I thought I knew everything there is to know about Winston Churchill. He’s been a hero of mine ever since my undergraduate years at Westminster College where he made a stop during a post-war tour of the US and delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. I never knew that only eight years later he had a secret meeting with Billy Graham.
Most biographies focus on Churchill’s larger-than-life leadership against Nazi Germany. And recently my wife, Janet, has been reading the story of his wife Clementine and getting a more personal look. Before we fall asleep at night she usually shares some interesting domestic anecdotes:
“Did you know that Churchill had a little problem with gambling?”
“Did you know they had pet names for each other? He called her ‘My Cat’ and she called him ‘Pig.’”
“Did you know their oldest daughter committed suicide?”
Churchill’s message was simple: “Never, never, never, give up!” This message carried England through the long years of discouragement and deprivation until victory was finally declared. He was then voted out of office by a weary nation ready for a new day. The inactive years that followed were marked by his frequent “black dog” spells of depression until he returned to Downing Street in 1951.
During that tenure in office, the Billy Graham Crusade came to London and Churchill invited Graham to meet with him. When Graham arrived the secretary reminded him that the Prime Minister had only 20 minutes. When Billy walked in, Churchill motioned with an unlit cigar for him to sit down and then congratulated him on the huge crowds the crusade had been drawing,
“I daresay that if I brought Marilyn Monroe over here and she and I together went to Wembley, we couldn’t fill it. … What is it that fills [it] night after night?”
“I think it’s the gospel of Christ,” Graham replied.
“I’ll tell you,” Churchill said, “I see no hope for the world. I am a man without hope. Do you have any real hope?”
“Are you without hope for your own soul’s salvation?” Graham asked him.
“Frankly, I think about that a great deal,” was Churchill’s reply.
Telling the story later Graham said, “I had my New Testament with me. Knowing that we had but a few minutes left, I immediately explained the way of salvation. I watched carefully for signs of irritation or offense, but he seemed receptive, if not enthusiastic. I also talked about God’s plan for the future, including the return of Christ. His eyes seemed to light up at the prospect.”
When the Duke of Windsor arrived for luncheon, Churchill growled, “Let him wait,” and told Graham to keep going.
He went on for another 15 minutes and then prayed for the great difficulties Churchill faced every day. He also affirmed that God was the only hope for the world and for us individually.
Churchill thanked Billy, and as they shook hands, he asked that the conversation be kept private. So Graham didn’t tell the story until Churchill passed away.
I have a deep affection for Winston Churchill. Hearing about this conversation has made me hope that maybe, just maybe, he came to a true and personal faith in Christ.
Maybe his heart was opened to greater hope once he saw that the famous message of “never, never, never give up” didn’t saved the world. Only Christ can do that.
As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” Charles is a former secular journalist, who has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He began working in the Christian world after seminary, becoming the fourth speaker of Haven in 2000. He and his wife, Janet, have written several books, including Missing Jesus.
Don’t stop here. Check out the full documentary of Billy Graham’s life and ministry. Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador features rare archival footage from Dr. Graham’s early life, his ministry, and his worldwide evangelical efforts. It also features interview footage with former President George W. Bush, former President George H. W. Bush, NBC News anchor Brian Williams, close associates, and family members.