(RNS) — Franklin Graham offered a short and straightforward Protestant prayer for the country on the last night of the Republican National Convention.
But in an interview with RNS on Friday (Aug. 28), he made no bones about who he hopes the country will elect come November.
Speaking from Washington, D.C., where he said an estimated 100 evangelical leaders gathered on the South Lawn of the White House to watch President Trump accept the Republican Party's nomination for a second term, Graham said the choice was stark.
“It’s up to the American people in November to decide whether we go to socialism or we stay with the Constitution we’ve lived under for the past 200 some years,” Graham said.
As the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, who counseled every president since World War II, Franklin Graham appeared to continue that mission. He insisted he does not make endorsements and said he would have offered a prayer at the Democratic National Convention last week, had he been invited. He said he did not watch the mostly virtual event from Milwaukee and Wilmington, Delaware.
Yet he also cast the Democrats as radical liberals who would steer the country to socialist-style governments “just like Venezuela and Cuba.” In this, Graham echoed the president who in Thursday’s acceptance speech portrayed his rival, Democrat Joe Biden, as a “Trojan horse” for socialism.
“That’s the direction they want to take us,” he said. “The radical left, Bernie Sanders and people like that have taken control of the Democratic Party.”
Graham’s public prayer from the stage of the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., was more neutral, asking God to unite a divided nation and praying for God's protection over the president and vice president.
Graham, 68, the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and of the Christian emergency relief organization Samaritan's Purse, said he sat in the audience on the White House lawn with some of the president’s staunchest allies — evangelical leaders who form his most reliable base.
He said it was a beautiful evening and acknowledged few wore masks. Asked if he felt unsafe at a time when the coronavirus is sweeping the country and on Thursday accounted for more than 1,100 deaths, he said, “It does cross your mind.”
Even so, he said he did not wear a mask.
And he said he did not approve of Biden’s proposed nationwide mask mandate to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Instead he praised South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem who refused to issue a statewide mask mandate.
“She put the responsibility in the hands of the people,” Graham said. “That state has done extremely well.”
Earlier this spring, Samaritan’s Purse partnered with New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital to open a field hospital extension in Central Park to handle the overflow of patients suffering from the virus.
Graham said Samaritan’s Purse is now involved in training healthcare providers in 60 different countries on how to protect themselves and stop the spread of the virus. He said he was especially proud that none of his group's doctors or nurses in the New York City field hospital contracted the virus. The field hospital was dismantled in May.
Samaritan's Purse is also providing relief to homeowners in the Gulf hit by Hurricane Laura. The storm rolled ashore in southwestern Louisiana Thursday morning, killing six and leaving behind a wide path of destruction. Graham said his organization had commandeered the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and would likely remain in the area for months to help people rebuild.
Graham’s humanitarian relief efforts are only part of his calling, though.
Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, he is also organizing a prayer march from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol.
“We’re not going to have speakers or a podium or anything like that,” Graham said. “We’re just going to have people come and pray. We’re going to ask God to bless this country again.”