What Billy Graham learned in his 50-year ministry to every U.S. President since Truman

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At a time when the country was bitterly debating the role of religion in public life, we thought Graham's 50-year courtship of--and courtship by--11 Presidents was a story that needed to be told. Perhaps more than anyone else, he had shaped the contours of American public religion and had seen close up how the Oval Office affects people. We wondered what the world's most powerful men wanted from the world's most famous preacher. What worried them, and what calmed them? "Their personal lives--some of them--were difficult," he told us. "But I loved them all. I admired them all. I knew that they had burdens beyond anything I could ever know or understand."

And we wondered, too, how all that time in the White House changed Graham. What temptations did he face, what compromises did he have to make to preserve his access to the Oval Office without becoming a serial prisoner of the men he informally served? In our conversations over the course of 13 months, Graham talked candidly about the dangers of power and politics, about how it was a struggle for him for all those years and about what he learned. "I was aware of the risk at all times, political risk," he said. "Politics has always been ugly to me, and yet I accept that as a fact of life. The emphasis I tried to leave was love, not ... my own love for them but that they need to have love for the people who were opposed to them."

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