Faith and Government—Will Graham Interview on American Thought Leaders

January 23, 2019 Updated: April 5, 2019

Billy Graham is considered one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th Century.  Today, we sit down with Will Graham, his grandson who has his own ministry. We discuss freedom, morality, and forgiveness as a central theme to his film Unbroken the path to redemption”

Jan Jekielek: You actually play Billy Graham in this recent film “Unbroken the path to redemption”. And I noticed that forgiveness is a major theme in this film. I’m wondering if you could explain that a little.

Will Graham: First and foremost it is a life story of Louis Zamperini, it is really the second half of his life. There was a movie that was made a couple of years ago by Angelina Jolie that kind of takes him from his young adolescent years all the way through his war years, his captivity by the Japanese and it ends with him coming home hugging his mom.

This movie picks up right after he hugs his mom and picks it up from there. And most people think oh he made it home he’s safe he’s good he’s back home everything’s good. And it really wasn’t. He was dealing with PTSD and he started to drink a lot and he was having nightmares for the first time and he couldn’t quit. He would use drinking trying to pass out so he didn’t have to dream. And cause all these nightmares and the people that tortured him while he was in prison during the war. So he hated the Japanese.

He hated his captors because they tortured him all the time. Way beyond a human could really handle. They almost killed him but he made it through the war. But he hated his captors. And he would just have these nightmares and he would start to drink. His drinking would make him drunk and passed out not come home. It started to destroy his marriage. He tried getting married, thought that would make him feel better, find love and be better and [he] married a wonderful lady but yet that didn’t satisfy him, he was still a drunk. He was still having nightmares. He wasn’t satisfied in life.

Well they decided to have a kid. A kid will bring happiness. And it brought great joy but didn’t solve what he was looking for. And he was still a drunk. He was still having nightmares. And his whole life was falling apart. He was losing all the money that he had. He was losing his wife. She had filed for divorce. Gonna take the child and move away. And it was a bad situation. And then in 1949, all this was in 1949 in Los Angeles, and there was a revival going on in town and some friends of theirs invited them to go.

He wouldn’t go because he hated Christians. He hated God. He figured God had done everything wrong against him, had hurt him, made him miserable made him get captured, took away his running ability, made him an alcoholic you know if God really loved me then why do these bad things happen. And but he didn’t want anything to do with God. So he didn’t go but his wife Cynthia went. And she gave her life to Christ and God forgave her for sin. And she came back and she forgave Louie. Louie I forgive you. God loves you and I love you and I’m not supposed to divorce I am gonna help you. I am gonna stick with you. And because she was willing to forgive Louie for being a bad husband, bad drunk that softened his heart just enough, for that when it came back next Sunday that he would go and he went and he hated everything that the preacher said; he hated the preacher. And didn’t like anything that the preacher said. Well next week she kept begging him and begging him. And so he went back just because his wife was not going to divorce him. He said well I owe her something I’ll go. But when the invitation starts I’m leaving. And so when the invitation came he got up to leave but he couldn’t leave. He found self walking to the front and gave his life to Christ and that preacher was Billy Graham my grandfather. And so this movie covers this transformation the conversion of Louise Zamperini and in that I play the role of my grandfather. And it’s a great story of forgiveness because Louis his wife Cynthia received forgiveness, she gave forgiveness to her husband for being a bad husband bad drunk. Louis found God’s forgiveness in return Louis was able to forgive his captors. All these people towards God. He had no longer hate for them but now he had love and concern for them. And he went back to tell them about Jesus how Jesus changed his life. And God can change their life.

Jan Jekielek: It’s incredible. So in this vein here’s a statement, in American society as a whole, faith and tradition and maybe traditional morality are things that are on the decline. Is that something you would agree or disagree with?

Will Graham: Well I definitely see it. I see the morality definitely declining. We see the churches. Here in the States at least people identifying with the churches declining. That’s not true of every church. There is a lot of churches that are growing; the church I go to is growing very well. But a lot churches are declining, morality is definitely declining. And I think we’ve taken the eye off the most important thing in life and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we do that that’s the result that we see when we we don’t make God a priority in our life and we, left up to our own vices, our own way of thinking, our own way of life, we come up with our own morality. And because we have no standard to judge anything by and so we’ll do anything that brings us pleasure is our morality. And we see that taking place in the United States and not just in the United States but all around the world right now.

Jan Jekielek: When you look at how people treat let’s say faith in religion today how would that compare to say faith and religion at the time America was founded a few hundred years back.

Will Graham: Well if you look at the American from a historical standpoint look at our founding fathers what they wrote our documents like our Constitution, Declaration of Independence it all mentions God. And back then they weren’t talking about Muhammad as their God. It was a Christian God. And they were talking about Christ and God in general but they were open. A lot of people out of Europe came to this land to get away [from] religious persecution. And so they came out of religious persecution so ty wanted anyone to have the freedom of worship because they believe that God allowed us to worship. But that was based on Christian principles. And so the founding of this nation was definitely founded on Christian principles. There’s no hiding that you can read state constitutions to our national Constitution; it all mentions God and  I’m grateful for that. It has given us a lot of freedoms. I think it’s made us into a wonderful nation. We’re not a perfect nation because you and I are here. You’re never gonna find a perfect place here on this earth. Not right now, not until Jesus comes back but I believe He is going to come back one day and establish His government and that’s what the Bible talks about the second coming of Christ. The Bible teaches that. And I believe that He will come again and set up His kingdom here on Earth.

Jan Jekielek:  How do you see Faith and how that relates to having an open and free society.

Will Graham: Well that’s a good question. I believe with faith, when we trust in a higher Being,  in this case I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ that God has given us when we follow Him we have a lot of freedom now. God has given us freedom period. But we can make the choice to live according to His purposes or we can live according to our own purposes. And I think when we live according to His purposes you’ll find out that there is a lot more harmonious action interaction with other human beings. Because we’re striving to please God which means we also have to strive to get along with each other. That’s what the Ten Commandments are about, the Ten Commandments deal with the vertical, vertical relationship with God but also our horizontal relationship with other men and women that is. And so when we strive for those purposes then we get along with God. And we’re also going along with our fellow man. Doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have problems among each other. We’re going to make mistakes we’re going to hurt each other. And that’s why I believe that God put rulers in place, kings or presidents, governors wherever they might be in our place to help control that. I believe that the role of the government is to punish that which is evil and to yet promote that which is good. And for those good things that the government should be behind it for those things are bad and evil that bring dissension among people or hurt people you know murder, government should punish that. And so I believe that a free society can only exist in a Christian society. And because otherwise there’s too many self rulers because any government that comes in or any ruler that comes in they’re going to impose their will what they believe because it’s their rules. And yet when you have a free society then you run by a constitution or things like that that dictate what the rules are. In this case here in the United States we’ve been blessed to have a wonderful Christian heritage in our founding of our country. And I believe that’s laid down a wonderful basis of freedoms that we can enjoy today. And while those freedoms are starting to erode today because our morality has declined so much that the government has to intervene a lot more now.

Jan Jekielek: So you just piqued my interest. Where do you see that erosion? Can you expand on that?

Will Graham: The erosion is in man’s heart and that’s where it’s taking place; it’s in our society as a whole. The government is only a symptom of our society. So when we see government dysfunction like we’re seeing a lot of dysfunction in Washington as a whole I think most Americans would probably agree with that statement whether Republican or Democrat or Independent we see a lot of dysfunction in Washington. That’s just a symptom of society. The government is only a symptom of a greater problem and so the problem is our hearts. My heart your heart everybody’s heart. And we’re not always chasing after the good things in life, we’re not chasing after God. We’re not making Him the supreme leader in our life. We’re not making Him the master of our life and we’ve made ourselves the master and when we do that we have bad problems and we see that erosion is starting to take place.

Jan Jekielek: OK so where can we go today? We are where we are today. What would be your vision for a future where people can live truly better lives.

Will Graham: Well there’s not gonna be a perfect government. All right. And what I do see is that when we as individuals put our faith and trust in God, and there’s a lot of people that don’t put their faith in God, but I believe that when we do put our faith in God we want to first and foremost we put God first in our life. We want to serve God. The second thing God says to love the Lord with all your heart. The second is to love your fellow man. And so now we want to help people in need. We want to help those around us. We want to be good to our neighbors. We want to be good to our fellow man because God that’s what God desires us to do. We’ll start to see a better society when that takes place. But when we take God out of it now we make ourselves king of our own life. The one thing we do is self-preservation. We’re not worried about other people. We don’t want to get along with other people. It’s you better take or you’re going to be taken advantage of. You better do it. And so that’s where I see a lot of the erosion taking place and I believe that’s when we give our life to Christ we can see that change and it can only be a spiritual change. It’ll never be dictated by a lawmaker. It’ll never be dictated by a politician or someone in the White House. It is going to be dictated because God changed someone’s heart and I believe that’s the only hope for America or for anyone in this world.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a Senior Editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, & international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as Website Chief Editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."