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Transcript: Ronald Reagan's Friendship With Billy Graham

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 7, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Ronald Reagan (search) was a man of deep religious faith. For many years, Billy Graham (search) was one of his closest personal friends. Reverend Graham will not be able to attend any of the Reagan memorials because of a broken hip.

Joining me now is Reverend Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham. Franklin, today's big question, what was the special bond between your father and President Reagan?

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: They first met in 1954. It was Nancy's mother, Mrs. Davis, that met my father when he was playing golf... in Arizona and asked if daddy would take time to meet her new son-in-law who happened to be Ronald Reagan.

They met a few weeks after that and really became very close friends since 1954. My father loved him very much and enjoyed every opportunity had he to spend with him and to talk to him. He had a great interest in spiritual questions. He was a man of deep faith. He's a man who not only believed in God, but he believed in God's son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He believed that Christ died on the cross for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead and that he was coming again. And he looked forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. And he often talked to my father about that subject. He was fascinated about that, so they had a lot of very deep theological discussions.

GIBSON: Reverend Graham, as you well know, the current President Bush is a Christian and makes no effort to conceal it, and in a lot of circles, especially in Europe, he is criticized for that. It seems to me that President Reagan wasn't quite so public in his faith. Was there a reason for that, that you know of?

GRAHAM: Well, I think he probably was more public than we give him credit for. He spoke about God quite often, spoke about his faith. I think today where we have gotten into this realm of political correctness for some reason, somebody has said it's not right to talk about your faith. If you are in public office. And, of course, when we come back to public office, we do bring our faith, we bring our character with us. And I think those all are important ingredients to a leader, especially to the president of the United States. Reagan believed in God, he believed in Jesus Christ.

Bush is the same way. He has a strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, the Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son whosoever believed in him should not perish, but should have everlasting life. And that whosoever, it's me, it's you, it's everyone who is watching, if we'll simply believe and trust in him, God will forgive us of our sins. It's faith.

You don't have to work for your salvation. It's simply by faith. And the President Bush understands this, and, of course, President Reagan, he understood it. He had just a very simple faith, which was very dear to him and very real to him.

GIBSON: Reverend Graham, your father, Billy Graham, met Ronald Reagan, as you said, in 1954. This is some years before Ronald Reagan was governor and then later president. What did your father see in him in 1954?

GRAHAM: Well, it's interesting. He, of course, was a well-known actor, and my father had just finished a campaign in California in 1949, got to know a lot of folks in the industry. And when Mrs. Davis suggested that they meet, daddy was just fascinated in meeting him. He liked his movies and liked him as a person, and when they met, the two had a lot in common. And they shared the same type of jokes, both had great senses of humor. And they just liked each other, you know, companionship. They were just friends, and even after he left office, after he left Washington and went back to California, my father still stayed in touch, would go by to see the president. And then, of course, the last few years his illness was very — very difficult, but he continued to keep in touch with Nancy, to call her and go by to see her.

GIBSON: You know, your father is — one of the many things he is known for is being a friend to presidents. Did he envision — we're looking at pictures of your father now. Did he envision this actor he met in 1954 who probably at that point was maybe involved with the Screen Actors Guild but not much more politically was going to be a major political figure?

GRAHAM: Of course not. He never dreamed that, and he just — I think he is very grateful for that friendship over the years, especially when the president — when he became president. Reagan had him at the White House on many occasions to visit him. My father has never sought really to be the friend of presidents. It has just happened to come his direction. And my father feels that it's very important as a minister of the gospel that when you're with a president or a member of Congress, of the Senate, whatever, to be a minister and to share our faith and to hold up our faith and God's standards. I think it's important for people who are in government to remember God's standards that he has given to us and not to forget them, not to turn our back on them, but to take his standards and that should apply to the way we live our life.

When the Bible says thou shall not murder, we need to hold that standard. When the Bible says thou shall not steal, we need to hold that standard. When God says not to covet, we need to hold those standards. Of course, not everybody believes the Bible. Not everybody wants God's standards, but as a minister, my father felt it was important that he at least represent God's standards to those that were in leadership, and did he that to the best of his ability. And I admire him for staying with it all these years.

GIBSON: Reverend Franklin Graham. Reverend, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming on today.

GRAHAM: Thank you, sir.

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