The name of the Rev. Franklin Graham’s North Carolina tour, which stopped at the White Oak Amphitheatre in Greensboro on Wednesday, implies a political appeal.
But the Christian evangelist, who has in the past claimed that “God was behind” the election of Donald Trump, refrained from calling followers to the defense of the president on Wednesday, instead steering them back towards the bedrock of their faith.
“You know our country is in trouble,” he said at the beginning of his remarks. “I think we all would agree. Washington seems to be broken. The fighting, the squabbling and all that kind of thing. I can tell you right now: The Republicans aren’t going to fix it. The Democrats aren’t going to fix it. God is our only hope.”
Graham, who is the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, shared a more partisan message a week ago in an interview with Religion News Service, warning against impeachment. The outlet quoted Graham as saying, “Our country could begin to unravel if an elected president is thrown out of office because of the lies and the media.”
Earlier this summer, Graham reportedly called for a “special day of prayer for the president” as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election was concluding.
In response to Graham’s comments about impeachment to Religion News Service, a group of progressive Christian leaders, including the Rev. William Barber II, called for a National Day of Prayer “for the truth to be revealed through the impeachment inquiry,” on Oct. 13.
During his stop in Greensboro on Wednesday, Graham made a somewhat nonpartisan call for those in the audience to join him in a prayer for political leaders from both parties, although he referred to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as “the opposition.”
Graham made a plea for unity and political cooperation, saying, “It’s important that we pray that God would bring them together, and that they would work together, not only to solve the problems here in our state, but in Washington.”
While deploring homelessness, Graham also articulated a position on the issue of immigration that was at odds with Trump’s harsh nativist stance.
“We have so many people that are in this country that have come in in the past illegally, that have been living here for 20, 30 years, that have been working hard, paying taxes,” he said. “You just can’t throw ’em out. You’ve got to find a way to give them an opportunity and a path to eventually become a citizen.”
Leading a prayer for leaders in civil authority, Graham highlighted more typical concerns of conservative Christianity.
“Father, when we think of the children that are aborted every year, father we know that this displeases you,” he said.
“Father, when we think of taking you out of our schools, out of our education to become a secular nation, Father we’ve turned our back,” he continued.
While signaling welcome to immigrants, Graham’s sermon reinforced an exclusionary vision of Christianity that pointedly left out one of Trump’s other targets — Muslims.
“You say, ‘But Franklin, what about all the Muslim people or all the Hindu people, or all the Buddhist people, or all these people around the world. Surely, if they’re sincere in their faith, they’re going to be in heaven,’” Graham said.
“Yes, there’s going to be former Muslims in heaven,” he continued. “There are going to be former Hindus in heaven. There’s going to be former Buddhists in heaven. But all of us are going to be there because we confessed our sin, repented, and accepted Christ, Jesus Christ, the only one to die for our sins.”
Graham also drew a bright red line of exclusion against LGBTQ and specifically transgender people.
“God made us and created us, male and female,” he said, drawing the loudest cheers of the night. “There’s no transgender. This is just a lie. Many politicians have bought into this lie. We’re made male and female. And marriage, God wants us to use sex, enjoy sex in a marriage relationship. And God defines a marriage relationship between and man and a woman. Not two men, not two women, but a man and a woman in a marriage relationship.”