North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham came to the aid of Donald Trump on Wednesday, writing in a Facebook post that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States is similar to his own call months ago to stop all Muslim immigration.
“For some time, I have been saying that Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over,” Graham wrote Wednesday. “Donald J. Trump has been criticized by some for saying something similar.”
That criticism has come from across the political and religious spectrum, from former Vice President Dick Cheney to Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. In editorials, front pages and editorial cartoons, Trump has even been compared to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
But, judging from Graham’s Facebook post, the head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is sticking by his own controversial and widely criticized views on Islam, a religion of 1.5 billion people around the world.
In his Facebook post, Graham, like Trump, cited statistics from a survey done by the controversial Center for Security Policy that suggested large percentages of American Muslims believe violence against the United States can be justified. The center’s founder and president, Frank Gaffney, has been criticized by conservatives and liberals for allegedly promoting conspiracy theories. The center itself was labeled “an extremist think tank” by the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
Graham proposed a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States in July, after the shooting deaths of four Marines by a naturalized U.S. citizen who had posted two Islam-focused writings on a blog. After the terrorist attacks in Paris last month, Graham reiterated his call to bar Muslim immigrants – a position Trump echoed this week.
Reached for comment, Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, called Trump “the political version of Franklin Graham.”
“The scary thing is: The crazier he gets, the more support he gets (in the polls),” Hough said of Trump.
On Wednesday, Graham wrote on Facebook that the reaction to Trump’s comments indicate that “our politicians are not listening to the truth – my prayer is that God will open their eyes.” He urged people to share his Facebook post – more than 43,000 did – and email their representatives in Congress.”
But Graham’s embrace of Trump’s proposal is clearly not shared by everyone in the evangelical Christian community.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote Monday on his blog that “anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.”
And on Tuesday, at Graham’s own launch of Operation Christmas Child in Charlotte, volunteer Jim David of Lexington, S.C., criticized Trump’s plan as “off base.”
“You can’t target a whole religion,” said David, who attends Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church. “You have to vet individual people, not the religion.”