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Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 3

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, January 29, 2009

Part 3 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
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If you read all four of Billy Graham’s published inaugural prayers, you find some interesting continuities and discontinuities. I have already examined many of these. I want to finish up this brief series by noting a few other aspects of Graham’s prayers that I find interesting.

Praying for the President Plus

In 1969, Billy Graham prayed for the nation and for Richard Nixon. Some of what he prayed now sounds sadly ironic, such as:

And in the lonely moments of decision grant him an uncompromising courage to do what is morally right. Give him a cool head and a warm heart. . . . We pray that Thou wilt so guide Richard Nixon in handling the affairs of state that the whole world will marvel and glorify Thee.

In this prayer, Graham did pray for more than just Mr. Nixon: “What we pray for President Nixon we pray for Vice President Agnew and members of the Cabinet.” (Photo: Graham praying at the 1969 inauguration.)

In 1989, his prayer appears to have focused only on the nation and George H.W. Bush (though we seem not to have the text of the whole prayer). At least on the surface, Vice President-elect Dan Quayle was not mentioned.

In 1993, Graham’s prayer included more than just President-elect Bill Clinton:

And now, on this twentieth day of January, 1993, we commit to you President-elect Clinton and Vice-President-elect Gore, who you have permitted to take leadership at this critical time in our nation’s history. Help them always to see the office to which they’ve been elected as a sacred trust from you. We pray that you will bless their wives who will share so much of the responsibility and burdens.

It’s quite striking to see how much the Vice President is regarded as a co-leader with the President. I can only wonder what happened to lead Rev. Graham to pray in such a different way.

President-elect Clinton did receive some specific intercessions:

Make President-elect Clinton know that he is never really alone but that the eternal God can be his refuge and he can turn to you in every circumstance. Give him the wisdom you’ve promised to those who ask and the strength that you alone can give.

Perhaps most striking in the 1989 prayer is Graham’s specific mention of President Bush in his prayer at Clinton’s inauguration: “We thank you for his predecessor President Bush and the dedication he gave to this office. Bless him as he and Mrs. Bush continue their dedicated service to our country in other spheres.”

Graham’s last inaugural prayer was the most inclusive of all. In fact, nothing in the 1997 prayer was focused on President Clinton alone:

Give to all those to whom You have entrusted leadership today a desire to seek Your will and to do it.

So today we ask Your blessing on President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, and their daughter, Chelsea; and upon Vice President Gore and his wife, Tipper, and their children.

Give to all our leaders the vision of what You desire America to become, and the wisdom to accomplish it, and the strength to cross the bridges into the 21st Century.

We pray also for the members of the House and the Senate; for the Supreme Court; and for all who bear responsibility of leadership in this nation which is blessed with such ethnic diversity.

We have not solved all the social problems of our time, such as drugs and racism. Technology and social engineering have not solved the basic problems of human greed, pride, intolerance, and selfishness. We need Your insight, we need Your compassion, we need Your strength.

As both President Clinton and Senator Dole urged us in the recent presidential campaign, may this be a time of coming together to help us deal with the problems we face. O Lord, help us to be reconciled first to you and secondly to each other.

President Clinton shows up only in a prayer of blessing that includes his family and the Gore family. Otherwise, Graham prays for “all our leaders,” including specifically the Congress and the Supreme court. He even mentions by name President Clinton’s opponent in the 1996 election, Senator Bob Dole. I wonder if, over the years, Rev. Graham realized that prayers for the President weren’t nearly enough, and that the whole Federal government needed divine help. It certainly is curious that Richard Nixon got 216 words of focused intercession in the 1969 prayer, while Bill Clinton didn’t get one such word in the 1997 prayer. On the other hand, in 1969 the rest of the government outside of the President’s cabinet wasn’t mentioned, while in 1997 Graham repeatedly prayed for “all our leaders” and specifically mentioned “members of the House and the Senate” and “the Supreme court.”

How Billy Graham Ended His Inaugural Prayers

I got into this study of Graham’s inaugural prayers because of the furor over Rick Warren’s invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama. One of the contentious issues was whether or not Warren should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his prayer. Of course, in the end, Warren surprised everybody by praying in the name of Jesus, Yeshua, Issa, and Jesus (pronounced Hay-Soos).

Billy Graham on the contrary, did not mention Jesus by name in any of his four prayers. Nor did he say the word “Christ.” But that is not to say Jesus didn’t appear in the prayers. Here’s what I’ve been able to find:


Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, “Ye must be born again.”

O God, we consecrate Richard Milhous Nixon to the Presidency of these United States with the assurance that from this hour on, as he and his family move into the White House, they will have the presence and the power of Thy Son who said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

We pray this humbly in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life. Amen


[The closing appears to be missing from the archive text.]


I pray this in the name of the one that’s called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. Amen.


This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I only wish I could sit down with Billy Graham and ask him about these developments. It’s obvious that in 1969 he was playing the role of the evangelist. In latter prayers he continued to recognize Jesus, though not by name, and not with the evangelistic zeal of the 1969 prayer. I’m not at all suggesting that Graham was any less committed to leading people into faith in Christ. But it’s clear that his sense of the purpose of the inaugural prayer changed over time.

We see this most starkly when comparing the 1969 and 1997 prayers. The 1969 prayer consisted of an extended intercession for Richard Nixon, with a brief mention of the Vice President and Cabinet. The 1997 prayer included nothing specifically for President Clinton, and much more prayer for a wide spectrum of leaders. Moreover, the 1969 prayer was strongly evangelistic, while the 1997 prayer contained nothing about faith in Christ, who was mentioned only in the closing “in the name of the Father, then Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Topics: Praying in Jesus's Name |

One Response to “Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 3”

  1. In the Blogosphere « Kingdom People Says:
    January 30th, 2009 at 12:12 am

    […] interesting comparison of Billy Graham’s inaugural prayers throughout the years. There’s a definite trend from […]


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