Franklin Graham, infuriated by his disinvitation from the National Day of Prayer ceremony at the Pentagon, went on a media tour earlier this week, arguing that he was being discriminated against for his Christian beliefs. He will pray Wednesday outside the Pentagon and at other locations throughout the nation’s capital. NEWSWEEK editor Jon Meacham and religion editor Lisa Miller met with the son of the evangelist Billy Graham on Monday in NEWSWEEK’s offices. Excerpts from their conversation:
Meacham: Would your sense of Christian humility not lead you to see the point of critics who say that, because of the things you have said [calling Islam “wicked” and “evil”], you could possibly be more divisive at a state-sponsored occasion than unifying?
Graham: Well, sure, someone can try to make that argument. But you have—what is it?—80 percent of America claims to be of the Christian faith. OK, so there may be 20 percent that may be offended, but it won’t be 20 percent.
JM: I’m in the 80 percent, and I’m offended.
FG: That I mention Jesus Christ [in prayer]?
JM: No, sir, by what you said about Islam, because I think it’s more divisive than unifying.
FG: Nine years ago I said it was wicked and evil.
JM: And you just repeated that here.
FG: No, I repeated what I said nine years ago.
JM: But you still believe it.
FG: Sure. But, again, I don’t go out and speak about it. I just have to ask you: what they do to women, is that wicked or evil?
JM: I would go to the cross for your right to preach in almost any forum, in any way you want. But I also completely understand the argument that the point of a public religious service, to some extent, is to be as unifying as possible; the place for a sectarian argument is simply not there.
FG: I am who I am. I don’t believe that you can get to heaven through being a Buddhist or Hindu. I think Muhammad only leads to the grave. Now, that’s what I believe, and I don’t apologize for my faith. And if it’s divisive, I’m sorry. I think yelling “Allahu Akbar” as you’re flying jet airplanes through buildings and killing 3,000 Americans—that was evil and it was wicked. And I’ve not heard one Islamic leader around the world stand up and say that was a terrible thing … If Catholics had flown into these buildings in the name of Catholicism, the pope would have been on TV that night denouncing them, saying this was wrong and what they did was sin. It would be nice if we could just all sit around and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” It would be great, but that’s not the world we live in.
JM: Do you believe that Christianity is under siege?
FG: Oh, yeah.
JM: I think we are an incredibly hospitable country—
FG: We are.
JM: —to all faiths.
FG: We are, no question—
JM: I think that’s a good thing. I don’t know that you do.
FG: Of course I think it’s a good thing. And when the Muslims wanted to celebrate Ramadan at the Pentagon, I didn’t write a letter and voice objections even though I strongly disagree with their religion. And the practices of their religion I think are violent against not only minorities, but [also] to themselves and to women. But I didn’t say anything. I’m not one to make an issue about it. And when they want to have their prayer service on Capitol Hill, on public property, supported by the Obama administration, I didn’t write a letter to my senators and congressmen. But why can’t we as Christians have our own program?
Miller: Forgive me, but you’re not being disinvited because you’re Christian.
FG: I’m being disinvited because of my faith and what I believe.
LM: You’re being disinvited because of things you’ve said about the Muslim faith.
FG: Which is my faith, which is what I believe.
JM: I understand the principle. You’re arguing religious freedom—that your liberties have been abridged by this disinvitation.
FG: I think the Obama administration better be careful. Millions of evangelical Christians voted for him in the last election.
JM: Are you suggesting that the Obama administration is soft on Islam?
FG: I think the whole nation is soft on it. You have to go back to the Bush administration—I think they were soft on it, and I think this administration is too. No question. And there’s still the concern with many people about what Obama really believes. Obama’s father was a Muslim, so the Islamic world sees him as a Muslim. Now, he has told me personally that he believes in Jesus Christ, and he is a Christian. He said that to me again last week. And I said, “Mr. President, thank you for sharing that with me, I appreciate that.” So I believe what he says. The Islamic world, though, they see him as one of their own. So if the president and his administration wants to cut guys like myself out, that’s fine. But it’s just sending a signal to the evangelical community that, you know, our people aren’t important to him.