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On Befriending Presidents
This article originally appeared in the March 17, 1972 issue of Christianity Today.
Last week, the National Archives released 500 hours of White House tapes from 1972. Among them was a conversation between President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham, which included controversial statements about Jews. During Nixon's presidency, critics raised questions about Graham's relationship with the president. In the March 17, 1972 issue of Christianity Today, a pre-Watergate editorial defended the influence evangelical leaders can provide to heads of state.
Billy Graham's friendship with Richard Nixon and other American presidents has subjected the evangelist to considerable criticism. Often the accusations revolve around the idea that this liaison demeans evangelical Christianity by identifying the leading Bible preacher of our time with a particular political outlook.
We grant that there is risk involved when a clergyman becomes a confidant of powerful figures in the secular world. But is not the risk far outweighed by the opportunity? Have not many evangelicals long prayed for an entreÉ without compromise in the affairs of state?
Our view on this point coincides with that expressed last month by Editor Louis Benes of the Church Herald, official weekly organ of the Reformed Church in America. "We ought to thank God," wrote Benes, "that four presidents have recognized the integrity of this man of God and sought the friendship and counsel of a man of his character and faith in God. Who else would we want there? What if our president sought the counsel and advice of a member of the Mafia, or a "God is dead" theologian, or someone dedicated to the "playboy" philosophy?"
Benes expressed the hope that Graham "and other Christian leaders, ...1