Obama meets with Billy Graham in North Carolina

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; 3:29 PM

MONTREAT, N.C. -- President Obama arrived at Rev. Billy Graham's mountaintop log cabin Sunday afternoon, making a brief visit to the 91-year-old evangelist who has been a spiritual adviser to presidents for seven decades.

The pair met for about a half-hour as Obama ended a brief vacation in nearby Asheville, and prepared to depart for a somber memorial service in West Virginia on behalf of 29 miners who died when an explosion rocked their coal mine.

Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said it was the first face-to-face meeting between the president and Graham, who has been in ailing health recently. Burton said the two tried to meet the last time Obama was in Asheville, in October 2008, but that the schedule didn't work for Graham then.

"Rev. Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader to past presidents," Burton told reporters, who waited in a van while the brief meeting was underway. "He's a real treasure to our country, and the president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."

Burton said that Graham has "some of the creaks that come with advancing age," but added that "he's still as sharp as he ever was."

After the meeting, Burton issued the following statement: "The President had a private prayer and conversation with Rev. Graham. He is extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him."

Just last week, Graham's son, Franklin, who is also an evangelist, was disinvited by the Army to speak at the Pentagon's National Day of Prayer on May 6 because of comments Graham made about Islam.

Graham, who had been scheduled to speak at the event, had said that Islam offends him and that he wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

Burton confirmed that Franklin Graham was in the meeting with Obama and his father. Asked whether the controversy would affect the talks between Obama and the elder Graham, Burton said, "I dont know. We'll see."

Graham is perhaps the world's best-known evangelical Christian, whose decades of crusades -- sometimes preaching in stadiums and parks -- have introduced his brand of religious faith to millions of people.

But he has also become a kind of religious touchstone for numerous presidents, who have sought his advice and counsel both as candidates and again in office.

From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, Graham met and counseled almost all of the presidents of the modern era. (He did not provide religious guidance to John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic.)

During the 2008 campaign, Graham met with Sen. John McCain at his mountaintop house in North Carolina. But Graham, as he had in most elections, did not formally endorse any candidate.

Last November, McCain's former vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, also visited Graham at his home.

White House officials said the president's visit to Graham's house will mark the first time a sitting president has made the trip to Montreat, the tiny, rural preserve at the top of a mountain where Graham lives.

Graham is said to be in failing physical health, with vision and hearing problems that have largely kept him from any more traveling crusades or public appearances.

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