The first time I ever visited the Sky Dome, I mean Rogers Centre, it was for a Billy Graham crusade. I walked right onto the field, ran onto the bases, and then took a seat for the concert and sermon. Billy got sick that week, so while he still came and spoke for a bit, his son Franklin also took the stage. Franklin's message was good, but his father's was better. Billy got a standing ovation. The man was a powerful speaker, an influential leader and a well-respected figure. It's quite a legacy for Franklin to live up to. As Billy aged, Franklin stepped in more often and became the primary speaker for the organization planning these evangelistic rallies. His career continued and he was quickly speaking in front of large crowds all around the world.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday and in the aftermath of that attack US government officials planned a prayer service on the Friday at a chapel in Washington DC. Prominent government officials attended and leaders within the Christian community were invited to lead and participate as well. Billy was invited, Franklin wasn't. Outside the chapel though, Franklin was interviewed by a CNN reporter. Much of the US, the world in fact, spent most of that week watching CNN report on anything related to the attack. I think it's fair to say that even with all the times he spoke to stadiums full of people (let's face it, his crusades are attended mostly by people who are already Christians) this was his largest audience of non-Christians. The reporter asked him about the memorial prayer service going on behind them. Franklin spoke well about the necessity of prayer at this difficult time. The reporter continued with the theological questions and asked, "In the Bible Jesus says to love our enemies. How do you think that applies to this situation?" Without hesitation he responded and said, "That passage applies to us personally in our everyday lives, not to us as a nation." This is a common understanding of this passage, so I can't fault him for that. While I think that is a flawed interpretation, I accept that pacifism is a tough sell for a lot of people, especially in those days after the 9/11 attacks. Not satisfied with his response she then asked his personal opinion of what the US as a nation should do in response to these attacks. He responded, again without hesitation, "We need to go after these guys with every weapon in our arsenal." I was utterly disappointed. How many innocent people would be killed if the US used even one of their nuclear weapons in Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran/wherever? Would that be a justified response to these attacks? Even if he was speaking in hyperbole, to an audience of thousands upon thousands of non-Christians, Franklin Graham decided to preach violence.
If I had the chance to meet Graham Jr., I would ask him about those comments. He must have some regrets. He must regret either that he said what he said, or he must regret that the US military exercised restraint and did not use every weapon in his arsenal. If he really meant what he said, he must be really disappointed that so few nuclear bombs were detonated in the American quest for justice. If he really meant what he said, he should question the value of the work American troops have done in the Middle East. On the other hand, if he supports the troops, if he agrees that theirs was a measured and adequate response, if he thinks an adequate number of "enemies" have died, he must regret saying what he said. I'd like to think that he would regret what he said because it runs counter to Jesus' message of peace. I'd like to think that he would regret what he said because a campaign of violence like that would harm his ability to ever preach the gospel in that region (and a few others) ever again.
Then again, maybe I am misunderstanding him. Maybe he was speaking spiritually. Maybe he was talking about the armour of God. Maybe he didn't mean the US military arsenal of deadly weapons of mass destruction, maybe he meant our Christian weapons. Maybe he meant we should go after "them" with the belt of truth buckled around our waists, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, with the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. If this is what he meant, I'll take it all back. I'm not sure though if the non-Christians watching would have caught that reference.