This is a look at Franklin Graham and his comments and views of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There are some evangelical Christians who are infatuated with Putin despite the assassinations of his critics, and his militaristic foreign policy and strict religious freedom laws which are driving Baptists and other evangelicals from Russia. One question I have is the following: Is Franklin Graham the evangelical equivalent of Charles Lindbergh? After all one traveled to Germany and defended Hitler in the process. The other traveled to Russia and speaks encouragingly of Vladimir Putin.
“I [believe] that no outside influence could solve the problems of European nations, or bring them lasting peace. They must work out their destiny as we must work out ours. In the past we [ America] have dealt with a Europe dominated by England and France. In future, we may have to deal with a Europe dominated by Germany.”
The fall of 1940 as Great Britain was standing alone against Hitler this is what Charles Lindbergh stated.
Graham called for “prayers for the president of Russia, who is protecting traditional Christianity.”
Franklin Graham calling for evangelicals to pray for Russian President Vladimir Putin
“When I was a young man, we worried that the world would become atheist under the influence of communism, but while communism fell, atheism didn’t go anywhere. Unfortunately my own president promotes atheism … I spoke about this with President Obama, but he did not understand. Unfortunately he does not have a Christian worldview.”
Franklin Graham in Moscow in December of 2015.
From Franklin Graham’s Twitter Feed, Graham and Vladimir Putin (From Twitter)
Graham’s Twitter feed with Putin
Russia has loomed on the world stage and even in domestic United States politics. This post is a look at the Russian story from the angle of Franklin Graham. I want to explore Graham’s ties to Vladimir Putin and ask a number of questions in the end. This is a long post and the first of two posts. The second post you can read here is a close look at Russian foreign policy. I am trying to make sense of Franklin Graham’s admiration of Vladimir Putin.
Franklin Graham and Vladimir Putin
One of the most disturbing aspects to Franklin Graham is his views of Russia and even meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In December of 2015 Graham met with Vladimir Putin for 45 minutes. In that conversation Graham allegedly talked about how Russia is committed to the family and “Biblical values” in society. Graham also praised Putin’s domestic policy and said that he was doing great things for the Russian country. Graham also believes he found an ally in Putin in rolling back homosexuality. Graham told the Washington Post that one of the things he likes about Putin is that he “answers questions very directly and doesn’t dodge them like other politicians do.” Graham has praised Putin and called for evangelical Christians to give “prayers for the President of Russia who is protecting traditional Christianity.” Graham supports Putin despite Russia cracking down on evangelicals and driving Baptists from the country with the Yarovaya Law. Right Wing Watch has pointed this out and how Graham and other evangelical leaders who are fond of Putin stay silent on this issue.
Franklin Graham has also grown close to the Russian Orthodox Church and when he was in Russia met with Patriarch Krill of Moscow. In Moscow Graham ranted about the threat that gays pose to the United States. The only good thing Graham did was cancel his planned Christian Persecution Summit in Moscow because of the Yarovaya law. However, that summit was eventually moved to Washngton, D.C. and still had Vladimir Putin’s blessings it appears. In May of 2017 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held the Washington Summit on Religious Violence Against Christians at the Mayflower Hotel here in the D.C. area. Franklin Graham drove this conference and I believe that Vladimir Putin was represented by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow who chairs the Russian Orthodox Church external relations department. Alfeyev met with Vice President Pence behind the scenes at this conference. You can read more about the event here and see pictures of the event here. Two critics of the event were Michelle Bachman and Russell Moore. Bachmann said that is was bizarre to look upon the Russian Orthodox Church as defenders of the Christian faith. Moore condemned it reminding people of that Putin’s Russia is “fighting the Gospel.” This is not the first time that Russell Moore has been a strong critic of Vladimir Putin. The fact that the Russian Orthodox Church would play a key role in this conference despite the Yarovaya law is stunning. But before we continue we need to look at this law, as well as some issues internal to Russia as well as their nationalist foreign policy.
Remembering Russian Baptist Persecution and Other Religious Minorities , Plus Assassinations and Other Internal Issues Related to Putin; Also a Separate Post on Russian Foreign Policy Issues
On July 7, 2016 Vladimir Putin signed Yarovaya Law . It was designed as a measure to toughen penalties for terrorism and extremism. What it really does however is go after religious minorities and those churches who are not approved by the Russian government. The Russian Orthodox church is exempt from the law. The law came about in April of 2016 when Irina Yarovaya, along with Aleksei Pushkov, Nadezhda Gerasimova and Senator Victor Ozerov introduced the legislation. It was read on May 13, 2016 and had support from the Russian Prime Minster’s cabinet. Most of the law went into effect on July 20, 2016. This law requires Russian telecom operators to store all internet traffic, phone conversations and text messaging. Part of the law also forbids evangelizing and missionary work. According to the law “missionary activity” can only be performed at churches and other religious sites designated by the Russian government. This law also prevents missionary activity in private homes or residences. The law defines missionary activity as “the activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, and with religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entitles authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet, or other lawful means.” Foreign missionaries are now required to register for a religious permit from a recognized religious organization. In addition Russian citizens are required to turn in and report unauthorized religious activity to the government or face fines.
This law has been incredibly strict and is reminiscent of religious persecution in the days of the Soviet Union. The law is aimed at Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptists and evangelical missionaries from the United States. One of the first causalities of the law was an American Baptist missionary who had been doing missionary work since 2002. Donald and Ruth Ossewaarde eventually had to leave Russia. Donald originally was arrested August 14, 2016 and found himself in court for a hearing that same day for evangelizing. To read more about the situation you can read this article here, as well as this Newsweek article here. You can also see the bafflement by someone in the the alt right who clearly doesn’t understand Vladimir Putin or Russian history covering the law. For the record you can also see how this is affecting to the Mormon church in this Huffington Post article.
While Putin’s government cracks down on religious minorities that is not the only aspect that should be alarming. Another disturbing trend is the assassination of critics of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Russia has allegedly engaged in assassination both in Russia as well as Europe. To read about the top critics of Putin who were allegedly assassinated or who died under mysterious circumstances I would encourage you to read this Washington Post article. To read more about the assassination of Putin’s critics or a failed attempt I would read the following articles here, here and here. Russian foreign policy is far too complex to write about in a paragraph or two. Much has transpired over the past decade alone. I spent the last two months reading, and researching on Russian foreign policy issues. From the Georgia War in 2008, to the Ukraine situation and seizure of Crimea in 2014, all the way to Russia threatening the Baltics and trying to throw France’s presidential election. You can read about that in “An Overview of Russian Foreign Policy from Georgia to the Threatened Baltics, Plus what is Russia’s Goal?” But as this post deals with Franklin Graham there is one question that hangs over this entire situation. When you consider the situation now with Russia and Vladimir Putin, is Franklin Graham doing the same thing that Charles Lindbergh did with Hitler’s Germany? To understand that we need to look at what Charles Lindbergh did in the United States prior to World War II.
Charles Lindbergh and Hitler’s Germany
Charles Lindbergh is a fascinating and yet troubling figure in United States history. Some remember him as the first person to fly his plane from the United States across the Atlantic Ocean and land in France in 1927. He is also remembered for the tragic murder of his young son in New Jersey and the attention that was given to the case in 1932. However there is another side to Charles Lindbergh that I would like to focus on today. That side is how Lindbergh became an advocate for isolationism and someone who defended Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
After the murder of his infant son Charles Lindbergh moved to the United Kingdom to escape the American press. While in the U.K. he started to do the un-thinkable. As Germany became militant and a threat to peace in Europe, Charles Lindbergh became a great advocate for neutrality and as a result Germany. In the process the world learned that Charles Lindbergh was also anti-semitic. Lindbergh who grew infatuated with Hitler’s Germany made several trips to Germany in the pre-war years. Hermann Goring, who also created the Gestapo, invited Lindbergh to examine Germany’s newest bomber the Junkers JU88 as well as the Messerschmitt 109. Goring let Lindbergh pilot the Messerchmitt which led him to boast of its capabilities. The Nazi government of Adolf Hitler was so pleased with Charles Lindbergh’s lavish praise on the German Air Force that they held a dinner for him at the American embassy in Berlin in 1938. On behalf of Adolf Hitler, Herman Goring presented Charles Lindbergh with a high German military award known as the Commander Cross of the Order of the German Eagle. In 1940 and 1941, I believe Charles Lindbergh spoke vocally of staying out of war in Europe and being impressed with the German war machine. At this point Great Britain was standing alone against Hitler and Winston Churchill, along with many Britons became incensed over what Lindbergh was saying. Lindbergh’s message was called “America First” and his message was very loaded in many ways. On January 23, 1941 Lindbergh before the House Foreign Affairs Committee called for the United States to negotiate with Adolf Hitler. The United States at the time was engaged in Lend-Lease. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so incensed with Lindbergh that he told his Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau Jr the following in a letter. “If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this, I am absolutely convinced Lindbergh is a Nazi.” Roosevelt was so upset with Lindbergh that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 FDR personally intervened to prevent Lindbergh from re-enlisting in the US Army Air Force. Lindbergh had a major fall from grace and never regained his popularity. In fact Charles died in Hawaii in 1974 never fully forgiven for what he advocated and under a cloud of suspicion.
Is Franklin Graham the Evangelical Charles Lindbergh?
Franklin Graham has been a very polarizing figure. Over at Warren Throckmorton’s blog he is referred to as a Court Evangelical. In reading and researching this post it has struck me as to how many similarities exist between Graham and Lindbergh. Both individuals went to bat for controversial world leaders whose foreign policy brought about war, conflict, and threatened stability of a peaceful Europe. Both Lindbergh and Graham also brought about praise or recognition by both Hitler’s and Putin’s government. While Hermann Goring gave Lindbergh a German medal, Franklin Graham went farther in that Putin gave him 45 minutes of his time. Think about that…the President of Russia gave Franklin Graham a significant chunk of time to meet and talk. This happened when Russia was deeply involved in Syria which makes me ask the question what were Putin’s motives? There is more to say about that in the next section. One other aspect that is troubling is this…Charles Lindbergh was anti-semitic and said things about the Jews that were unthinkable. Franklin Graham on the other hand has taken his comments on gays to a whole new level, even by traveling to Moscow and use his position abroad to attack gays. There can be some similarities there I believe, although the issues are very different.
Here is another aspect to look at…Lindbergh was used by Germany and manipulated in the process. Has Franklin Graham became a tool of Vladimir Putin? Has Russia made Franklin Graham an alley who poses a security risk? I will go into that next section as well. Now Billy Graham as I understand it said his biggest mistake was getting involved in politics. Will Graham mirror Charles Lindbergh? Charles Lindbergh died angry and with a cloud hanging over his head. Many people never forgave and always remembered what Charles Lindbergh said about Adolf Hitler and Germany in the late 1930’s. Franklin Graham’s story is playing out now, but will Graham be similar? Will Graham live out his life being remembered for supporting someone who has torn apart families in the Ukraine? Allegedly killed political opponents from the United Kingdom to Moscow? And threatened the stability and peace of Europe? Will Graham be remembered for embracing the Russian Bear when that Bear is roaring and threatening world stability and peace? Will Graham die with a cloud hanging over his head? Yes this is a difficult question but one that must be asked. Yes the similarities are there and they raise a lot of concerns.
Questions that Need to be Asked of Franklin Graham
There is one haunting question that started to form in my mind as I researched and put this post together. That question is this…has Franklin Graham become a tool of the Russian government? Let me unpack that and look at it in more detail. If Franklin Graham is going to travel to Russia, and meet with Vladimir Putin or members of his government and then interact with the Trump Administration should Franklin Graham then register as a foreign agent? For example I will reference disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. Should Franklin Graham follow suit?
These are some other questions that I have in my mind that I am thinking aloud and asking. What drives these questions are reading, and writing about Franklin Graham’s behavior. Its especially his efforts to meet with Vladimir Putin and strongly defend him despite whatever Russia has done. These questions are well within reason to ask.
- Has Franklin Graham accepted money from the Russian government?
- Has Franklin Graham accepted any money from any Russian based companies or organizations?
- Has Franklin Graham accepted any money that could come from organizations that can be fronts for Russian Military Intelligence such as the GRU?
- Has Franklin Graham traveled on the dime of the Russian Orthodox Church?
- Has the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association accepted money from the Russian government?
- Has the Russian government given money to help sponsor that Christian Persecution Conference in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C in May of 2017.
- Has the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association accepted money from the Russian Orthodox Church?
- Again, has the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association accepted money from any companies or organisations that could be a front for Russian intelligence such as the GRU?
This is not the first time I have written on Franklin Graham. I wrote about his salary issues in “Franklin Graham’s Salary, the IRS Change to Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Should Churches be Supporting “Operation Christmas Child?” These are some dark questions I know. But they come out of a dark topic in a dark time in world history. My own take on Franklin Graham is this…Franklin helps illustrate why ministries should not be passed down from one family member to the next. Graham exhibits how much nepotism is a problem in evangelicalism. Franklin Graham I believe out of hate and narrow focus has allowed himself to become a tool of Russia. When he talks about persecution of Christians in Syria while turning his back on Christians in Russia it really shows how Franklin Graham is a fraud. It is long past time for someone to give Franklin a good strong kick in the ass, and tell him that his time on the evangelical stage is over. But his comments on Vladimir Putin especially trouble me. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote in a letter to his Treasury Secretary at the time that Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi. This is my post to the world and I have come to the conclusion that Franklin Graham is a fascist. To praise Putin in spite of the great loss of life in the Ukraine and threaten the Baltics and allegedly murder his political opponents is horrific. That is just how I look at him today. You are free to leave your comments below, this is a hard and dark post to do. But this is one that has been on my mind for the last couple of months. Again guys, please know that I love you.