Photo courtesy of the author.
“Unless America turns back to God and repents, and experiences a spiritual revival, we will fail as a nation . . . . We need men and women today in high places who will honor Almighty God.”
This is the message The Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, preached to a crowd of nearly 4,000 when his “Decision America” tour landed yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, just days after the deadliest shooting in American history claimed fifty lives in an Orlando gay nightclub. Graham, president and CEO of The Billy Graham Evangalistic Association and the Christian international relief organization Samaritan's Purse, plans to bring his tour to all fifty state capitals.
Graham’s rally in Madison drew the ire of local LGBTQ activists, who felt it wasn’t the appropriate time for a pastor widely known for his opposition to gay marriage, and his support for North Carolina’s bathroom bill, to give a message about the need to restore traditional Christian values in the United States. Many LGBTQ rights activists attended to protest the event. Graham commenced the rally with a prayer for the Orlando shooting victims.
Supporters of the separation between church and state also turned out to protest Graham’s message about the need for more religion in government and politics. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, headquartered in Madison, helped organize picketers for the event, distributing signs that read “I’m Secular and I vote” and “Fan of Reason.”
Despite the protests and large crowd, the scene was calm on Wednesday, and Capitol Police reported that there were no incidents or arrests. The most disruptive activity was perhaps a man who loudly blew a plastic vuvuzela while Graham prayed for Wisconsin’s “Governor, Lieutenant Governor, attorney general . . . and state workers . . . especially the law enforcement.”
“Can you imagine what Wisconsin would be like if there were no police?” he asked.
Graham also took pains to establish his anti-partisan cred. “I have no hope in the Democratic Party, zero,” he declared. “And I have zero hope in the Republican Party . . . . The only hope is the Almighty God.”
Graham described the “creep of godless secularism into Washington . . . into our statehouses . . . our schools” as one of the greatest threats to the nation, comparing it to the threat of “godless communism” he remembered growing up.
To combat the threat, Graham insisted it was the duty of every Christian to register to vote, to show up at the polls, and to engage their friends in politics. Christians at his rally should even “prayerfully consider” running for office themselves, Graham believes.
“We’re going to have meet our political obligation as Christians and make our voice known, if America is to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage which has given us the liberties we now enjoy,” Graham told the gathering. “America, we’re being stripped of our Biblical heritage and our God-inspired foundation.”
Graham recalled the good old days, when Christianity was more culturally and politically dominant. He said to loud applause:
“Now back when I was in school we had the Ten Commandments, the teacher led us in prayer every day, and we had the Pledge of Allegiance.”
His wistful evocations were reminiscent of Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” An attendee wearing a hat emblazoned, “Make America Blessed Again,” made the connection clearer.
Though Graham emphasized the need for Christians to choose the candidates who would do the most to uphold Biblical principles, he stopped short of naming any candidates and is not planning on endorsing anyone in the 2016 election.
Sometimes Christians, he explained, don’t have great options: “You might have to go to the polls and hold your nose.”
Tanner Jean-Louis is an editorial assistant at The Progressive. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Arizona. He will be studying law at Georgetown University in the Fall.