North Carolina-based evangelist Franklin Graham wrote Saturday that Republican Donald Trump’s “crude comments more than 11 years ago cannot be defended.”
But neither, Graham wrote, can the “godless progressive agenda” of Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama – an apparent reference to these Democrats’ support for abortion rights, same-sex marriage and allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Clinton and Obama are Christians, and many liberals in the faith community agree with their stands on these issues.
Graham made his comments in a Facebook post hours after Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, apologized for vulgar comments he made about women in a 2005 recording released earlier Friday by The Washington Post. The video captured lewd audio of Trump bragging in explicit terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, including a married one, as he and Billy Bush, then-host of “Access Hollywood,” waited to film a segment for Trump’s 2005 cameo on “Days of Our Lives.”
Graham wrote that the most important issue in the Nov. 8 election is the U.S. Supreme Court – and elevating the kinds of conservative justices that Trump has promised to nominate.
“Trump and Clinton scandals might be news for the moment, but who they appoint to the Supreme Court will remake the fabric of our society for our children and our grandchildren, for generations to come,” wrote Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity based in Boone.
Graham has said he plans to make no official endorsement in the presidential race. Both candidates, he wrote Saturday, are "flawed. The only hope for the United States is God."
He's been making that case all year, at prayer rallies in state capitals around the country. He will hold his final one, his 50th, on Thursday in Raleigh. He wants to mobilize conservative Christian voters and get them to the polls to support candidates – Graham doesn’t name them – who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, Graham has also been a strong supporter of House Bill 2, the controversial law that requires transgender persons to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate in government-run buildings.
Harris echoes Graham
Graham’s comments were echoed later Saturday by the Rev. Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte and a past Republican candidate for Congress.
A prominent leader in past battles involving evangelical Christians, Harris told the Observer in an interview that he had not yet watched the entire video featuring Trump’s comments. But based on the news reports he has seen and read, Harris said, “I don’t think you can defend what (Trump) said 11 years ago. Very wrong, very distasteful. I would not offer any defense.”
But Harris said other issues – including nominations to the Supreme Court – are more important. So he still plans to vote for Trump, and has no plans to withdraw his endorsement of the GOP presidential nominee.
“For me, this election is about a whole lot more than ... the personalities and flaws of both candidates,” he said, referring to Trump and Clinton. “It’s about the vision of these two candidates and the direction they would lead America.”
Harris said he and other evangelical Christians would have preferred to have a Republican presidential candidate who had been transformed by a deep faith in Jesus.
“That didn’t happen. But we have to deal with what is facing us,” Harris said. “This election is coming down to a reality check – one of these two candidates is going to win. His character put up against her character – I don’t see a lot of difference.”
But Harris said there is a big difference in what kinds of policies each would pursue, and which Supreme Court justices they would nominate.
Who sits on the high court, he said, “would affect not just the next four years, but the next 40 years.”
Asked about Republicans, including candidates and members of Congress, who are now rescinding their endorsements of Trump, Harris said he doubted Democrats would do that to Clinton if something damaging emerged about her. But, he said, “we (Republicans) tend to shoot our wounded.”