This country is in trouble, and only God and the power of prayer can save it from abortion, same-sex marriage and political correctness, according to evangelist Franklin Graham who visited Juneau Friday.
Graham, the son of famous Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, led a prayer rally of about 500 people in Savikko Park Friday afternoon, calling participants to “honor God with (their) vote.”
“I’m not here to tell you who to vote for,” Graham said. “I’m running a campaign for God.”
Juneau marked the 32nd stop on Graham’s Decision America Tour 2016, a cross-country tour of state capitals. The goal of the tour: mobilizing the Christian vote. Though normally a fan of abstinence, Graham said he was disappointed that as many as 30 million Christians chose to abstain from the last presidential election.
He asked audience members, the majority of whom were waving small American flags, to pledge to pray “fervently and faithfully for America” and vote in every election — whether they are choosing a new mayor or a new president. Although the pledge, which nearly 90,000 people have signed nationwide, has many directives, one of the most crucial, Graham said, calls pledgees to consider running for office.
This is particularly important because Graham made it clear that he isn’t impressed with the options that will be on the ballot come November.
“I have no hope in the Democratic Party — zero,” Graham said, eliciting a hoots and hollers of approval from the crowd. “But before you Republicans high-five each other, I have zero hope in the Republican Party, too.”
And Graham isn’t alone. Daniel Brady, a rally-goer who described the event as “inspiring,” expressed a similar sentiment after Graham finished speaking.
“I just firmly believe that the solution to our problems is not in earthly systems,” Brady said. “We have to look upward.”
Still, Brady and Graham said that in order to get the United States back on what they see as the right path, Christians will need to get to the polls “even if you have to hold your nose,” Graham said during the rally.
Though most people at the rally seemed to completely in step with Graham’s message — as reported by regular shouts of “amen” and “hallelujah” from the crowd — there were some who struggled to get behind Graham entirely.
Michelle Strickler, a Christian who attended the rally, said she liked that Graham was trying to energize people to vote, but she disagreed with some of the finer points.
She sought out the Empire after the rally to make sure that people don’t get the impression that all Christians share Graham’s opposition of homosexuality and same-sex marriage
“Love is first and foremost in my heart, and I think I represent a bunch of Christians,” she said. “The main thing I want to say is if Jesus Christ was walking here today, he would have very good friends who were homosexual and heterosexual.”
The LGBTQ community was not the only group that Graham singled out during his prayer rally. He also spoke out against progressives, communists and atheists.
“Secularism is the same as communism; it’s godless,” he said, raising his voice. His words, amplified by loud speakers, echoed off the mountains. “Progressives are atheists. We have a progressive system — same as communism — that has come in and taken over our government.”
Sue Schrader, an atheist who attended the rally, said she was disheartened that Graham used such charged language.
“I was very concerned, as an atheist, for Franklin Graham to address me as the enemy,” she said. “I think that’s a very loaded word, and I don’t see how that could be seen as compassionate speech or moral speech, and there he was promoting those values.”
Schrader attended the rally wearing a colander on her head, a symbol of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Though the colander did little to keep her dry when it started raining about a quarter of the way through Graham’s speech, it did spark conversation, which was her intent. The colander was meant to be a statement, highlighting that no one religion is more legitimate than another, even Pastafarianism.
“That was my goal, to have a lighthearted attempt to raise some serious issues,” she said.
And the colander did its job. She said she spoke with several people at the rally, all of whom treated her with respect. Nobody, however, connected it to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Schrader said she and Graham split company when he “started labeling people,” but she’s happy anytime people hold a public rally to get out the vote. How informative the rally was for voters, however, she wasn’t sure.
Although Graham said several times that he wasn’t telling people who to vote for, it seemed fitting that he kicked off and concluded the rally reading scripture about Nehemiah, a man who built a wall.