My father, Billy Graham, lived to be 100 years old without a scandal, because he followed the footsteps of his father in heaven with consistency. If you’ve ever see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know that that turtle did not get there by itself; somebody had to place that turtle on that fence post. My father always felt a little bit like he was that turtle, and that it was God who had put him in a place of notoriety, and so he had a responsibility to God to live his life in such a way as to be pleasing, and not to be an embarrassment, to him.
For instance, my father articulated principles by which he chose to live without exception. The media called one the Billy Graham Rule, which gained some attention recently when the Washington Post reported that Vice President Mike Pence follows a version of it. My father would not ride in an automobile with a woman other than my mother, and he wouldn’t sit alone and have a meal with another woman.
My father kept to that principle not just to protect himself, but also to protect my mother and, more importantly, to protect the name of Almighty God. There were a lot of opportunities he could have had to be with a woman, and he just did not allow that to take place because he lived up to this principle. He knew that, if he made a mistake — if he failed — then it wasn’t just Billy Graham who would be hurt, but it would hurt the name of the lord, Jesus Christ.
So I remember a time when Hillary Clinton, when she was the first lady of Arkansas, wanted to have Daddy come over to the Governor’s Mansion for lunch, in order to talk to him. And he said, “I’d be glad to meet you for lunch, but it would be at a public place and I’ll have to have one of my associates with me, so it’s not just the two of us having lunch together.”
These standards that my father set were not just for himself, but for his team; he required that of his team members follow them as well. And, I’m not going to be alone in the same room or ride in the same car by myself with another woman that’s not my wife, either.
There would be fewer problems if more people lived by the same principles: We have seen politicians who have had to leave office and ministers who have fallen from grace, all because they allowed themselves to be in situations in which they should not have been. So many people have lowered their standards for behavior towards people of the opposite sex, and we can see the problems that allowing yourself to experience sexual temptation has caused: In some cases, it has led to premarital sex or adultery.
And, it’s not that my father didn’t minister to women or talk to women: He talked to many women, but always in the presence of someone else. It protected the woman as much as it protected him.
Another principle he believed it was transparency: Even though he was a minister, I learned a lot from him on how to run a business for God. My father believed in accountability and, long before it was required, my father had his organization audited by an outside auditing firm and would give that audit to anybody who wanted it. He believed that if he was going to be supported by the general public, then he should be accountable to the general public.
The reason I wanted to deal with some of these kinds issues in my book, “Through My Father’s Eyes,” is because the lessons I learned from my father could really help other people, if they put the same principles into practice. Because of many of these principles, my father was able to live in peace knowing that he was pleasing his father in heaven. That gave him confidence: He knew where he was going, and he wasn’t afraid.
My father believed the Bible to be the word of God. He didn’t understand it all, but he certainly believed it all. And as a result of that, God gave him power when he preached.
But despite the power he had when he preached, the Billy Graham that we saw at home was the same Billy Graham you or the world saw on television or in the stadiums; He was never two different people. I’ve been around a number of well-to-do or well-known people and, when the cameras are on them, they are smiling but, once the cameras are turned off, another face appears. That wasn’t Billy Graham at all. If you were to have go up to my father when he was alive and asked for an autograph, he would’ve say, “You want my autograph, are you sure?” He would have been humbled by the fact that you would want it at all, and that reaction would’ve been genuine.
Perhaps because of that humility, he never saw himself as “a celebrity.” He never sought that, never wanted that and, if anything, regretted his notoriety because it took a lot of the privacy away from the family. He saw himself — in his own heart, in his own mind — as that farm boy from North Carolina, still milking cows, still working out in the fields. He was a humble man who believed in and trusted God for every step that he took in life.
My father realized that everything came from God, and he was determined to live his life to please his father in heaven. He had no power other than that which came from the word of God and, when my father preached that word, God used it to touch people’s hearts.
From watching my father, I learned to use the scripture and to be faithful to what the word of God says. For years, I took walks with my father and I saw the steps that he took in life and how God directed those steps. I hope that, when I get through with this life, I will have been able to follow those steps with not just my earthly father, but my heavenly Father.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.
Franklin Graham is the chairman and president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelistic organization, and also serves as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His book, “Though My Father’s Eyes,” came out on May 1.