Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Barack Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.
Graham, who now heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started by his famous father, praised Putin in the March issue of the group’s Decision magazine for signing a bill that imposes fines for adults who promote “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”
The Russian law came under heavy criticism from gay-rights activists – and from Obama – ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In response, Obama included openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham wrote. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.
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“Our president and his attorney general have turned their backs on God and His standards, and many in the Congress are following the administration’s lead. This is shameful.”
With the caveat that “I am not endorsing President Putin,” Graham nonetheless praised Russia’s get-tough approach toward gay rights.
“Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue – protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda – Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”
A spokeswoman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said that Franklin Graham was traveling and unavailable for comment. A statement from the association noted his article went to press before the current crisis in Ukraine that has pitted Putin and Russia against the West.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, who heads the gay Catholic group DignityUSA and is a member of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable of gay-friendly religious groups, said she has met with gay and lesbian Russians who have been beaten, stabbed and burned as Russia cracks down.
“It’s really disturbing when a religious leader seems to endorse laws that lead to this kind of behavior,” she said.
Graham’s father was a virulent anti-Communist in his early years; in 1949, he called communism “a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the Devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God.” But as he took his message around the world, he softened his rhetoric on a host of issues, including politics and hot-button fronts in the culture wars.
“If I had it to do over again, I would avoid any semblance of involvement in partisan politics,” the elder Graham, now 95, wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “Just As I Am.”
Since Franklin Graham took over in 2001, he has steered the Graham franchise in a more political direction by openly questioning Obama’s faith, endorsing a North Carolina measure that banned gay marriage, calling Islam an “evil and wicked religion” and implicitly endorsing Mitt Romney’s 2012 White House bid.
Michael Hamilton, who has studied the Graham legacy as a historian at Seattle Pacific University, said both father and son have been known to wade into controversy, but Franklin Graham responds differently.
“When the firestorm would hit, Billy Graham would always backtrack or walk back his comments in some way,” Hamilton said. “But when the firestorm hits Franklin, he doesn’t seem to really care.”