Enter your e-mail address to receive my newsletter and series update notices. For more info and a sample newsletter, click here.

Note: If you get an error message when you try to subscribe, let me know. I will not use your e-mail for any other purpose. You can unsubscribe at any time using the button below.
        Subscribe         Unsubscribe


The High Calling

Laity Lodge

Featured Book

Website for
Linda Roberts

St. Mark
Presbyterian Church,
Boerne, TX

Resources for Leaders



Visitors so far:

Guest Bloggers

Irvine Presbyterian Church

Inauguration Prayers Invocations Billy Graham Inaugural Invocations Presdiential Inauguration

The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2009 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

Note: This series continues another series on inaugural prayers:

Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 1

Part 1 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

As I was doing a recent series on the prayers for the inauguration of Barack Obama, I thought it would be fascinating to study the inaugural prayers of the Rev. Billy Graham. No religious leader in our nation’s history has been more involved in presidential inaugurations than Graham. He has offered several prayers, as well as sermons at worship services associated with inaugurations.

Several of the texts of Graham’s inaugural prayers have been collected in the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, and have been made available online. This collection includes:

January 20, 1969 - Inaugural prayer for Richard Nixon

January 20, 1989 - Inaugural invocation for George H.W. Bush

January 20, 1993 - Inaugural invocation for William J. Clinton

January 20, 1997 - Inaugural prayer for William J. Clinton

I don’t have the resources to know if these texts are exactly what Graham said. Curiously enough, the archive text of the 1989 prayer for George H.W. Bush contains no closing, no “in Jesus’ name,” no “Amen,” no “Play ball!” It also appears to omit some words from the center of the prayer, because it now reads, “May we never forget that . . . .” I seriously doubt that Graham actually said, “dot dot dot” or “yada yada yada.” But, at any rate, we do have four of Graham’s inaugural prayers, more or less. I think it will be interesting to examine them. If you do too, keep reading. If not, come back to visit in a couple of days.

Some General Observations on Graham’s Inaugural Prayers

First, there’s an interesting variation in prayer length:

1969 - 654 words
1989 - 298 words (edited)
1993 - 298 words
1997 - 525 words

Did Graham sense that Richard Nixon needed a lot more prayer than the others? And that Bill Clinton came in a close second? Both Presidents got in a heap of trouble in the terms following Graham’s long prayers. Nixon resigned. Clinton was impeached. Is a long inaugural prayer a jinx? (Rick Warren’s prayer for Obama was 482 words. Without the Lord’s Prayer, it was 415 words. That seems to bode well for President Obama.)

Among the 1775 total words that Billy Graham uttered in these four inaugural prayers, you’ll find words we associate with Christianity, such as “love,” “faith,” “hope,” “justice,” and “forgive.” But what I find most curious is that in all four of Graham’s prayers you will not find the words “Jesus” or “Christ.” You’ll find references to Jesus, even blunt requests for people to come to faith in Christ, such as “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.’” (1969 prayer). But for some reason, Graham never named Jesus by name, using his English given name, “Jesus,” or his title that has become synonymous with his name, “Christ.” In four prayers, no name of Jesus appears. (Rick Warren made up for this by using four names of Jesus in his one prayer!).

I would love to ask Billy Graham why he chose not to say the words “Jesus” or “Christ” in his inaugural prayers. One could surely not accuse him of being ashamed of Jesus in public. In fact, he has probably said the name “Jesus” to more people than any other person in history. I wonder of Graham if somehow sensed that using the literal name of Jesus would be unhelpful in some way.

Tomorrow I’ll get more into the substance of Graham’s prayers. For now, I want to note one other bit of fascinating inaugural history. According to the Billy Graham Archives website, in January, 1969, Graham spent the last night of the Lyndon Johnson presidency with the Johnson family in the White House. Then, the next day he prayed at Nixon’s inauguration. Twenty four years later, he spent the last night of George H.W. Bush’s presidency with the Bush family in the White House, before praying at the inauguration of William J. Clinton. This speaks volumes about the unique ministry of Billy Graham, who wasn’t just a preacher who prayed in public, but a pastor to presidents from both parties. (Photo: Billy Graham [left] and three former presidents at the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in May 2007.)

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 2

Part 2 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In my last post, I began examining four prayers offered by the Rev. Billy Graham at presidential inaugurations (1969, 1989, 1993, 1997). I note considerable variation in length (though I don’t have the full text of the 1989 prayer). I also note something most curious, namely, that none of the Graham’s inaugural prayers contains the words “Jesus” or “Christ,” though he figures prominently in them by other names. (If you want to read these prayers, please go to my last post for the links.)

Today I want to comment on several other features of the inaugural prayers that I find interesting:

1. Every prayer is offered to “Our Father and our God,” though the 1993 prayer reverses the order.

2. Within the first few words of the prayer, Graham mentions “this historic occasion,” though in 1997 he refers to is as “this historic and solemn occasion.”

3. Every prayer refers, near the beginning, to the spiritual “foundations” of the United States. The 1969 and 1989 prayers quote a passage of Scripture that reads: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" This is Psalm 11:3 in the KJV.

4. Every prayer also mentions the nation's “forefathers,” except the 1989 prayer doesn’t use the word “forefathers,” but mentions George Washington by name instead.

5. Every prayer contains some confession of national sin. Two prayers include a request for foregiveness (1989, 1997).

6. Every prayer includes quotation of Scripture, though in varying degrees. Here’s my count:

1969 - 7 quotations
1989 - 2 quotations
1993 - 2 quotations
1997 - 2 quotations

7. Not only did the 1969 prayer contain more Scripture quotations, but also it was the one prayer that was openly evangelistic. It included such lines as:

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."

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.

Can you imagine the furor if Rick Warren had prayed like this? Whew! It is interesting to me how much has chanced in our culture in the last 40 years.

8. The similarities between the opening lines of the 1969 and 1989 prayers are striking. It seems almost as if Rev. Graham pulled out the 1969 prayer when he was writing the 1989 prayer. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. Good prayer language deserves repetition. Just ask any faithful Catholic or Episcopalian. At any rate, here are excerpts from the 1969 and 1989 prayers (italics added):

1969: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, "Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord." We recognize on this historic occasion that we are "a nation under God." We thank Thee for this torch of faith handed to us by our forefathers. May we never let it be extinguished. Thou alone hast given us our prosperity, our freedom and our power. This faith in God is our heritage and our foundation! Thou hast warned us in the Scriptures, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.

1989: Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.' We recognize on this historic occasion that we are a nation under God. This faith in God is our foundation and our heritage. Thou hast warned us in the Holy Scriptures, 'If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?' We confess that we are in danger of destroying some of those foundations, for at times our faith in Thee has faltered and we chosen to go our own way rather than the way that Thou wouldst have us go, both as individuals and as a nation. Forgive us, we pray, as we turn to Thee in repentance and faith. Restore us to Thyself and create within us a desire to follow Thy will for all our lives. As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society.

9. You’ll notice that in both of these prayers, Rev. Graham refers to God with “Thee” and “Thou.” This was common prayer language for people who used the King James version of the Bible. I expect it was how Graham prayed in private, as well as in public. Strikingly, in the 1993 and 1997 prayers, he addressed God with “You,” having retired the more antique language of the earlier prayers.

More next time . . . .

Billy Graham’s Inaugural Prayers, Section 3

Part 3 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

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.”

A Postscript on Billy Graham

Part 4 of series: The Inaugural Prayers of Billy Graham
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

As I wrap up this short series on the inaugural prayers of Billy Graham, I thought I might share a couple of personal stories.

In the late summer of 1963, Billy Graham preached at a crusade in Los Angeles, California. It was the third of seven Graham crusades in the greater Los Angeles area (1949; 1958; 1963; 1969 in Anaheim; 1974; 1985 in Anaheim; 2004). This crusade spanned many days, and, even though the weather was quite hot, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to hear Billy Graham. (Photo: The headline of the Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1963).

Among them was my family: my mom and dad, my grandparents, and me. I’m not sure how many nights we went to the crusade, but I do remember that we took picnic suppers, that Rev. Graham wore a raincoat after he finished preaching even though it wasn’t raining, and that after one of his sermons, I went forward to become a Christian. There I met my “counselor,” a very nice man who reminded me of Crazy Guggenheim from the Jackie Gleason Show. He used John 3:16 to help me invite Jesus into my heart. Even though I was just six years old, I meant what I prayed that night . . . and still do, forty-five years later.

Fairly recently I learned that my father, who had escorted me to the field, also gave his life to Christ that night. I had always thought that he came forward just to help me. It was special to learn that my dad became a Christian on the same field and the same night as I did.

As you can well imagine, ever since that time I’ve had a deep fondness for Billy Graham. Thus I have followed his life and ministry with interest and pride. There’s just about nobody in the world for whom I have more respect and appreciation than Billy Graham.

In 1985 I was working as the college director at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, under the leadership of Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie. “Hollywood Pres” was a wild place in those days. On Sundays in church you might see one of the leading stars in Hollywood. During the weekdays, however, the church campus was visited by hundreds of homeless people looking for food and clothing. A few of those folks were dangerous, and had threatened people who worked at the church. Thus, by 1985, the church receptionist, Daisy, sat behind bars, rather like ones you’ll find in some old post offices. I called the receptionist’s desk “Daisy’s cage.”

One afternoon I was talking to Daisy through her cage bars, when all of a sudden her eyes grew large with surprise. I heard some noise behind me, and, given the look on Daisy’s face, knew that I was about to confront some very scary homeless man. I turned around warily, ready for just about anything. There, standing three feet away from me, stood Billy Graham.

Now I was prepared to deal with some strange street person, but not my all-time hero. I opened my mouth to say something polite, but all that came out of it was: AAAAAHHHHHH! From his response to me, I expect Rev. Graham had heard that before. Without missing a beat, he said, “Hello, I’m Billy Graham. Nice to meet you, young man.” Like he needed to introduce himself! I finally gathered my wits about me and said, “Nice to meet you too, Rev. Graham!”

He explained that he was at the church for a meeting with Lloyd Ogilive as part of the planning for the 1985 crusade in Anaheim. I said that I would be honored to escort him to Dr. Ogilvie’s office, which I did. Along the way I explained that I became a Christian during his 1963 crusade, and how grateful I was for his ministry. He received this story graciously. I wondered at the time how many such stories he had heard over the years. Surely tens of thousands.

As I walked Rev. Graham to Dr. Ogilvie’s office, I noticed that he looked tired. Afterwards, I wondered how much longer he’d be able to do crusades. I figured the pace of his ministry must have been exhausting. Plus, by 1985 Billy Graham was 67 years old. As it turns out, he continued to preach at crusades for 20 more years.

I did not attend the Billy Graham crusade in Anaheim in 1985, but my father did. In fact, he worked at this crusade as a “counselor” for children. When young people came forward to receive Christ, as I had done 22 years earlier, my dad used John 3:16 to introduce them to Christ. He loved this ministry! It turned out to be the last ministry my dad ever did. Soon after the crusade his cancer worsened, and he had to pull back from his church involvement as an elder and Sunday School teacher. He died a year later. There is something wonderful about the way my dad ended his ministry, much as he had begun his relationship with Christ, on the field of a Billy Graham crusade.

I never had the opportunity to team up in ministry with Billy Graham. But I am blessed to be a partner with one of Billy Graham's lifelong friends and fellow evangelists, Howard E. Butt, Jr. Before Howard founded Laity Lodge, he teamed up with Billy Graham in a number of evangelistic crusades. They worked together to encourage lay people in their ministry, and were close partners in the founding of Christianity Today. What a privilege to know and share life with people of such incredible faith and vision!