liberty with license--and we are paying the awful price," Graham said. "We are a society poised on the brink of self-destruction."

Graham and his wife, Ruth, received a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor, for "outstanding and lasting contributions to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy, and religion." House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and Vice President Al Gore all praised Graham's ministry during an invitation-only afternoon ceremony attended by evangelical, political, and entertainment dignitaries, as well as by many long-time Graham employees and 30 relatives. At an evening dinner, President Clinton paid tribute to the evangelist.

Gingrich, master of ceremonies of the afternoon event, held on the National Day of Prayer, called Graham "one of the great civic leaders of the twentieth century." To Ruth Graham, the Speaker said, "I can't tell you how much you've been in our prayers."

Both Billy, 77, and Ruth, 76, have had recent serious health problems. Ruth had been out of the hospital less than a month with bacterial spinal meningitis when the ceremony took place. Gore lifted a chair to the podium for a tiring Ruth Graham as she stood during the medal presentation. She did not attend the evening function. ...

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