Franklin Graham will preach in Raleigh on Sunday, and keep talking politics online

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will bring his “Decision America: Tar Heel State Tour” to Raleigh on Sunday afternoon. It’s free to the public.

The event is fashioned after the crusades Graham’s father, the late evangelist Billy Graham, conducted for six decades with music and a message from the pulpit about salvation available through faith in Jesus Christ.

“I want people to know how they can have hope for eternity,” Graham said in a phone interview with The News & Observer. “I want them to know that God ... created them and that mankind has a problem and it’s called sin, and our sin separates us from God. I want them to know they can have a relationship with God. That’s through Jesus Christ, who came to this earth and died on the cross.”

While Graham’s message on the eight-city tour is a traditional, revival-tent-style sermon, his comments on social media, away from the pulpit, lean more political. Graham’s anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ-rights and anti-illegal-immigration positions, and his unwavering support for President Donald Trump, are popular with his followers but irk some people who identify as more progressive Christians.

When the tour kicked off Oct. 1 in Fayetteville, a group of about 30 people gathered outside the venue, holding signs.

Arleen Myers Fields, one of the organizers, said the signs were not meant to protest Graham or his ideology..

“It was to show the people going to his ‘Decision America’ event ... that there is a much more inclusive version of Christianity that we believe in, that other people may not have been exposed to or haven’t experienced,” Fields said in a phone interview.

“I understand that many of my Christian brothers and sisters take a more traditional view of scripture and interpretation,” she said. “We look at the same scripture and come to different conclusions about what God calls us to do. And if you search your heart and that is what feels right to you, I’m OK with that.

“What I’m not OK with is if people use their positions of power to preach a message that is not about love.”

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A group organized to stand outside Franklin Graham’s event in Fayetteville on Oct. 1 to show “a much more inclusive version of Christianity,” Arleen Myers Fields said. Gerard Falls

Conservative Christians say the most loving message they can offer to others is to point out what they believe are the rules God has provided for mankind to live by.

Graham said that while he opens his events inviting people to pray for the country and for its leaders, he doesn’t endorse politicians. He said his political comments, including his support for Trump and his disdain for Democrats who have pushed to impeach the president, fit with his hopes for the nation’s spiritual health.

Graham said he appreciates the president’s support for religious freedom.

“We live in a political world,” he said. “All of us are affected by politics. Politicians are making and passing laws that affect our lives every day. So I think everyone who comes to these events is also interested in politics.”

Graham criticized the ongoing discussion impeachment inquiry as an outgrowth over Democrats’ frustration that Trump won the election in 2016.

“This is a huge distraction, and it’s preventing us from focusing on things we should focus on,” Graham said, such as poverty in the U.S., and what to do about so-called “Dreamers,” who were brought into the country as children without documentation and have remained here.

“I’m concerned that as we continue down this road we’re not going to make it as a country,” Graham said. “If we just ignore the problems and focus on the personalities, it’s a huge mistake.”

Sunday’s Raleigh event

WHAT: Evangelist Franklin Graham will preach Sunday during the Raleigh stop on his “Decision America: Tar Heel State Tour.” The event is free, family-friendly, and all are welcome. The program will include performances by Grammy-nominated musician Jeremy Camp and award-winning guitarist Dennis Agajanian.

WHERE: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek

WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 6, 4 p.m.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.