The reports spread rapidly last week across Christian media: Evangelical icon Billy Graham had prophesied over Donald Trump.
The story came from charismatic televangelist Paula White, who told a Florida Trump rally about her close friendship with the magnate and how he’d asked her for a Bible signed by Graham, one of the most popular American spiritual leaders of the last century. It was for Trump’s 60th birthday, White told the crowd, and she got it in 2005.
“For his 60th, Billy Graham wrote a prophetic word to Mr. Donald Trump. Can you hear me? I’m saying [Trump] loves God,” she said to cheers in a video posted on Charisma News, a site for charismatic Christians. Describing Trump, she said: “I don’t believe anything is coincidence. I believe there is such a thing as destiny and God will raise up such a main for such a time as this.”
Graham’s office, however, denies there was anything but a basic good wish in the Bible.
“In 2005, Paula White reached out to Mr. Graham asking him to sign a Bible for Donald Trump as a gift from her for his 60th birthday,” the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association told The Post on Monday. “A Bible was sent to Ms. White with the inscription: ‘To Donald Trump, God Bless you always. Billy Graham.’ We have no record of a prophetic word from Billy Graham to Donald Trump.”
The association also said Trump and his wife attended a party in November 2014 for Graham’s 95th birthday, and “at this time another Bible was mailed to Mr. Trump. The letter with the Bible was a simple message of encouragement similar to what a number of guests received.”
The idea that Graham had “prophesied” about Trump may mean different things. To some Christians it might simply mean an uplifting message, but for most charismatic Christians – to whom White appeals – it means that such a message came from God. White’s comments were made March 5 to about 10,000 people in Orlando, Fla., according to the Christian Post, which first reported on the Graham story.
Billy Graham is 97 and in ill health and doesn’t appear regularly in public. His son, evangelist Franklin Graham, however, told Fox Business last week that he is not endorsing anyone this year. “I have no hope in the Republican Party and I don’t have any hope in the Democratic Party,” he said. “I’m staying out of the race. The politicians have messed this country up big time. I’m unaffiliated [and] I’m independent. I’m just fed up with the politicians. I think the only hope for this country is God.”
In 2011, Franklin Graham sounded somewhat open to Trump.
“When I first heard about him entering, I thought it was a joke. The more I listen to him, the more I say: ‘Maybe he’s right.’ … Certainly, America needs somebody like a Donald Trump who’s got business experience to get us out of the mess that Republicans and Democrats alike have gotten us into,” he told Christianity Today in 2011. “No question, the guy’s got a lot of baggage. He owns casinos. He’s had multiple marriages. I did not endorse him.”
The Christian Post, a major evangelical publication, ran an editorial last month encouraging its readers “to back away from Donald Trump.”
“Trump claims to be a Christian, yet says he has never asked for forgiveness. Trump is a misogynist and philanderer. He demeans women and minorities. His preferred forms of communication are insults, obscenities and untruths. While Christians have been guilty of all of these, we, unlike Trump, acknowledge our sins, ask for forgiveness and seek restitution with the aid of the Holy Spirit and our community of believers,” the editorial said.
Trump’s candidacy has revealed dramatic divisions among evangelical Christians.
White is among a group of high-profile televangelists who were investigated for years by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who raised questions about church spending on things like luxury homes and private planes. Several of the ministries would not provide full information to Grassley, according to the Associated Press, including White’s. His probe ended in 2011 with no penalties and no conclusions about whether the ministries broke the law, the AP reported.
White is one of the country’s most high-profile female Pentecostal pastors and preaches a controversial but booming form of Christianity called prosperity gospel. Many conservative Christians condemn the hugely popular gospel, which teaches that God rewards the faithful with material wealth.