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Profiles of T.D. Jakes, Billy Graham

Aired December 25, 2004 - 17:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS begins in a moment. But first here are the headlines. 30,000 Christmas day travelers in 118 U.S. cities are trying to get to their destinations after being stranded by Comair. The Delta subsidiary had to cancel all of its weekend flights after a computer system failure that manages flight crew assignments. A Comair spokesman says the airline hopes to resume a limited schedule on Monday.
Police blame heavy fog for two roadway accidents that killed at least 26 people in Pakistan's northern Punjab province. In one of today's crashes, a bus plunged into a ravine killing 18 passengers and injuring 30 others. The fog is expected to linger for days.

In Christmas day basketball, the NBA's LA Lakers lead Miami in 68-63 in the third quarter of the game in Los Angeles and the Detroit Pistons haven beaten the Indiana Pacers 98-93 in their rematch in Indianapolis. CNN's Steve Overmyer reports live on both of these games at 6:00 Eastern time. More news coming up in 30 minutes. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS begins right now.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. TD Jakes definitely goes where other preachers fear to tread. His mastery of everything from TV and the Internet to books and movies has earned him a huge following and also makes him a powerful force both in and out of the pulpit. It's also made him extremely wealthy and controversial. Here's Kyra Phillips.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a Grammy winner and a best selling author, a multimillionaire who lives in a sprawling lakefront mansion and drives a Bentley. Famous for his sartorial splendor, he favors custom-tailored suits and alligator shoes. He counts NFL stars Deon Sanders and Emmitt Smith as close friends and he packs arenas, setting attendance records across the country. He took a star-making turn in an independent movie based on one of his books. It debuted in the top 10 on the box office chart and made all its money back opening weekend.

But he's not going Hollywood because he's got a higher calling. This is Bishop TD Jakes. His nondenominational church is home to 28,000 members and counting. And his religious television program is beamed to 146 countries each week.

PROF. ALTON POLLARD, DIR., BLACK CHURCH STUDIES PROGRAM, EMORY UNIVERSITY: He knows how to reach you in those intimate places, those heartfelt places.

PHILLIPS: But for TD Jakes, with fame came fortune and with fortune comes scrutiny.

OLE ANTHONY, TRINITY FOUNDATION: How can you meet people's needs unless you live with them? When he lives in grand opulence and isolation and then says he's ministering to those in need, I don't know how he does it.

PHILLIPS: The bishop, as his followers call him, says he's not in it for the money. He's just trying to help the thousands of people who come to him seeking salvation.

TD JAKES: I don't think anybody's been as shocked by the world's response to me as I have been. I mean, just appalled because I have always just been myself and just been amazed that people come out to hear me talk.

PHILLIPS: It's a humble perspective sprung from humble beginnings in coal mining country. Born in south Charleston, West Virginia on June 9, 1957, Thomas Dexter Jakes was reared in a household that prized hard work and the gift of gab.

JAKES: It's the '60s and it's Bobby Kennedy and it's Martin Luther King and great speakers were filling our televisions. I really enjoyed it.

PHILLIPS: His mother, Odith (ph), a home economics teacher and father, Ernest, a janitor, also inspired him with their strict work ethic.

JAKES: I grew up in an atmosphere where they were hustlers. They were workers, blue collar people, my father in particular.

PHILLIPS: Thomas saw proof that hard work paid off when his father opened a janitorial company that eventually landed the state capitol building as a client.

JAKES: He started with a little nothing. He had a mop and a bucket and he started working and turned it into a company with 52 employees. He was relentless.

PHILLIPS: Church also played a central role in Thomas' life. He began deeply drawn to religious stories early on, earning him the nickname Bible boy.

JAKES: I don't want to give you the impression that I was a holy child who grew up with glowing halos around my head and scriptures coming out of their ears. That was not the case. I was very, very normal and sometimes deviant and mischievous.

PHILLIPS: But tragic circumstances forced him to grow up fast.

JAKES: My father got sick when I was about 10 years ago. He went from about 280 pounds, he was a robust man and broad shouldered, muscular and went down to about 130 pounds. PHILLIPS: Diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, the hard worker became bedridden and dependent on a dialysis machine. While other kids were outside playing, Thomas was often inside mopping up blood from around the machinery that kept his father alive. He spent his teenage years dealing with the very adult issues of life and finally death.

SERITA JAKES, WIFE: He had a very abrupt childhood and a very abbreviated childhood, and I think the death of his father sent him into a tailspin where he was looking for answers and a solution to the pain that he was feeling or experiencing and I think that that's what drew him closer to God at that age.

PHILLIPS: Thomas dropped out of high school, got a GED and worked a string of job before settling at the Union Carbide plant in West Virginia. But he also found ways to explore another calling on the side.

JAKES: We worked shift work and sometimes in the evening I was up there working in the plant and singing and having church. It's back to the roots thing and how I entertain myself. And all the while, I taught Bible classes on my lunch break.

PHILLIPS: He started traveling around the area preaching. During one of those trips, he caught someone's eye.

S. JAKES: He happened to be in my city running a revival and I was impressed with his ministry, and I started sending him secret pal cards just to encourage him.

JAKES: I started receiving these secret pal cards from this person. I didn't know who it was. So every time I went to Beckley, anywhere in the city that she was from to preach, I kept trying to look out on the congregation to see who was giving me the eye. I wanted to know who it was.

PHILLIPS: With the help of a match maker, the dashing young pastor finally connected with his shy, future wife.

JAKES: And so the pastor's wife introduced us and I said to her, you don't know anyplace a bachelor could get a good home-cooked meal, and she started giggling because she couldn't cook and she said, I'll ask my mother.

PHILLIPS: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, a former Dallas Cowboys star reaches out to TD Jakes when drugs, alcohol and elicit sex take a toll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of times I think when you are as lost as I was and as deep into some of the things that I was, you don't see yourself as worthy of even being saved.


PHILLIPS: Sunlight comes streaming into the Potter's House early on a Sunday morning and so do the people. The sanctuary of TD Jakes' church, built to hold 8,000, easily fills to the rafters for the 8:00 a.m. service. But this isn't a new thing. Crowds have been thick here since day one.

JAKES: 1,500 people joined the first Sunday. I never experienced that before in all the years I was in West Virginia. I didn't have 1,500 people to join in 10 or 15 years.

PHILLIPS: Back in West Virginia, TD Jakes had established a loyal, but small following at his store front church housed in a former garage.

BEVERLY ROBINSON, MEMBER, THE POTTER'S HOUSE: Everybody knew everybody, so it was really easy to go out to dinner together after church because it was only about maybe 30 to 50 of us at a time.

PHILLIPS: And though West Virginia was the only home he had known for 38 years, the bishop was in for a change.

JAKES: I think that I was meant to be in Dallas and I felt needed in Dallas and there were people in Dallas that were hungry for what I had to say.

PHILLIPS: He and 50 families from his congregation packed up and headed west.

YOLANDA BAILEY, MEMBER, THE POTTER'S HOUSE: Some family members did go to church and so forth, but a lot didn't, so they didn't understand. They thought we were going to Waco or going to drink Kool-Aid. I don't know.

JAKES: Cast your cares to the wind and say this is my moment and I'm not going to miss it.

PHILLIPS: In Dallas, Jakes founded a nondenominational church with Pentecostal beliefs called The Potter's House. The church and Jakes flourished immediately. He turned the messages of his sermons into best-selling books and produced stage plays that filled local theaters. His television ministry exploded, becoming one of the biggest draws on Trinity Broadcasting Network and BET.

JAKES: In the process of getting out of the marketplace of the church, you run into the bigger mass of people who are outside and many times who are turned off by the church.

PHILLIPS: At the core of his success, his refusal to shy away from touchy topics like sexual abuse, AIDS, domestic violence and infidelity.

JAKES: Do you know what it is to have fear? Fear he's seeing another woman? Ooh, got quiet, didn't it? I must have hit something that time.

JAKES: Religious people can be stuffy. They can be stuffy and narrow and phony. I like to be around people who just tell it like it is. I relate to them. They relate to me. PHILLIPS: That lack of pretense worked for former Dallas Cowboy star Michael Irvin. After years of womanizing and drug abuse that led to embarrassing arrests and a 1996 trial for cocaine possession, he felt lost.

MICHAEL IRVIN: I am the bread winner and everything in my family. Everybody comes to me so but to cry and with their problems. Who do I go to my problems with? I had no one until I found bishop.

PHILLIPS: He says Jakes was able to get through to him in a way unlike anyone before.

IRVIN: And I remember in the service going down and just crying, going to the pulpit and just crying on the steps and just crying and crying and he walked over and he embraced me. And he said it's OK. It's OK to cry.

PHILLIPS: The Super Bowl champ says he doesn't know where he'd be if not for Bishop Jakes and the Potter's House.

IRVIN: I truly believe, my wife and I say it all the time, that God sent him here for me. Probably another 20,000, 30,000 people think the same thing, but that's what I believe because what he's done for me is just, it's absolutely incredible.

PHILLIPS: If you need more proof that TD Jakes is touching lives, witness the phenomenal that is "Woman, Thou Art Loosed."

S. JAKES: The book started as the Sunday school class with maybe 15 women sermon.

PHILLIPS: The sermon turned book, turned old-fashioned revival, encouraged women not to be dragged down by past sexual abuse, degradation, violence and insecurities.

POLLARD: When we went down that road, which was a road less traveled, it really connected and when he did that, I think he realized that he had hit the spiritual mother lode.

PHILLIPS: Jakes says he cleaned out his bank account to publish the book himself. It sold out in just two weeks and went on to sell more than three million copies. The overwhelming response to the message drove Bishop Jakes to spear head "Woman Thou Art Loosed," the movie.

Independently produced and funded, the unflinching drama about an abused woman sentenced to death row was not a sure thing. Like its trail blazing predecessor, "The Passion of the Christ," the film, with its heavy religious overtones, benefited from nontraditional marketing. The combination of word of mouth and critical praise also helped make the film a surprise hit. When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, Bishop TD Jakes is on top of the world. But the run away success of his multi media, multimillion dollar empire leads some to ask, is he selling God?

ANTHONY: TD Jakes was one of my heroes because of what he was doing for people really in need. But somehow he's been seduced in my opinion by both money and celebrity.


JAKES: I wish I could give you this magic pill, this drug, this wonder elixir that if you take it, shazam! You get where you're trying to go without any kind of problem. I don't have one. If you have one, call me. I'll see you right after the service.

PHILLIPS: Bishop TD Jakes may not have a magic formula, but to his followers in Dallas and around the world, his words act like a spiritual balm.

JAKES: You made it on one leg? Well then give me some crutches because if you hopped your way out, then bless God, I'm going to hop my way out too!

POLLARD: When he speaks, whether it's tens of thousands or whether it's a small room full of people, everyone feels typically that he's speaking directly to them.

PHILLIPS: His oratorical skills are becoming legendary. '

JAKES: Either God is God or we need to shut up our Bible and close our churches.

PHILLIPS: But in today's self-help society, it's his unique blend of religion and personal empowerment that has proven to becoming particularly salient and lucrative.

POLLARD: He has prospered, similar to the way Dr. Phil has prospered, in a way that Oprah Winfrey has prospered and no one denies them the right or the opportunity to have wealth.

PHILLIPS: Over the years, the preacher/multimedia mogul has grown accustomed to the scrutiny.

JAKES: It's kind of an old horse that's been beaten to death for me. Most people understand that anybody who has sold seven million books can afford a house and a suit.

PHILLIPS: Bishop Jakes also always made clear that his money comes from his for-profit ventures, his books, his speaking engagements, his gospel record label. But historically, there have been a number of ministries derailed by scandal when televangelists and cash collided. Ole Anthony is the founder of the nonprofit Trinity Foundation, a faith-based watch dog group that monitors televangelists.

ANTHONY: The problem is, these people, these men or women of God start believing they're special. They have no accountability and so they believe that whatever they want is what God wants.

PHILLIPS: In some cases, ministers have justified their wealth by preaching a particular brand of theology called the prosperity gospel. Basically, the idea that good Christians, those with the strongest faith, would be blessed with riches and that in order to get money, you have to first give it away. TD Jakes has delivered sermons and written books on building wealth, but he insists he's not a prosperity preacher, just someone who wants to share financial lessons learned over the years.

JAKES: I hate to see our people distraught and broken and struggling after all these years. I hate it. Even though I'm a preacher, I care about some very practical things about sending your kids to college and being able to own your own house.

PHILLIPS: Even critics like Anthony say the bishop and his church have not committed any wrongdoing.

ANTHONY: I can say honestly that there's no evidence as fraud, and that's rare in ministries as large as his is. But when ministries reach a level of success, then they start selling out.

PHILLIPS: Members of the church say as far as their ministry is concerned, money is not a goal.

LAWRENCE ROBINSON, SR. PASTOR, THE POTTER'S HOUSE: We are blessed. We say thank you. We think we're driving the big cars or wearing the wonderful clothes, God is good. That's not what we're about.

PHILLIPS: Providing clothes and makeovers for the homeless is just one project out of more than 100 undertaken by volunteers from the Potter's House. Still, some people would like to see Bishop Jakes using his enormous clout to speak out against social injustice and become more involved in civil rights.

POLLARD: One of the things that has long come out of the black community is that it is important in ministry to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. TD Jakes is good at half of that equation.

JAKES: I don't think that one minister can do everything. Every minister can do something. And I see those people who are deeply involved in civil rights, but I don't see them feeding the homeless and providing support groups for those that are disenfranchised nor setting up drug rehabilitation centers and I don't criticize them because they're not doing what I'm doing.

PHILLIPS: As for politics, ministers, especially ones with congregations as large as this one, are used to being courted. The bishop has met with several presidents, but don't expect any endorsements here.

JAKES: We were very active in telling people to vote, but we were not at all involved in telling them who to vote for. My political views are not theology. It's not Bible and I'm not always right.

PHILLIPS: TD Jakes may not always be right, but he always strives to be righteous. Whether he's delivering his message from the pulpit, one on one through his books or to thousands of believers at an event like mega fest, he believes he is doing God's will. JAKES: God has blessed me to find that thing that I was supposed to do. Whatever it is, I encourage people don't die until you find that thing that you were created to do because the moment you have fulfillment and accomplishment and success comes with it, to find that thing that fills you full of gratification and makes you smile when you do it, that's rich. An accountant can never keep record on it and you don't have to pay taxes on it. Fulfillment.


ZAHN: TD Jakes is already planning his next mega fest. The event is scheduled to run August 3rd through the 6th in Atlanta.


WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues in a moment. But first, here are the headlines. Delta Airlines subsidiary, Comair, says a computer problem forced the cancellation of all of its 1160 flights this weekend. The foul up affected 30,000 Christmas Day Comair travelers in 118 U.S. cities. The airline is now trying to place passengers on Delta flights.

Thousands of U.S. Airways and Delta passengers, meantime, made it to their destinations but without their luggage. Airports from Miami to Philadelphia report piles of unclaimed bags. U.S. Airways blames flight disruptions caused by this week's harsh winter storms and adds it's doing everything possible to get the bags to their rightful owners.

The two man crew of the international space station is scheduled to receive badly needed supplies. About an hour from now, an unmanned Russian spaceship is set to link up with the station. The crew has been forced to ration their supply. Miles O'Brien brings us live coverage starting at 6:30 Eastern this evening.

A complete wrap up of the news coming up at the top of the hour. PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues right now.

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. The Reverend Billy Graham has been called America's pastor. From presidents to parishioners he's the nation's leading spiritual voice and counselor. With the holidays upon us, a look at the evangelist who has made faith his life long crusade. Here's Bruce Burkhardt.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look up evangelist in the dictionary and you'll find the word comes from a Greek phrase meaning messenger of good news.

BILLY GRAHAM: God loves you. He receives you. He will put your name in the book of life.

BURKHARDT: For nearly seven decades, Billy Graham has traveled the world spreading the good word to the masses. GRAHAM: This crowd has been brought together, I believe, by the spirit of God, using all of us working together.

GEORGE BEVERLY SHEA, CRUSADE SOLOIST: His great message is about the love of God. He'll say as I leave this city, I want you to remember that God loves you, very effective. You feel it, you know.

BURKHARDT: He's written 24 books, counseled world leaders and spread his passion in person to well over 200 million people. Even at age 86, Billy Graham continues to pack stadiums with a loyal and growing flock. But long before he became a spiritual beacon, little Billy Frank Graham was, well, spirited.

WILLIAM MARTIN, BIOGRAPHER: I'm sure if he had been brought up to date, he'd have been diagnosed as hyperactive. They said he was always just running and zooming.

BURKHARDT: Born on a brisk November night in 1918, the future evangelist grew up on his parents' dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. Billy Frank was the oldest of four kids, two boys and two girls. With a full house, Marla (ph) and Frank Graham deftly reined in their rambunctious son.

MARTIN: The first revival I know of his attending was when Billy Sunday, the great evangelist of that time came through, but he was only five years old and his father took him and said if you make any noise, he'll call your name from the pulpit and he was terrified.

BURKHARDT: It was a later call from the pulpit at a different crusade that would change Billy's life forever. At the urging of one of his father's dairy workers, 16-year old Billy went to a revival put on by Mordecai Hamm (ph), an old school fire and brimstone evangelist. The three-month revival quickly became Billy's main nighttime activity for the autumn of '34.

CLIFF BARROWS, CRUSADE PROGRAM DIRECTOR: He got tired of Mordecai Hamm pointing his finger and he thought he was pointing at him all the time, so he joined the choir to get away from him. But one night when he gave the invitation, Billy went forward and publicly made his commitment to Jesus Christ.

MARTIN: He didn't decide immediately he was going to be a preacher, but the idea of going to a strong conservative Bible college was appealing.

BURKHARDT: At 18, Billy headed off to Bob Jones College, a fundamentalist Bible school then located in Cleveland, Tennessee. The school's namesake imposed rigid standards.

MARTIN: The only dating that was allowed was a 15-minute visit, no touching in a parlor with a chaperone.

BURKHARDT: Billy lasted barely a semester. During Christmas break, he transferred to a Florida Bible Institute, an unaccredited Christian college near Tampa. MARTIN: It was at Florida Bible Institute actually where he really became a preacher. One of the features of that school was that the big-name revivalists would come there and they would teach, give lectures.

BURKHARDT: After graduating in 1940, he was ordained a Baptist minister. Then next move, Wheaton College, just outside of Chicago, to pursue a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

SHEA: While he was a student at Wheaton, he spoke at various churches and it was quite evident that he was going to be quite a preacher.

GRAHAM: I believe that faith in God is a tremendous thing.

BURKHARDT: Billy Graham had found his calling and late in his first semester, he also found a girlfriend, Ruth McHugh (ph) Belle, daughter of medical missionaries, had spent the first 16 years of her life in China. In Ruth, Billy found a partner whose energy matched his own. The couple wed after graduating from Wheaton.

ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ, DAUGHTER: If my father lost his focus, my mother would be right there to jerk him back. And she was an incredible woman. You wouldn't have Billy Graham without Ruth Graham, and know I know that.

BURKHARDT: In 1943, Billy took a job as pastor at the Western Springs Baptist Church near Chicago. He also became part of a Christian radio show called "Songs in the Night."

SHEA: It was at 10:15 to 11:00 Sunday nights and I did several solos and he spoke so wonderfully.

GRAHAM: I don't care who you are. Your intellect alone will never get you into heaven.

BURKHARDT: Billy was an evangelist at heart. He yearned to travel, to spread the gospel to large crowds. After a year and a half with the church, Billy moved onto a new job with Youth for Christ.

MARTIN: The great advantage he got from Youth for Christ was that it introduced him to church leaders all over America.

GRAHAM: The word of God shall stand forever! You better come to Christ while you can!

BURKHARDT: Billy Graham was on a roll, setting up youth rallies around the country. His fast and furious sermons earned him the nickname God's machine gun.

MARK NOLL, PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN HISTORY, WHEATON COLLEGE: He was hot. He was active in the pulpit. He was moving from side to side and you knew what the Bible said when he said "the Bible said."

BURKHARDT: Ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, spreading the word with sermons, songs and a whole lot of media hype. MARTIN: The camp was just crawling with reporters and photographers and Billy didn't know what was going on.


BURKHARDT: In the mid 20th century, America was buoyant with post-war euphoria but heavy with cold war fear, an ideal time for Billy Graham to take the world by storm.

GRAHAM: We find that people are more concerned with things than they are with the things of God.

BURKHARDT: Billy had a calling. Here was no room for compromise.

GRAHAM: They're more concerned with pleasure, more concerned with money, more concerned with the things of life than they are the things of all mighty God.

BURKHARDT: In 1949, a group of Los Angeles Christians invited the fiery preacher to hold a revival.

SHEA: I always remember how excited we all were and how the people came and there was a huge tent, canvas cathedral. We had a marvelous time. We were scheduled for the crusade to last for three weeks.

BURKHARDT: But the masses continued to flood in. The tent finally came down after eight rousing weeks of sermon and song.

CHARLES COLSON, FORMER NIXON AIDE: It was a phenomenon, fueled by his preaching, fueled by the Holy Spirit, fueled by the need of the moment.

BURKHARDT: Graham's message hit a chord, but there was one other reason for the strong turnout, courtesy of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

MARTIN: On Saturday he came and the tent was just crawling with reporters and photographers and Billy didn't know what was going on. A reporter - he said what's happening here? And a reporter showed him a piece of paper like something had been torn of a teletype machine or something and it had two words, puff Graham.

BURKHARDT: With the phrase puff Graham, Hearst was instructing his reporters to sing Graham's praises. The resulting media coverage thrust the evangelist into a whole different orbit.

MARTIN: Just before the crusade started, Russia had exploded an atomic bomb so no longer was the United States the only atomic power. That was scary to people. Billy preached against Communism. He preached a strong moral message.

NOLL: Billy Graham was an anticommunist I think so many Americans of his sort of, of his background, of his religion were anticommunist. What was unusual is the fervor and the urgency with which he could combine his anticommunist principles as a support for the proclamation of the Christian gospels.

GRAHAM: Christians above all others should be concerned with social problems and social injustices.

BURKHARDT: As a spiritual leader, Graham believed he had God's blessing. As a preacher with a growing profile, he courted political figures, including the president of the United States.

MARTIN: He wrote letters imploring President Truman to send a word of greeting or to do something, to put the presidential seal on what he was doing.

BURKHARDT: In 1950, Billy Graham and three of his aides put on their Sunday best and met with President Truman at the White House. The conversation was brief, the president, good humored.

MARTIN: It (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Billy said could we have a word of prayer? The president said, I guess it can't hurt.

BURKHARDT: Afterwards, reporters mobbed the four visitors. Unaccustomed to White House protocol, Billy described every detail of the meeting. He even mentioned that they prayed with the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the reporters said, well, would you pray again right here for us and it's something that we wouldn't do that now. We didn't do it for advertising purposes, but we knelt there and prayed on the White House lawn.

MARTIN: That picture was in the newspapers the next day, and it angered the president. When Billy Graham came back to hold a crusade in Washington, President Truman said, I don't want to talk with him. He's just interested in publicity.

BURKHARDT: For Billy Graham, that incident was a life lesson in the new nuances of power. In 1952, he urged General Eisenhower to run for president. When the general took office, Billy made himself available as an unofficial adviser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He became rapidly a friendly voice, a friendly contact and at least on a few occasions with Dwight Eisenhower, a friendly adviser on matters of state, as well as on matters of religion.

MARTIN: That's also when he got to know the vice president, Richard Nixon. Billy Graham came to be seen as the most famous preacher in America and also as the spokesman for evangelical Christianity.

BURKHARDT: In 1954, the evangelical spokesman began to spread his message overseas. His first stop, Great Britain.

NOLL: From that time, Graham begins to moderate his political opinions. He begins to be more cautious about what he says politically and about social events. He begins to sharpen the focus upon his Christian message, even as he takes it further and further abroad in the world. GRAHAM: We've come here at the invitation of these churches to help lead you in a crusade to win men to Jesus Christ and to help promote the kingdom of God in Britain.

BURKHARDT: In the states, Billy spent a summer preaching in New York from Madison Square Garden to Yankee Stadium to Times Square, the meetings drew massive crowds, inviting criticism from his own fold.

NOLL: There were conservative Protestants who wrote him off as a theological modernist. Graham has never been a theological modernist but he has been willing to cooperate with the broad range of churches.

BURKHARDT: But Billy's ministry established Christian common ground.

GRAHAM: This is your hour with God.

BURKHARDT: It also kept the globe trotting preacher away from his most beloved congregation, his wife and their five children.

LOTZ: Being raised by a single parent and giving your father up when he spends more time with a secretary or a news reporter than he does with me, that hurt. He was our daddy. We knew he preached and went and served Jesus, so I was glad to let him go because of that.

BURKHARDT: Ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the seductive halls of power and a controversial oval office conversation.

COLSON: The president of the United States sitting behind that desk and a certain awe goes with it and even Billy Graham is influenced by that.


GRAHAM: The Old Testament looks forward to him. The New Testament looks back to him, but the center of the scriptures is Christ!

BURKHARDT: By the early 1960s, Billy Graham was a man in full, a servant of God, a man of the people and de facto chaplain for Washington's elite. At his first meeting with Lyndon Johnson, the two country boys bonded.

MARTIN: It was supposed to be a 15 minute meeting and it turned into five hours and they traded stories and went swimming naked. And Billy said they didn't have swimsuits. You just went as you were.

BURKHARDT: After President Johnson left office, Billy continued to frequent the White House. He'd visit the man he called his old Quaker friend. Graham actively supported Richard Nixon in his earlier presidential race against John Kennedy. But where the evangelist saw friendship, President Nixon saw political cache.

MARTIN: The White House notes that I have seen memoranda that it's clear they were using him in anyway they could to bring support, to bring his people. He was being used and he came to understand that and that changed his relationship. He drew away from politics.

BURKHARDT: Relations with future administrations would be different, less political, more pastoral. Billy Graham set up a cautious space between his ministry and the oval office, all the while reaching out to bridge other divides.

NOLL: From the mid '60s and on into the 1970s, Graham began interested in preaching behind what was then called the iron curtain in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Of course there had to be a lot of bureaucracy to go through. One of the layers of bureaucracy was in the Catholic Church itself and by time one of the key players in that Catholic bureaucracy was Karol Wojytla, who later was of course chosen as Pope John Paul II.

GRAHAM: And the first time I ever saw him and I've seen him several times, talked with him, he put his hand on mine and he said, "we are brothers."

COLSON: He reached out across the confessional divides. He took a lot of heat when he did it but he's right to do it and many of us have followed that lead.

BURKHARDT: In 1982, the evangelist accepted an invitation to Moscow to speak at a state-sponsored summit of religious leaders. Critics said the Kremlin sanctioned the event and invited Graham simply to provide grist for Soviet propaganda.

COLSON: I don't believe you could get Billy Graham to do something that he didn't believe was what God wanted. So I think Billy takes that kind of punishment that he gets and criticism that he gets in stride.

GRAHAM: God said if you break my moral law you're going to suffer and die.

BURKHARDT: In the late '80s and early '90s, he preached in communist China and even North Korea twice. All the while, Billy Graham kept up a vigorous presence at home.

GRAHAM: Shall we pray?

MARTIN: Before launching the first Gulf war, President Bush at the time invited Billy Graham to the White House and then asked him to lead a prayer service the next day with the Army brass.

BURKHARDT: Three days after the September 11th attacks, the second President Bush called on Graham to speak at the National Cathedral.

GRAHAM: We especially come together in this service to confess our need of God.

BURKHARDT: Graham provided soothing words of unity at the interfaith service, but months later, the evangelist's past rapport with President Nixon would come back to haunt him. In 2002, the national archives released a taped oval office conversation laced with anti-Semitic slurs. When President Nixon ranted about what he saw as Jewish media control, Graham joined in.

GRAHAM: This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going to go down the drain.


GRAHAM: Yes sir.

NIXON: Oh, boy, I can't ever say that, but I believe it.

GRAHAM: No, but if you get elected a second time, we might be able to do something.

COLSON: I've been in those -- Nixon was a very dominant personality. He could do that. And, of course, he was the president of the United States sitting behind that desk and a certain awe goes with it and even Billy Graham is influenced by that.

BURKHARDT: Graham's comments sparked outrage. Jewish leaders expressed horror that a role model with high access would tolerate, let alone actually make such statements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he shouldn't have gone along with it, but it was much more a statement against a liberal politics and what they saw as antipatriotic and the decline of popular culture. But he did implicate Jews involved in that.

BURKHARDT: In a written apology, Billy claimed no recollection of the exchange and said the recording did not reflect his true views. He also apologized in person to Jewish leaders meeting in Cincinnati. Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti Defamation League issued a statement accepting Graham's apology. Despite the controversy, Billy received enduring support, especially from ministry insiders who've been with the evangelist all along.

MARTIN: Those people stayed with him 25, 40, 50 years.

BURKHARDT: After six decades in the pulpit, Billy Graham can still captivate audiences. But age is starting to take a toll.

GRAHAM: Excuse me. I am going to sit down. I apologize.

BURKHARDT: The evangelist has dealt with a host of health difficulties. Fifteen years ago, Billy developed Parkinson's disease.

LOTZ: He's not been as energetic in the pulpit.

BURKHARDT: Over the past few years, Billy's son Franklin has taken administrative control of the ministry. When the time comes, he'll take his father's place on the platform.

FRANKLIN GRAHAM: It's a privilege to be able to welcome him to the platform tonight. Daddy?

BURKHARDT: Today, Billy Graham can reflect on all the sermons he's preached, all the lives he's touched. He's a man who stayed true to his message of faith, hope and love.

LOTZ: He's never forgotten his up bringing, never forgotten who he is and there's a beautiful humility about him that I think is a hallmark of someone who truly walks with God.


ZAHN: Billy Graham wrapped up his latest crusade in Los Angeles last month in front of 300,000 people. The event marked the 55th anniversary of Graham's first crusade there in 1949. As for his next crusade, Graham plans to appear at New York's Madison Square Garden this summer.


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