Tens of thousands of Christians are calling for influential evangelist Franklin Graham, a vocal Trump defender and son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, to be removed from his ministries following the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, which left five people dead, halted the presidential certification, and led to numerous arrests.
A 15 January proposal on the online Christian community Faithful America demands Mr Graham leave his posts as CEO and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, as well as Samaritan’s Purse, an international humanitarian ministry.
“Graham gets away with his hatred and conspiracy-theories by hiding behind the humanitarian work of Samaritan’s Purse and his late father’s name,” the petition reads, which has more than 22,000 signatures. “It’s time for Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to realize that by propping up Franklin’s unchristian extremism, they are abandoning their Gospel missions, undermining democracy, and helping incite white-nationalist sedition.”
Paul Saber, on the board of directors, told McClatchy in a statement that the petitioners “fabricated this lie that (Graham) incited violence at the Capitol.”
“The Boards of Directors for Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association have expressed that they fully support Franklin Graham and are more than satisfied with the job he has done and is doing in leading these ministries,” Mr Saber said. “Franklin Graham was not in Washington, DC, and he did not encourage people to go to the Capitol on January 6.”
Before and on up to the day of the riot, Mr Graham, who has backed the president since 2016, echoed many of the same claims of a stolen election as the rioters.
“The votes are in, but is the election over?" he wrote on Facebook the day of the attack. "I have no clue.”
He’s also called the election “rigged,” a favourite, unfounded conspiracy of the president and his hardcore fans.
Since the 2016 election, @POTUS @realDonaldTrump has been falsely accused, maligned, and attacked. He told us his campaign was spied on. He was right. He told us there was no collusion. He was proven right. When he says this election was rigged or stolen, I tend to believe him.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) December 19, 2020
After the riot, Mr Graham urged unity, but by then he and other evangelicals had spent years backing the president and his increasingly anti-democratic conduct.
“I am calling on Christians to unite our hearts together in prayer for President-elect @JoeBiden and Vice President-elect @KamalaHarris, and for the leadership in both parties,” he wrote on Twitter.
Pray that everyone will stop the finger-pointing and realize that both parties bear responsibility for the problems we face today. Pray that they will come together and work together for the good of all of the American people.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) January 7, 2021
The strange but influential alliance between the crude New York billionaire and the religious right could be seen on display at the Capitol that day, as demonstrators carried giant crosses, referred to their activities as a Jericho march, and had signs about Jesus alongside Trump and American flags.
Billy Graham, a lifelong Democrat known as “America’s Pastor” for his counsel to presidents of both parties, often preached a message of unity, but the younger Graham has emerged as a prominent pro-Trump conservative and put his substantial resources behind the former president, a symbol of Mr Trump’s deep support among white evangelicals.
Franklin Graham once said Mr Trump “defends the Christian faith more than any president in my lifetime,” toured the country giving pro-Trump speeches, and has even sold pro-Trump merch asking supporters to “Pray for 45,” as in the 45th president, Donald Trump.
Despite the odd-couple pairing of a womanizing businessman prone to foul language and religious conservatives, evangelicals made up one of the president’s strongest bases of support, giving the president an 80 per cent approval rating throughout his entire presidency. Some religious scholars argue the president’s “Make America Great Again” message appealed to their nostalgic conservative tendencies, while others suggest his regular attacks on racial minorities appealed to white evangelicals, some of whom view themselves as an embattled minority themselves in a diverse, secular America.
The Trump administration often touted its defence of religious liberty and spiritual grounding, with some officials like former attorney general William Barr going so far as to argue in public addresses that that free government is “only suitable and sustainable for a religious people” and “secularists” who doubt “Christian morality” are “foes” of democracy.” Yet one of the administration’s centrepiece policies was a series of travel restrictions on Muslim nations originally advertised as a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US.