How Rev. Billy Graham's message transcended politics

The public will have a chance to pay respects to the Rev. Billy Graham before he is buried next Friday. He will lie in repose on Monday and Tuesday at his library in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then be brought to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The influence of the famed evangelist, who died at the age of 99 on Wednesday, was felt for decades in U.S. politics. He met with and spiritually advised every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. While he made an effort to keep his counsel bipartisan, his evangelical movement became a political force courted by Republican candidates.

In 2011, Christianity Today asked him via email about any regrets, and he responded he “would have steered clear of politics.” 

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday why that might be.  

“Because he looked back at the tapes during Watergate, his close association with Richard Nixon, which I think was more personal than it was political. But I think later he looked back and saw how those lines can become blurred and people could easily confuse a partisan political agenda for the kingdom of God that, of course, transcends all of that,” Moore said. “And so Billy Graham’s primary goal was to reach people, all people with the message of God’s love, of the day of judgment that’s coming for all people, and of the freedom that comes through forgiveness through the cross.”

A private conversation with then-President Nixon led to one of the rare blemishes on Graham’s long career. He apologized after audiotapes from the Nixon White House revealed him making disparaging comments about Jews.

Ordained a Baptist minister, Graham was known for his “crusades” where millions would flock to hear him preach. Moore said his influence on American Christians was “massive,” “partly because of his uniqueness as a communicator, innovating with technologies.” In the 1950s, Graham was quick to see the potential for television to help spread his message worldwide.  

“But part of it is because of how the same he was as the rest of the Christian message. He never cut corners on the Gospel,” Moore said. “He was never embarrassed about the message that people can find forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And that was the message he gave over and over again. So that the person that’s drug addicted in the homeless shelter and the United States senator or the billionaire find the same message coming from Billy Graham – by the grace of God through the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Moore said he was struck by Graham’s “gravity” when he first met the evangelist as a young minister.

“Walking into the room, it was almost like coming into the room with an Old Testament prophet, in one sense, but at the same time there was this warmth,” Moore said. 

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