Sarah Palin has been to the mountaintop -- that would be the mountaintop in western North Carolina where Billy Graham, "America's Pastor," is spending his waning years. But even at 91, halt of gait and hard of hearing, Graham still enjoys counseling prominent politicians, and they in turn are eager to seek his advice, and a photo op. Hence Palin's visit to Graham for Sunday dinner last weekend.
Whether Palin's pilgrimage to the Graham home in Montreat means she will see the Promised Land of presidential victory remains an open question (with the answer handicapped here
by my oddsmaking colleague, David Sessions).
Graham was certainly effusive in his praise of the former Alaska governor and GOP veep candidate, releasing a statement
after the meeting:
"It was an honor having Governor Palin and her family in our home this evening. I, like many people, have been impressed with her strong commitment to her faith, to family and love of country. I appreciated hearing her speak of her own spiritual journey and her life in Alaska. I shared with her my own memories of preaching in the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage in 1984. We had an opportunity to pray together. Life in the spotlight is not easy and I pray that whatever lies ahead for this family that their faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, would remain strong and that God would put a hedge of protection around her and all those she holds dear. Sarah and her family will always be welcome in the Graham home."
Graham's son and heir apparent, Franklin, told The Charlotte Observer
that his father has "followed her career and likes her strong stand on faith...Daddy feels God was using her to wake America up."
He may also have burnished her thin foreign policy credentials, though only with the slice of the American electorate that reads the Bible looking for End Times
scenarios. Franklin said Palin quizzed Graham what the Bible says about Israel, Iran and Iraq.
It's no surprise that Palin would seek an audience with Graham. She was swinging through the area on her book tour, and Graham is a hero not only to conservative Christians but to most Americans
. (Palin herself was raised Pentecostal but of late seems to be embracing evangelicalism, though like George W. Bush, she prefers to avoid any label.) Moreover, every presidential hopeful (or president under fire; see "Nixon, Richard M.") covets a picture with Graham. During last year's campaign, John McCain made a stopover in Montreat, and Obama wanted to as well, but Graham was feeling poorly that day and the visit was postponed.
But such meetings are increasingly rare given Graham's frail health. Palin had an "in," however, as she got to know Franklin Graham several years ago when she invited him to address a prayer breakfast in Alaska. Last summer, she accompanied him on a mission with Graham's Christian relief group, Samaritan's Purse, to deliver 44,000 pounds of groceries to needy Eskimo families along the frozen Yukon River.
Billy Graham told his son to invite Palin to dinner when she was in North Carolina, and Palin happily accepted what she called a "once-in-a-lifetime honor." Palin brought her infant son, Trig, for a picture with the elder Graham, and she was also accompanied by her daughter Piper, her parents, Chuck and Sally Heath, and an aunt Katie Johnson. Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, was also there. They ate chicken breast, roast beef, green beans and pumpkin pie, and iced tea, of course.
Palin spent two-and-a-half hours at Graham's home, and some 35-40 minutes in private conversation with the evangelist. (Franklin Graham said she spoke "loudly and directly" so Graham could hear her.)
Palin brought Billy Graham a heavy Carhartt outdoor jacket, a belated birthday gift (Graham turned 91 on Nov. 7). Graham signed Bibles for Palin's parents, her aunt and each of Palin's children, and he signed two for her, according to the Observer
: a small one to carry with her and a large New King James version for home Bible study.
One thing she didn't get was an endorsement, though she wasn't likely to as Graham has become chary about such associations in his later years. (His closeness to Richard Nixon and the snippets of their taped conversations that continue to surface have been major embarrassments.) "Daddy prayed for whatever God had in store for her," Graham's son said.
Graham has been quite ecumenical in his political judgments of late. While he is closest to the elder George Bush, he considers the Clintons "wonderful friends" and had them share the stage during his final crusade in New York in 2005, telling the crowd that Bill "should be an evangelist because he has all the gifts."
Barack Obama has been trying to meet Graham for some time, and on Nov. 12 phoned the evangelist from Air Force One on his way to Asia to offer belated birthday wishes and they pledged to meet soon, God willing. Billy Graham also shared a passage from scripture with the president, Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."