Cover Story

Speaking frankly

"Speaking frankly" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2002," Dec. 7, 2002

That attitude has led to more than his share of run-ins over the years. During the Gulf War, Gen. Normal Schwarzkopf blasted Mr. Graham for shipping thousands of Bibles to U.S. servicemen stationed in rigidly Muslim Saudi Arabia. When he prayed in place of his father at the inauguration of George W. Bush, he was loudly criticized for asking God's blessing in Jesus' name. A few months later he was taken to task for sharing the gospel at a memorial service for the students killed at Columbine. And then, of course, there was the Muslim flap.

He insists the criticism doesn't bother him, no matter what the issue. "If it's the right thing to say or do, you do it, regardless of what people think. If God wants to give me favor, He'll give me favor. If He wants to pull me down, He'll pull me down."

Still, Mr. Graham does see the mounting criticism as a sign of the times. "We've had many freedoms in this country, and as Christians we've had a wonderful opportunity," he says. "But I do think those freedoms are slowly being eroded. Our nation is becoming more secular.

"When Jimmy Carter announced in the Pennsylvania primary that he was a born-again Christian, it caught the attention of the nation. It was a very popular thing to talk about back then. But today the church of Jesus Christ is under attack. There's an onslaught against the church. Being an evangelical Christian is not a popular position any more, and it's getting worse, not better."

Popularity. For 40 years or more it was the intangible asset that allowed Billy Graham to shatter attendance records at stadiums the world over. Wherever he went, throngs would show up to see the man so often described in the media as "an internationally beloved figure" or "the greatest evangelist since the Apostle Paul." In October, after a long hiatus, the 83-year-old Graham patriarch showed he could still pack them in, attracting 255,000 listeners to a four-day crusade in Dallas.

But such numbers don't come by courting controversy. Indeed, if Franklin Graham's critique of Islam has been amplified in the press, it is precisely because his father's opinions on the topic are so muted. If Pat Robertson's or Jerry Falwell's offspring were to criticize Muslim theology, it would hardly make news. But Grahams have simply never said such things-until now.

Some observers have tried to interpret the comments of the younger Graham as a break from his father, perhaps even a basic theological difference. But Mr. Graham says they are jumping to conclusions. "Nobody knows my father's thinking because he never issued any comments on Islam, and I don't think he has any intentions of making any statements."

So how does the father feel about his son's outspokenness? "I've always backed him and supported him, and he's always backed and supported me," Franklin Graham told WORLD. He emphasized that none of his advisers had told him to soften his blunt style-including, presumably, his father, with whom he is extremely close.

Still, Billy Graham hasn't changed his own style to come out in public defense of his son's comments, and he recently told a Dallas newspaper that "[Franklin] and I don't always see exactly alike on everything." At a joint appearance in October, when faced with several dozen Muslim protesters, the reactions of the two Grahams were markedly different. "We are to reconcile one another to God through faith in Jesus Christ," Franklin Graham said. "My interest is for the future of this property [the new Charlotte headquarters of the BGEA] and not people standing on the fringes with other interests."

His father, meanwhile, was as conciliatory as ever: "I welcome them all and I love them all," Billy Graham said. "I have many friends in that part of religion."

So far, the controversy hasn't seemed to hurt attendance at the Franklin Graham Festivals. More than 20,000 people showed up every night in Mendoza, and response rates were among the highest ever recorded--better than 10 percent. Mr. Graham says the mail has been running about 100-to-1 in favor of his position and that donations, thus far, haven't been affected.

If his convictions cost him, the real price may not be known for years to come. Borderline supporters could be turned off by a steady stream of negative press coverage. Already a festival scheduled for next year in Tulsa has drawn stronger-than-usual opposition among the local population, and the newspaper has covered the controversy extensively. "I hope our Muslim neighbors know that many of us are disgusted and embarrassed that Franklin Graham is being brought to Tulsa in the name of Christianity," read one letter to the editor. "This man is full of hatespeak, anger, and condemnation."


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