CHARLOTTE, NC — Former president Bill Clinton paid his respects to Billy Graham on Tuesday, traveling to North Carolina for the public viewing of Graham’s casket at his Charlotte library. Graham, who had served as a counselor to a number of U.S. presidents, considered Clinton to be a Christian, and once characterized him—despite disagreement with his stances—as being a man who “has in his heart a desire to serve God and do His will.”
Clinton, who was one of thousands who came for the viewing that day, spoke to reporters outside of Graham’s childhood home during his visit.
“I read a story today saying if you’re a preacher, you have to be careful about getting too close to those politicians. I agree with that—but don’t forget, those of us who are Christians believe in a God of second chances, and politicians need those more than anybody else,” he said. “So you gotta cut him a little slack for trying to give a willing ear and an open heart without regard to his political preferences.”
Clinton outlined that his Sunday School teacher took him to a Graham crusade in Little Rock, Arkansas when he was 11 years old. He also met Graham in person when he served as the governor of Arkansas, and took the popular crusade preacher to visit his pastor, who was deathly ill.
“Hillary and I were glad to have him at the White House a couple times, but mostly I was glad to see that, in that little room [with my pastor], he was the same person that I saw when I was 11 at that great big football field, and I think that says a lot,” Clinton stated.
“I think he was a profoundly good man who conveyed a simple belief that we can claim kinship with God by asking, and that while we all believe that it’s faith plus nothing, he wasn’t faith plus nothing. He lived. He showed his faith by his works and by his life,” he remarked.
Graham, reported to be a registered Democrat, is stated to have prayed with every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, the latter of whom traveled to Graham’s cabin in 2010. In 1983, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
In his best-selling autobiography “Just As I Am,” first published in 1997, Graham wrote favorably of Clinton, suggesting that he considered the then-president to be a Christian. While noting that Clinton drew opposition from Christians at times, most likely referring to his unbiblical stances, he said that he still sensed that Clinton’s heart was toward the Lord.
He recalled a meeting at the White House in which the two talked about the Bible, writing, “It was a time of warm fellowship with a man who has not always won the approval of his fellow Christians, but who has in his heart a desire to serve God and do His will.” Read the excerpt here.
Graham outlined that during the 1996 presidential election he refused to endorse one candidate or the other, as he considered both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole to be his friends. He said that he simply prayed that God’s will would be done and that whoever was elected would serve with integrity.
“That was my prayer also as I stood at the podium on January 20, 1997, as President Clinton and Vice President Gore were inaugurated to their second term in office,” Graham wrote. “It has been my prayer for every president I have known, whether casually or intimately.”
“The burdens and responsibilities of that office are enormous, and no person can ever fulfill its demands with his own strength, but only with the grace and help of Almighty God,” he added. “President Clinton knows the reality of that truth, and … I pray that all who follow him in that office may know it as well.”
In 1993, Graham drew controversy for agreeing to present the invocation at Clinton’s first inauguration despite the president-elect’s views, from which he dissented. According to a New York Times article, “By taking part in the inauguration of President Clinton, a fellow Southern Baptist, Mr. Graham infuriated some conservative Christians who said he should have shunned an administration that strongly supports abortion rights and opposes the armed forces’ bar against homosexuals.”
“Mr. Graham himself has said that abortion is generally an unjustified taking of a human life, but he admits exceptions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman’s life. He has called homosexual acts sinful, but has warned against treating homosexuals as outcasts,” the outlet outlined.
As previously reported, many Christians do not consider the Clintons to be Christians despite their notations of their Methodist and Baptist backgrounds, and it was because of their stances on moral issues that many strongly opposed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.
Graham was vocal about his concerns surrounding the moral decline of America in his latter years, and warned that the nation “can’t go on much longer in the sea of immorality without judgment coming.”
His body was transported to the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, where he was honored by President Trump, both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and governors from across the nation. Graham’s funeral is scheduled for Friday at the Billy Graham Library. He will be buried next to his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007.