Admiral of Morality: A Life of Decency, Service and Quiet Faith

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Life of Decency, Service and Quiet Faith

Gerald Ford refused to take his private faith public, even when doing so might have saved his political career

The question of what to do about Nixon landed hard on Ford from the moment he was sworn in. Apart from everything else, Nixon was a longtime friend. Ford worried about what putting the disgraced President in prison would do to him, as well as to a country so shaken by the betrayals of those years. Mercy and healing were very much on Ford's mind on Saturday, Aug. 31, when he spent the morning discussing an amnesty plan for Vietnam draft evaders. When the meeting was over, Ford went back to the Oval Office and called evangelist Billy Graham to talk about their mutual friend. "There are many angles to it," Ford said of Nixon's fate. "I'm certainly giving it a lot of thought and prayer." Graham, who was arguing for a pardon, told Ford he was praying for him and, before the two men finished their conversation, Graham recalled, "we had a prayer over the telephone."

A week later, on Sunday, Sept. 8, Ford went to St. John's Episcopal Church, directly across Lafayette Square from the White House. He took Communion with some of the 50 other worshipers and knelt in prayer. There was no sermon that morning — at least until Ford delivered one of his own. He went back to the Oval Office, practiced his speech aloud twice, moved to a smaller adjoining office and alerted congressional leaders of his plans. At 11:05, Ford told the nation he was pardoning Nixon in a statement that invoked God's name six times. "The Constitution is the supreme law of our land and it governs our actions as citizens," he said. "Only the laws of God, who governs our consciences, are superior to it. He invited the congregation to think of the Nixon family: "Theirs is an American tragedy," he said. "It could go on and on and on, or someone must write 'The End' to it... Only I can do that. And if I can, I must."

Even as his faith inspired him to save Nixon, he refused to use it to save himself.

Read it all at Time Magazine.

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