By Erin Roach
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Backlash over evangelist Franklin Graham speaking at the Pentagon as part of the National Day of Prayer observance has prompted the U.S. Army to rescind an invitation it had extended to the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
Graham, son of Billy Graham and this year’s honorary National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman, is being criticized for comments he has made in the past expressing his belief that Islam is a dangerous religion.
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates April 19 “demanding” that the Pentagon choose a more inclusive speaker for the event.
According to Reuters, the Army said it did not invite Graham to speak at the event organized through the Pentagon chaplain’s office. The invitation was extended to the task force, which in turn asked Graham to speak.
“Once the Army leadership became aware that Reverend Graham was speaking at this event, we immediately recognized it as problematic,” Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, said. “The bottom line here is that his presence would be inappropriate. His past statements are not consistent with the multi-faith emphasis and inclusiveness of this event.”
In a statement released April 22, Graham said he regrets that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind the invitation to the task force, and he expressed strong support for the U.S. military and said he would continue to pray for the troops.
During an appearance on Fox News the same day, Graham, president of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, reiterated a concern for Muslim people worldwide.
“I love Muslim people, and I want Muslims everywhere to know what I know, that God loves us, that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world to take our sins and He died for our sins and rose from the grave and that Christ can come into their heart and change them and they can have the hope of eternal life, salvation,” Graham said on Fox.
“I want them to know that they don’t have to die in a car bomb. They don’t have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God, but it’s through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone,” he said.
Graham said that while he loves the people of Islam, he does not agree with the religion, describing true Islam’s treatment of women as “horrid.” The evangelist also said his son is serving his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. military, and he prays for the military every day.
“I pray not only for my son that God would put a hedge of protection around him and his men, but I pray for his commanding officers and our generals, that God would give them wisdom and not only wisdom but that God would give them success over our enemies,” Graham said.
“We’re in war, and we need to pray for our military. We need to pray for our president and all of those in authority. That’s what the National Day of Prayer is all about. It’s not about Islam versus Christianity or whatever. It’s about the nation coming together and praying for its leadership.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press April 22 that the Army’s decision is “a blow to free speech, which is of course a blow to religious freedom.”
“I am shocked and dismayed the Pentagon would rescind Franklin Graham’s invitation to speak at the National Day of Prayer observance at the Pentagon. Supposedly they were concerned that some Pentagon employees who are followers of Islam would be offended by Dr. Graham’s appearance. Did anyone stop to ask how many more of the Pentagon’s employees who are followers of Christ would be and are offended by his dis-invitation?” Land said.
“The people who serve our nation in uniform deserve better leadership than that which is responsible for this wrongheaded and sad decision. This is not the kind of religious freedom for which our servicemen are risking their lives to defend.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called Graham “a man of courage and integrity whose deeply held biblical convictions should not be a pretext for denying him the opportunity to share the Gospel.”
“His ministry, Samaritan’s Purse, has fed literally millions of men, women and children in Muslim countries,” Perkins noted. “The fact that he has theological differences with Islam, differences wholly in keeping with the teachings of the New Testament, and that he has expressed them publicly, is now being used by anti-Christian zealots in a manner offensive to the freedom of religion guaranteed by the very Constitution military leaders are sworn to uphold.
“This decision is further evidence that the leadership of our nation’s military has been impaired by the politically correct culture being advanced by this administration,” Perkins said. “Under this administration’s watch we are seeing the First Amendment, designed to protect the religious exercise of Americans, retooled into a sword to sever America’s ties with orthodox Christianity.”
The Army’s decision comes one week after a federal judge ruled that a law setting a National Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion. The Obama administration has announced that it will appeal the ruling, which Graham said is based on puzzling logic.
“At a time when our country is waging two wars, approval ratings for Congress are at historic lows, unemployment is at a 70-year high and financial institutions have collapsed around us, I can’t imagine anyone seriously opposing a National Day of Prayer,” Graham said in a statement.
“… It sounds to me like even the judge in this case understands the power of prayer. But it’s voluntary. There’s no requirement that people pray,” Graham said. “To act like a National Day of Prayer is a bad thing or somehow subversive is ridiculous. Surely our country needs prayer now more than ever.”
He said no judge can stop Americans from praying for their country, and he expects millions to join him in praying for the president and other elected leaders as well as “this unjust judge,” that God would give them wisdom.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust.