Billy Graham, Wife Receive Congressional Medal

From Times Wire Services

Evangelist Billy Graham, America's globe-trotting pastor to presidents and paupers, received Congress' highest service award Thursday, marking the occasion with fire and brimstone.

"We are a society poised on the brink of self-destruction," Graham said at the ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, in the rich drawl that has carried his sermons to countless millions in churches, stadiums, theaters and TV audiences worldwide for decades.

"We must commit our lives to God and to the moral and spiritual truths that have made this nation great," he said.

Graham said the United States is plagued with crime and violence, drug abuse, racial and ethnic tension, broken families and corruption.

Graham, 77, was jointly awarded the Congressional Gold Medal with his wife, Ruth.

Later Thursday, President Clinton paid glowing tribute to the Grahams, saying they have "practiced the religion of good citizenship."

Clinton spoke at a fund-raising dinner for the Ruth and Billy Graham Children's Health Center in Asheville, N.C.

Clinton spoke of Graham's long ministry, the worldwide crusades that have brought his message to hundreds of millions, and said: "As president and in my personal role as a citizen and a Christian, I am profoundly grateful."

Taking his turn on the podium, Graham smiled at Clinton, grasped his shoulder and said: "I'm glad I have that on tape so I can play that to my neighbors and friends for so many years."

Earlier, speaking to columnist Cal Thomas, Graham said he had told the president he was wrong to veto a bill that would have outlawed certain late-term abortions.

The president said at the time of his veto that he would have signed the legislation if it had provided exemptions to protect the life and health of the mother. He said the procedure is performed only a few hundred times a year, almost always in life or health-threatening situations.

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