DECISION AMERICA TENNESSEE

Franklin Graham Visits Monday, Hoping To Inspire Political Engagement Through Prayer

With a message that “the only hope for this country is God,” Franklin Graham rolls out on a four-stop Decision America Tennessee Tour this month. The first stop is Monday in Chattanooga.

Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, says he is dismayed by the roiling political climate that promotes disharmony in every aspect of American life.“Our country is not out of trouble,” he says. “Many times people think that once the election’s over, everything’s OK.

“Everything’s not OK,” he says in a phone interview, his tone and cadence reminiscent of his famous father, Billy Graham, 98, whose 60-plus years of evangelistic missions endeared him to the poor and the powerful around the world.

“Washington is broken,” Graham continues. “The Republicans control everything, but they can’t even get their act together. We are in a political mess. Our country is divided racially today more than it’s ever been, at least in the last 20 years. We are morally sinking. The only hope for this country is God.”

The Decision America Tennessee Tour is his first step in an effort to unite citizens in prayer-based change. Graham also will make stops in Clarksville on Thursday, Jackson on Friday and Memphis the following Sunday, May 21.

In 2016, Graham traveled to all 50 state capitals in the Decision America Tour, encouraging people to pray, vote and engage in the political process. He believes there is more spiritual work to be done.

“So I’m looking at going back across the country,” he says. “Calling people to prayer in the state, the community, the nation, to bring people together in all walks of life.”

Tennessee this spring and Texas this fall are first on Graham’s agenda. Both were solidly red in the last presidential election, but Graham says future trips will go into left-leaning blue bastions, states he considers “saturated with secularism.”

“We look at the last election and see … how secular our nation is becoming,” he says. “Every state has been saturated with secularism, but the blue states seem to be even more so. What we’d like to do in 2018, 2019 and 2020 is pierce the blue wall. Not for politics, but for the message of Jesus Christ. Pierce it with prayer. We’re going to go to states with very secular state governments and focus on those states. The work isn’t done. There’s no question it’s going to take God. Franklin Graham can’t do this. God uses prayer, and God changes things through prayer.”

To prepare for the rally, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held a training session for prayer volunteers to work with anyone in the crowd who comes forward to commit their lives to Christ.

Don Holwerda, church administrator at First Presbyterian on McCallie Avenue, where the training was held, says about 240 volunteers met last month for prayer and preparation.

“We had the space and availability,” he says. “And we’re certainly supporters of the Graham foundation.”

The volunteers came from several churches around town.

“It was a nondenominational group, all with a desire to learn how to pray for someone who commits their life to Christ for the first time, or a renewal,” Holwerda says. “Many people don’t know how, and you may only have that one opportunity. You don’t want to get it wrong.”

Still, he says, “it’s not really the decision that matters as much as the changed life. Once you walk away, that’s not the end of it. That’s the start of it.”

Graham says his goal is to encourage people to make a difference for Christ through political engagement.

“I want to encourage citizens to run for political office,” he says. “Run for school boards. How important would it be for school boards to be populated with biblical men and women who believe in God and take a stand on the Bible. If that’s the case, we change the direction of our country for the next 20 years. People feel like, ‘I can’t do anything.’ Yeah, you can. You can run for office. … I want Christians to run at every level. … We need men and women of God in politics. Republicans are not going to save us. Democrats are not going to save us. Only God can do that.”

Graham says he sees people grow discouraged about the political turmoil and the feeling that their votes don’t count, but he postulates that “You can make a change. Your voice can be heard.

“If you take this last presidential election, all the polls showed Donald Trump losing not by a little bit but by huge margins. It didn’t happen. I wonder if polls took into account prayers by men and women across the country.

“It wasn’t Donald Trump who won the election. He did everything wrong. He offended everybody — women, minorities, military people. I believe the only reason Trump is in the White House is because God wanted him there. God put him there.”

Graham acknowledges that his views are often controversial in the polarized social and political climate, but he believes he must answer only to God for that.

“What I try to do is point out what God’s Word has to say,” he says. “I’m not trying to be politically correct. I’m trying to be correct only as it relates to the Word of God and tell the Truth to people.”

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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