Yesterday in my “Religion and the Presidents” course, I shared the unusual relationship that developed between Dwight Eisenhower and Billy Graham. I say “unusual” because Ike was decades older than the young evangelist and had far more experience in the world. After all, he led the European Theater of WWII, including the daring and dramatic decision to go forward on D-Day.
Yet Ike was being drawn by God into a closer examination of his religious beliefs. No achievement in this world can ever atone for rejection of the Word of Truth. Eisenhower’s parents had ended up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult; fortunately, Ike didn’t follow them there. The hunger for spiritual reality awakened in his soul when he took on the mantle of the presidency, knowing that the responsibility was immense.
Graham communicated with him frequently, urging him to become a faithful Christian and to show it by officially joining a church in Washington, DC. Ike took Graham’s recommendation to become part of the National Presbyterian Church led by Rev. Edward Elson. My time at the Eisenhower Presidential Library yielded some interesting documents, such as a testimony by Rev. Elson regarding the day that Ike joined the church. Here’s what Elson said:
Elson proved to be a good pastor for Ike, but the relationship with Graham continued as well. Even after making this profession of faith, it seems that Ike needed additional confirmation. In 1955, he invited Graham to his farm in Gettysburg where he asked point-blank for the evangelist to tell him precisely what he had to do to be saved. Graham obliged by going through the Scriptures with him.
In 1969, as Ike was in Walter Reed hospital, and knowing he was close to death, Graham visited him. In Graham’s words, this is what transpired:
Eisenhower needed that one final confirmation as he prepared to enter eternity. I’m grateful he received it. I’m grateful there was a faithful servant of God to offer it.
Very few of us will ever get the opportunity to minister to a president, but that’s not what’s important for us. Each person with whom we come into contact has a soul that is just as precious as the soul of any president, and God calls upon us to offer the same message that a great evangelist offers. Our supreme task is laid out succinctly by the apostle Paul:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:17-20