Franklin Graham, the son of popular evangelical preacher Billy Graham, came to the state Capitol in Hartford Thursday to urge Christians to vote in November.
But his message didn’t come with instructions about which presidential candidate to support.
“We’re going to have to meet our political obligation as Christians and make our voice known if America is going to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage that has given us the liberties we enjoy,” Graham said.
Small American flags were being handed out by rally volunteers to what Capitol Police estimated was about 1,400 people who braved the rainy weather to hear Graham speak for about an hour.
Graham said it’s been estimated that in the last election 20 to 30 million Christians did not vote.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Franklin it’s all rigged’,” Graham said. “No, it’s not.” But if 20 to 30 million Christians show up for this election “they can’t rig that.”
The crowd cheered.
“There’s some bad Republicans out there and there’s some bad Democrats out there and I’m not here to take sides with either one,” Graham said.
Graham encouraged those willing and able to run for office at the state and local level.
“We need men and women in high places that will honor Almighty God,” Graham said. “America is being stripped of its heritage, it’s being stripped of its God-inspired foundations.”
Graham, 64, said his generation was afraid of the “red threat” of Communism.
Then the Berlin Wall came down and everyone seemed to breath a sigh of relief as “communism drifted off onto the horizon.” But then came what Graham believes is an even bigger threat: secularism.
“There’s no difference between secularism and communism,” Graham said. “They’re both godless. What godless communism didn’t do, godless secularism is doing.”
He said he’s trying to get “God’s voice” back into politics.
As for presidential politics, Graham said it’s going to be Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Graham said he knows that most voters don’t like either one of them, but “you’re going to have to go to the polls and hold your nose.”
He said it’s not just about voting for the candidate, but the party behind the candidate.
“What do they stand for? What are the principles? What’s their running mate like? You have to look at all of these things,” Graham said. “Then you have to look at who are the judges they’re going to appoint.”
Graham said he’s not running for office or endorsing candidates, “I’m running a campaign for God.”
“It’s time for the church to stand up and the Christian voice to be heard across this state,” Graham said.
But Christian voices are much more diverse than Evangelicals like Graham.
A small group of ministers gathered at the edge of the crowd said they don’t believe in the Evangelical version of Christianity that Graham seemed to be also be promoting as part of his 50-state tour.
The Rev. Josh Pawelek of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manchester said that although Graham tried to steer clear of endorsing candidates, the brand of Christianity Graham is peddling is “exclusive, homophobic, and anti-woman.”
Pawelek said Graham was very careful in his remarks, but there was one point where he talked about recruiting Christians to run for local school boards that seemed to expose his true feelings and perhaps more of his political leanings.
Graham said they need Christian men and women to get elected to school board who have a “thick skin, who can get in the face of these people who call themselves progressives.”
“Progressives is just another word for an atheist, okay,” Graham said.
He said those “progressives” endorse books that are “pornographic.” Graham said Christians are not going to put up with that “because there’s more of us than there is of you.”
Pawelek wondered when any school board approved a “pornographic” book for school-aged children. He said that’s a myth among the Christian right.
The Rev. Aaron Miller of the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford said they came Thursday in quiet protest. He said there’s a “brand of Christianity” that has become especially vocal and tries to make it seem as if it’s the only brand out there, when it isn’t.
Pawelek said there also seemed to be a “tone deafness” in his speech about tolerance of other religions.
The Connecticut Coalition of Reason, a humanist and atheist group, also quietly protested the rally.