Tags: Franklin | Graham | Decries | Failure | Katrina | Response

Franklin Graham Decries Failure in Katrina Response

Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM

Franklin Graham, 53, who has taken over the ministry of his ailing father, legendary evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, 87, and who is now sweeping through the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast with a rousing series of revival festivals, has no problem taking a break from saving lost souls to lambasting the government for "dropping the ball" in the management of the nation's worst natural disaster.

NewsMax caught up with the peripatetic minister at his Mobile, Ala., hotel, where he and his entourage were holding court with the media and praying in a special prayer room.

"They dropped the ball," Graham tells NewsMax without hesitation. "FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] -- I believe it was a great mistake putting that in Homeland Security because what has happened is you have made Homeland Security such a huge big bureaucracy that it is not able to respond.

"Katrina was a good example. Michael Brown [former FEMA head], I'm sure, if he could do things differently he would have. I don't think that he is the fault here. I think it is our system that is at fault."

Graham, who has toured the devastation both alone and in the company of his father, has gotten a handle on how things operated in crisis.

"The state levels in Mississippi work pretty good," he continues. "However, in Louisiana, the state government didn't work too well and, of course, the local leadership in New Orleans certainly failed.

"There is plenty of opportunity to point the finger at different people. So, yes, I think the government dropped the ball. We did not respond the way we could have responded, and I think there are a lot of lessons that will come out of this."

During a recent U.S. television interview, Graham emphasized that despite the hue and cry that ensued, his views of Islam have not changed after having once described it as "a very evil and wicked religion."

He revisited the hot-button subject for NewsMax.

"Well, first of all my, I am not attacking anyone. I don't attack Islam. I don't attack people of the Islamic faith and we welcome Muslims to all of our meetings. They are welcome to come. I want them to know the truth. I want them to know that God loves them and that Jesus Christ died for their sins and for the people of Islam to know that.

"As a Christian, I certain believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the light and that the Bible instructs that Jesus said, ‘No man comes to the Father but by me.' There is no other way to God unless it is though Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ has paid the debt -- the price for sin -- and the Bible says all of us who have sinned come short of God's glory.

"That is everybody. That is people from Baptist background, Catholic background and Muslim background, Hindu background, Jewish background. Whatever your background is, we are all sinners before God. We all have been separated from God because of our sins and Jesus Christ is the only one in all of history who died for your sins.

"Buddha didn't die for your sins. Mohammed never claimed to die for your sins. Only one person in all of history, and that is Jesus Christ, and if we are willing to repent and turn from our sins, God will forgive us and cleanse us and Christ will come into our life today if you will let him."

Since 1989, Franklin Graham has done more than 100 faith "festivals" around the country and around the world. When asked if the old term of "crusade" had gone by the boards in order to be more politically correct towards the Muslim world, Graham explains:

"Well, we changed the word ‘crusade' simply because we may offend somebody that reads history from, you know, the 12th century or something where crusade had a bad connotation. ‘Crusade' is a church word. It is something that, you know, people in church societies would understand. I chose a term that non-church people understand -- a festival. People go to balloon festivals in Albuquerque. There are book festivals. There are flower festivals ... So festival is something that a person who doesn't go to church understands."

Franklin's dad, Billy Graham, recently was awarded the 2006 George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. No small part of that service was his famous advise sought by and given to presidents.

When asked if he would continue the grand tradition, Franklin answers:

"I was with the president [George W. Bush] a couple of weeks ago. I see him every few months at different things that I am invited to. I see Bill Clinton, probably, maybe once a year on different issues."

When pressed about the nature of his consultations with the sitting president, Graham reveals, "He has asked my advice on how to best respond to the AIDS crisis in Africa -- what his response should be. I had a chance to work with him on that ...

"We have had discussions on the issues in the Sudan," he adds. This is something that Graham knows about intimately, as his organization, Samaritan Purse, has been working in southern Sudan for years. The Samaritan Purse's hospital in the region is the largest around and has endured more than a half-dozen bombing attacks by the Khartoum regime.

So has he taken over the mantle from his famous father -- as adviser to the presidents?

"I don't think I am taking over the mantel in that regard. My father has had relationships with every President since Truman ... I think I have had a chance to meet every president since. I didn't meet [John F.] Kennedy, but I did meet [Lyndon B.] Johnson and every one since Johnson.

"But as the years go forward, if I meet more presidents or less, that is not my goal in life to see how many politicians I get to shake hands with or have a chance to talk to or have my picture taken with. I want to preach the gospel. That is what I do and if I have a chance to meet them and if I had a chance to try to influence them as a relation to the things of God then I want to do that."

Do you have any thoughts on how you would like to see this Iran crisis terminated, defused or somehow go away?

"Well, I would hope that the president and those in government will be able to negotiate some kind of settlement to this. I think it would be a huge mistake for this country to ignore it, and we got to find a way to resolve it because this is going to be a threat for other generations."

If Iran strikes Israel, does the United States have any alternative but to defend its ally?

"Well, I can't speak for the government," says Graham. "I don't know what the president's response would be. I think there would be a lot of support in this country for the defense of Israel. Political support is what I am saying. I think there would be many people who believe in Israel's right to exist. The Iranians have basically said that Israel doesn't have a right to exist. So we are opposed to the Iranian position in a very strong way. So they are a threat.

"I think this is the greatest threat right now to the United States -- the Iranian threat --much more so than Iraq."

"Well, I think as Christians that we pray," replies the evangelist. "We pray and we ask for God's protection and grace, but we pray for those that are in leadership over us. We pray for our president. We pray for those that are in Congress and military leaders. For those that are given the charge of protecting this country. We need to pray for them -- that God would give them wisdom -- because when the president makes a decision, whether we like it or not, it is affecting all of our lives.

"His decisions and what he does or doesn't do -- we are going to have to live with whether we like it or don't like. So that is why we need to pray that God's hand is on our president, leading him to make the right decisions for all of us. This has nothing to do with politics because whether there it is a Democrat in there or a Republican we pray for those that are in leadership over us. That is what God demands and requires of us -- to pray for our leadership."

When asked about another hot-button issue -- the proposed marriage amendment -- Graham is quick and straightforward in his response.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman, and to try to define it outside of that relationship is wrong. I do not believe that we should be giving marriage license to anyone outside of that marriage relationship between a man and a woman."

The tall and lean minister gets up for a stretch. A veritable clone of his father, he keeps in shape, he says, by running at least three miles a day. Other methods of relaxation are hopping on one of his motorcycles or finding a stream to fish in.

But there's little time these days for leisure, as Graham explains:

"I have two jobs. Samaritan's Purse, which is more than a full-time job. We have about 500 employees in North Carolina and several thousand people overseas. Then there is the Billy Graham Association, where my father asked me to take over leadership. At that time, there were about 500 employees in that organization."

As to whether the latest Graham incarnation is putting his own singular mark on the Billy Graham Association, Franklin frowns. He is clearly not ready as yet to even consider eclipsing his father.

"Our focus is exactly the same as it has always been," he explains to NewsMax. "My father has always had a very international presence. We are taking what we have learned in this country with using training and television -- taking television overseas, which we have never done before, and we have been very successful this past couple of years."

The media is a big part of the message, Graham continues. "We're going into countries which will sell us television time and going for prime time like we do in this country."

He rattles off some of the countries where his message of Jesus has and is being heard thanks to his ministry and its judicious use of the media: "San Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia ...

"We had, in Columbia, South America over 700,000 commitments to Christ in that one country," he interrupts.

"Chile, Argentina," he continues. "We are in Asia. We are going to be doing the Philippines this year. We were in India last year."

Traveling is a way of life with Graham, as it was with his father. From Mobile, the traveling festival juggernaut presses on to Baton Rouge, La.

When Graham is confronted with the apparent injustice of a great and good man -- like a soldier who sacrifices himself for his comrades -- still being denied salvation without first coming to Christ, the minister stands firm.

"Goodness is not enough to get you into heaven. Being good isn't enough, and there are a lot of good people in this world. Good people, OK. Honest, moral, good fathers, good wives, good people...

He points to the biblical figure of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, who, according to the Gospel of John, showed favor to Jesus.

"He prays, he tithes, he is a good man," Graham instructs. "He is a moral man, but Jesus said that is not enough you got to be born again. This man is the most religious man in the entire city and he goes to the cross and he brings Jesus' body down and prepares it for burial and then on the third day God raised his son.

"Jesus isn't in the grave. The Catholics still put Jesus on the cross. That is not where he is. He is alive and he will come into a person's heart and change them if they will let him."

Well, wouldn't God make an exception for the noble soldier?

"No, I don't believe that. You have to invite him in. You can't reject him. You can't say I don't believe in Jesus. Jesus is a gentleman. He does not force his way into your life. You have to invite him into your life."

The soldier question strikes home with Graham -- his youngest son, Edward, is with the U.S. Special Forces, fighting "somewhere" overseas. Where is classified, says Graham.

But there is still the matter of whether God was somehow punishing sinners with the Hurricane Katrina mayhem. Is the judgment at hand?

"No, I don't think so. Maybe the devil was behind it."

Graham recalls the number of churches, the houses of God, which were swept away with the storm surge. It's bothersome.

He shrugs it off.

Later that night, Graham exclaims, "Wow!" after the last hymn is belted out at the festival.

There are about 5,000 souls in attendance. They've enjoyed the gospel hymns and the entertainment, but it is Franklin they have come to hear.

He starts off with a slow cadence, recalling his recent visit to Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C., where the nation's wounded heroes come to heal. He recounts the emotional experience of roaming from room to room, visiting with youngsters who have had limbs blown off or eyes destroyed.

"How proud we are of their sacrifice," he calls out to the audience that responds with a thunderous applause.

The anecdote about the brave wounded leads him into the meat of his message. "We are all crippled spiritually before God."

He promises the audience -- young, old, black, white, healthy and infirm -- that they will know tonight their personal savior.

Glancing down at the official program "run sheet," one sees that there is just so much time allotted for the "message," another sliver for the "invitation," another slot for the "commitment," and finally time for "instructions." Instructions, it turns out, is when those who come forward are married up with counselors that school them on staying the course.

Getting personal, Graham recounts his own troubled youth and how he didn't come to Christ until he was 22 years old. "I was afraid I wouldn't have fun," he confesses with humility. "I was afraid that if I gave myself to Christ, the fun would come to an end."

The tempo picks up as he instructs the multitude about the many sins that could be marring their souls.

"How about abortion?" he cries out. "You men who supported abortion ... it is murder!"

The audience erupts with the loudest applause yet.

The message part of the Graham phenomenon continues.

"Jesus Christ is not on the cross; He is here tonight!"

"There is no Hindu God that is going to get you to heaven," he warns.

But all is not lost -- even for the followers of Islam.

"Millions of the followers of Islam have opened the way to heaven when they asked Christ to come into their hearts," he instructs.

He has stealthily crept up on the moment everyone has been waiting for -- the invitation to come forward and demonstrate the acceptance of Jesus as a personal savior.

"Every person Jesus called, he has called publicly," he says, wanting to coax the first persons to make that walk from their seats to the front of the raised dais.

There is no great rush, just a trickle at first. Graham stands with his arms folded across his chest, faintly smiling. The lights in the great dome go up so those making their way from the mezzanine level will not stumble. The gospel singers remaining on stage sing a lilting number that features the refrain "Come!"

They come.

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Franklin Graham, 53, who has taken over the ministry of his ailing father, legendary evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, 87, and who is now sweeping through the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast with a rousing series of revival festivals, has no problem taking a break from saving...
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Tuesday, 25 April 2006 12:00 AM
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