The majority of staff and board members of East Gates Ministries International, which supports Bible publishing in China, has resigned in the past year amid controversy involving Nelson "Ned" Graham, East Gates president and the youngest of evangelist Billy Graham's five children.
During a lengthy interview with Christianity Today, Ned Graham confirmed that he had abused alcohol and spent an "inappropriate amount of time" with two women on his staff. He denied that either of those relationships involved sexual contact.
After Ned Graham replaced the board members who had resigned with his sister Ruth Graham McIntyre, brother-in-law Stephan Tchividjian, and business leader Peter Lowe, East Gates withdrew its membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Membership in ECFA requires that a majority of board members not be related by blood or marriage, which is no longer the case for East Gates.
In addition to those difficulties, Ned Graham has had ongoing marital problems. Four months ago, a Washington State court completed a divorce between Graham and his wife after 19 years of marriage. In its November 6 issue, World magazine first reported the divorce action, in which Carol Graham alleged that her husband not only abused drugs and alcohol and had inappropriate relations with other women, but also that he engaged in domestic violence and used pornography. Graham denies the latter two charges. Early on, a local judge issued a restraining order against Graham, but the order has since expired. During the CT interview, Ned Graham described his misconduct as "all the pretending, strutting my hour on the stage, [but] the curtain got peeled away; I had the lingo of grace and mercy down but not the understanding."
In her own interview with CT, Carol Graham recalled the period leading to the divorce as "absolutely one of the worst times of my life." Carol Graham and the couple's two sons continue to live in the family home.
"We pray for their Daddy every night. I want the children to know that I cared about their Dad. I never stopped loving him."
East Gates appointed Graham as president in 1991, giving him full control of the fledgling ministry. For the several years under Graham's leadership, East Gates forged a new ministry frontier in China, where a rapidly growing church had an urgent need for more Bibles. The ministry recorded income of $1.1 million in 1998. (On average, not-for-profit organizations annually receive more than $350,000 in direct public support.)
In the meantime, Graham says, he became ever more dependent on alcohol and developed hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). East Gates board members say that in May 1998 they decided to intervene. Graham was granted "board-approved time away" to deal with his alcohol dependency. After tests at the Health Recovery Center in Minneapolis, Graham took a holistic approach, cutting out caffeine, sugar, simple carbohydrates, and all alcohol.
On his return, Graham faced significant problems at work and in his family. Tensions in his marriage and at East Gates offices escalated when Graham began spending extended time with a young woman who had recently joined East Gates. He also had an ongoing intensive friendship with another female staff member. Several board and staff members questioned Graham on the appropriateness of both relationships.
In October 1998, on returning from China, Graham was met at the Seattle airport and served with divorce papers. Two months later, the East Gates board considered a motion to place Ned Graham on administrative leave for his lack of accountability, but the motion failed. In the aftermath, both board and staff members began to resign.
Grace Community Church in Auburn, Washington—which counted Ned Graham, his wife, and their two sons as members—revoked Graham's ministerial credentials, directing Graham to stop using the title reverend. He has since left that congregation for another church.
Despite the turmoil, Graham carries on the ministry of East Gates with the expectation of launching new training projects in China. Still, Graham has not officially and openly communicated with his donors about his personal difficulties. "God is not a little bit sovereign," Graham tells CT. "I am no white lily on the field. I am a sinner saved by grace. This is real life, down to my toes."
Since the divorce, Carol Graham has returned to full-time work as a nurse. She tells CT, "I am a middle-aged woman and the reality is that I have nothing. I had an agenda: I wanted to be happily married and wanted to be a family. It just didn't work out that way.
"I recognize that God is working his best out for my life. I can't say this isn't measuring out. You have to look at the character of God."
Meanwhile, Graham's sister Gigi Tchividjian has joined the office staff. And Ned Graham, who continues as East Gates president, is preparing to publish a book of his father's sermons and to distribute copies in China. He particularly agrees with one passage: "The loss of a marriage relationship may cause grief as wrenching as death."
Ned Graham photo by Greg Schneider
Copyright © 1999 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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