Religion

'Your state's in trouble,' evangelist Franklin Graham tells Christians in Fresno

Politics and sin were cornerstones of an impassioned sermon by evangelist Franklin Graham on Monday night in Fresno.

The message: Christians need to pray for politicians, vote for candidates who support biblical principles, run for local offices, and find a relationship with God through Jesus Christ so their sins can be forgiven.

"Our country is in trouble," the son of the late Billy Graham said. "Your state's in trouble – you know that. But there are things that we can do. You know God hears prayer."

Graham's appearance at the Fresno Fairgrounds came a little more than a week before California's primary election.

He started the event by reminding the crowd of his father's 2001 visit to Fresno – which attracted more than 200,000 people over four days – then launched into prayer requests.

Graham asked the crowd to pray for Gov. Jerry Brown, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Diane Feinstein – a request met with some laughter and boos from those who nearly filled the 5,000-seat Paul Paul Theater.

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The seats at the Paul Paul Theater at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds are nearly filled to capacity for Franklin Graham's "Decision America" California tour stop on Monday, May 28, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

"They're your representatives, whether you voted for them or not," he responded, extending his prayers to local politicians and President Donald Trump and his administration.

Graham's stop in Fresno was one of 10 during a Decision America California Tour that began in Southern California. Graham goes to Modesto on Tuesday, then to Santa Clara, Berkeley and Chico, ending in Redding on June 5, primary election day.

The New York Times reported that three of Graham's California stops are in or bordering critical House districts in the Central Valley, and that others hug the line between those controlled by Republicans and Democrats.

Graham told the Fresno crowd that Christians can "turn this state around" despite some saying California is a "lost cause."

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Franklin Graham speaks during his "Decision America" California tour stop at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds' Paul Paul Theater on Monday, May 28, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The event, marketed as a prayer event, at times felt like a political rally.

"The enemy has gotten control of our schools, our education," Graham said in urging Christians to run for school boards.

One biblical story abruptly veered into an aside about people who identify as transgender.

"We're sinners. We're born of the flesh. We all came to this world the same way. We all have moms – I don't get this transgender identity business, I promise you that."

Graham has urged his followers to boycott Target over a policy welcoming transgender people to use the restroom or fitting room corresponding with their gender identity.

In a new book, "Through My Father's Eyes," Franklin Graham writes: “The progressives have infiltrated our schools, our government and our nation. Progressivism is nothing more than godless secularism, and it has stormed through the gates of America’s bulwark.”

On Sunday, Graham shared a Fresno story with his nearly 7 million followers on Facebook, applauding a patriotic Fresno crowd at a high school softball championship for singing the national anthem despite an announcement it wouldn't be played. Graham's Facebook post received 97,000 reactions and was shared nearly 20,000 times.

Graham heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse.

The event included live music by Christian singer Jeremy Camp.

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A near-capacity crowd stands for Christian musician Jeremy Camp as he performs following Franklin Graham's appearance during his "Decision America" California tour stop at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds' Paul Paul Theater on Monday, May 28, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

At one point, Graham asked people in the audience with sins they wanted forgiven to please stand. Dozens did.

"He (Jesus Christ) just hit the delete button. There's not even a record of your sins," Graham said. "He's erased them."

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Attendees clap along with Christian musician Jeremy Camp as Franklin Graham's "Decision America" California tour stop in Fresno gets underway at the Paul Paul Theater at the Big Fresno Fairgrounds on Monday, May 28, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

David Garcia, 38, of Fresno described Graham incorporating politics into his message as "interesting." Garcia said Democrats and Republicans need to work together to resolve important issues.

Others took to social media to express their dismay at Graham's presence in Fresno.

"As a Christian immigrant, I have been attacked by Graham's rhetoric," wrote Sergio Cortes on Twitter, calling Franklin a "false prophet leading the church astray."

"He has mobilized his base to align themselves with a president that persecutes and oppresses the immigrant and poor."

Others, like Roy Vallejo and his five children – who watched Graham speak while wearing matching "Team Jesus" T-shirts – heard a different message.

"For a lot of the people that are underprivileged and stuff," Vallejo said, "that need Jesus in their life, I think hopefully this … will reach everybody's hearts."

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge
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