On July 14, 1950, a young Billy Graham made his first visit to the White House, for a meeting with President Truman. He brought along Crusade team members Grady Wilson, Cliff Barrows and Jerry Beaven. He details the account in the opening pages of Just As I Am.
When we arrived at the side gate of the White House, we passed through the security guards and checkpoints easily enough. The President’s secretary then took us in hand, informing us that our visit would last exactly twenty minutes.
Promptly at noon, we were ushered into the Oval Office. From the look on President Truman’s face, the chief executive of our nation must have thought that he was receiving a traveling vaudeville team. He welcomed us cordially enough, though, with handshakes all around. Then he said he had heard some good things about our meetings.
Our allotted time was quickly running out, and what I really wanted to talk to him about was faith. I did not know how to begin.
“Mr. President,” I blurted out, “tell me about your religious background and leanings.”
“Well,” he replied in his Missouri accent, “I try to live by the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.”
“It takes more than that, Mr. President. It’s faith in Christ and His death on the Cross that you need.”
The President stood up. Apparently, our twenty minutes were up. We stood up too.
“Mr. President, could we have prayer?”
I put my arm around the shoulders of the President of the United States of America and prayed.
It began to dawn on me a few days later how we had abused the privilege of seeing the President. National coverage of our visit was definitely not to our advantage.
I did visit Mr. Truman many years later at his home in Independence, Missouri. I recalled the incident and apologized profusely for our ignorance and naivete.
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied graciously. “I realized you hadn’t been properly briefed.”
After our gaffe, I vowed to myself it would never happen again if I ever was given access to a person of rank or influence.
Billy Graham was “given access” to a number of persons of rank or influence in his lifetime. Beginning Aug. 1, visit The Billy Graham Library for a special exhibit called “Billy Graham: Pastor to Presidents.” See how this humble dairy farmer’s son became an ambassador for Christ to 12 U.S. presidents beginning with President Truman.