c. 1996 Religion News Service
SAN DIEGO _ Following in the footsteps of his father, who has often prayed from the podiums of political conventions, evangelist Franklin Graham is scheduled to give the final benediction at the Republican National Convention Thursday (Aug. 15).
Graham, 44, head of the international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse and an official of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said his two minutes at the podium will include a prayer”that our nation would never turn its back on the poor and the hungry.” Dressed casually in a herringbone tweed jacket, black jeans and black cowboy boots, Franklin Graham paused after a brief morning practice at the podium for an interview on the convention floor Thursday.
He said he was asked four days ago to give the final benediction, one of 10 prayers uttered during official convention sessions. Billy Graham, his 77-year-old father, appeared briefly at the Republican convention Monday night in a videotaped tribute to former President Ronald Reagan. But the elder Graham declined an invitation to participate in the festivities, citing his failing health and scheduling problems.”Dad doesn’t accept too many invitations these days,”said Graham.”At this stage of his life, he’s trying to preserve his energy for the crusades.” The elder Graham suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is preparing for a crusade in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., from Sept. 26-29. In addition, he plans to lead crusades in San Antonio, Texas, and the San Francisco Bay area in 1997.
Franklin Graham’s benediction closes a convention that has been attended by a large and prominent showing of politically conservative Christians.”I don’t consider myself a member of any group,”said Graham, when asked if he considered himself part of the religious right.”I’m a Christian. I’m conservative theologically and politically, but I’m not sure that makes me a member of the religious right. I’m not even sure what that means.” Graham said he has never attended any Christian Coalition meetings but has met Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson when he appeared on his”700 Club”program.
While the elder Graham declined an invitation to pray at a convention luncheon honoring Elizabeth Dole, his spokesman said he plans to keep his preaching commitments.”Considering the fact that Mr. Graham’s doctors have said that he could preach for another two to three years and that he’s accepted crusades for 1997 and is considering ministry opportunities into 1998, the lion still has a roar,”said A. Larry Ross.
Ross said the elder Graham, a registered Democrat, has attended most of the national political conventions since the early 1950s. He usually offers a prayer, often an invocation or benediction at a plenary session, at the Republican and Democratic conventions.”It’s been his policy that he will never accept one without also doing the other to remain nonpartisan,”Ross said.
Like his father, Franklin Graham is willing to appear at the Democratic National Convention as well, but has not yet received an invitation.
Franklin Graham described himself as a regular voter, interested in both Republican and Democratic candidates.”I vote for men and women in both parties who represent my views,”Graham said.”Right now, I might be registered as a Republican. I’m not sure because I registered 20 years ago and I don’t pay attention to parties.” He added that his father may be the only Democrat in the family.
But Franklin Graham shies away from politics, preferring instead to”point the people to the cross and Jesus Christ. I am a minister and all I can do is offer the Gospel,”he said, adding that Christians have a right to be politically active.”Christians have the right as much as gay activists … to be involved in the political process, but my personal calling is to the Gospel,”Franklin Graham said.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced in November that Franklin Graham would succeed his father as head of the organization should the elder Graham become incapacitated.
Franklin Graham said he spends about a third of his time working on crusades and noted that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is considering a merger with Samaritan’s Purse so he can continue to serve both organizations.”My father is still chairman of the board and I think he can go another three or four years easy,”he said.”My responsibility is to stay and support him. We want him to continue as long as he can because, honestly speaking, when the day comes that he can’t continue, it will be a sad day in my life.”