In an interview in Germany, Franklin Graham talks about the vision of his evangelistic ministry and addresses criticism of his political support for Donald Trump.
In his recent visit to Germany to preach at the Festival der Hoffnung (Festival of Hope) in the city of Essen, Franklin Graham spoke to several media, including the German Christian magazine Pro.
The leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA, founded by his father, a key evangelical leader of the 20th century) spoke about the vision behind his ministry.
He also responded to the criticism received in Europe and elsewhere for his political statements. Franklin Graham is not closing the door on supporting Donald Trump in the 2024 US elections.
Read this interview in German, as originally published by Pro Medienmagazin.
Question. Mr. Graham, you are a globally sought-after evangelist and leader of a worldwide charity that brings hope to poor people. What makes you happier? Helping other people in practical ways or preaching the gospel?
Answer. That’s a very difficult question to answer because I am fulfilled most by telling people how they can have a relationship with God through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. I enjoy that very much. But being able to help people in their hour of need, whatever that need may be – maybe it’s a war, maybe a famine, maybe a disease – when we can help these people, that brings great satisfaction as well.
But we do it in such a way that we can tell them of the hope that we have in Christ. We want people to know that God loves them. Many times, when people experience a problem in life – a war, a storm, a disease – they think maybe God is angry with them, judging them. I want them to know that’s not true: God loves us, cares for us, and wants us to come to Him. The Bible tells us that God wants all of us, everyone, to be saved.
Q. When you travel to countries where most people are poor, they know they need food, water and shelter. But spiritual poverty is not so visible for many people. Is it more difficult for you to tell wealthy people about Jesus, for example the Germans?
A. No question. It’s more of a challenge for people that are affluent because affluency generally brings spiritual poverty. When a person has everything that they want, then they don’t need God: materialism becomes their God.
[destacate]“Many have money, a home, a bank account. But they’re still empty, they’e not fulfilled”
[/destacate]But the point is, the Bible says we all have a date with death. God has numbered our days. At some point, we’re going to be faced with our mortality. Then, people begin to ask questions: Am I ready to stand before God? Is there a God? Is there a creator? Every person, also in an affluent society, at some point has asked these questions. They have money, a home, a bank account. But they’re still empty, they’e not fulfilled.
I think people are searching for meaning and purpose to life. That’s why we’ve come to Germany, to tell people how they can have a relationship with God, that God is real. He is the maker of this world, this universe. And we can have a personal relationship with him. That’s through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Q. Both here in Germany and in the USA, people feel there is a need to overcome division in society. Maybe this is a kind of spiritual poverty. What role should evangelical Christians play in overcoming this division?
A. We know that God loves us and that Christ loves us because he gave his life for our sins. Of course, we’re divided politically. In Europe there’s a war for the first time in 70 years. All of the Western nations are involved in this, to some degree or another.
There’s division in the world, there’s hatred and there’s killing. The world needs to know that this is not God’s plan. God wants us to love one another and care for one of the Bible says: “Do good to those that persecute you”. The world says: “If somebody hurts you, you hurt them back. And if the slap you, you slap them back”. But Jesus said: “If you are hit, turn the other cheek”. “If somebody takes your coat, give them your cloak as well”. “If a Roman soldier required you to walk a mile carrying his bag, go two miles with him”. That was the way Jesus taught. And I think we should do the same.
[destacate]“I think it’s important to try to vote for candidates that at least stand for our Christian values. This doesn’t mean that they are Christian themselves”
[/destacate]Q. In the past, you have supported Donald Trump for president even though you disagreed with him on some things he has said or done. For most people in Germany, Trump is virtually synonymous with division, bigotry, and the abuse of Christianity for his own ends. Will you support Donald Trump again in the next election?
A. I don’t know because I don’t know if he will be the candidate.
Q. It seems like he will be.
A. Well, he’s got some legal issues [laughs]. The Republican Party has some very good candidates, so, I really don’t know who the next candidate will be. And on the Democratic side, I don’t know whether it will be President Biden or someone else. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Q. But it looks quite much like it’s going to be Trump versus Biden unless something serious changes. If Mr. Trump ends up in jail, that would probably be a challenge for him.
A. To run for president from jail would be a challenge, yes. [laughs]
Q. Right. But if it if it would come to this battle between the two, would you support Biden or Trump?
A. Well, it’s a hypothetical question because we’re supposing it’s going to be Trump and Biden again. I don’t think it’s going to be Biden, and I’m not sure it’s going to be Trump. Biden has some very difficult health challenges that he’s dealing with, and President Trump has some very serious legal problems that he’s dealing with. So, I’m not sure t’s going to be either one of them.
Q. About 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. Do you see the danger of evangelical Christians being taken in by certain political groups, for example, people thinking that a good Christian should vote Republican.
A. No question there’s a danger in politics, because politicians have a tendency to say anything and everything to try to get your support, get you behind them. In the Western world we do have the freedom to vote. In the times of Christ, you didn't have a chance to vote for Caesar, Caesar was there.
So, I think it’s important to vote and to try to vote for candidates that at least stand for our Christian values. This doesn’t mean that they are Christian themselves, but they would be sympathetic to Christian positions and Christian values.
[destacate]“Donald Trump is a controversial person, but at the same time, when he was president, our country grew”
[/destacate]Q. There are many Christian values that Jesus emphasizes in the New Testament: Outreach to poor people, social justice, respect and charity. From a European perspective, however, it seems that conservative American Christians overemphasise a few issues that Donald Trump also advocates: Abortion, personal freedom, religious freedom. Shouldn't evangelical Christians focus more on active charity, as you do with “Samaritan's Purse”?
A. I think many Christians do get involved in the social justice issues. The Christian community is not 100% Republican, that’s just not true. The media may portray that or say that, but it’s not. It’s divided. Many Christians are divided about President Trump and whether he will have the same level of support this time if he makes it – I really don’t know.
He is a controversial person, but at the same time, when he was president, our country grew. It was good for the American business and industry. He was able to secure our Southern border. So, he did a lot of things that were good for our country.
When he came to this part of the world, he warned European nations about NATO's not paying their fair share and not being prepared. And he was right on those issues when the war in Ukraine came about last year. But people didn’t want to hear it.
A. I think we have to give him credit where credit is due. Yes, he is a very controversial person. He does say things and do things that I do not agree with. He does insult people, often for no reason [laughs]. And I don’t understand that either.
Q. In 2019, you spoke with author Eric Metaxas about the criticism of Trump. You called this criticism “almost demonic”. Have you ever wondered whether you yourself might be contributing to the division of society with such statements?
A. There was so much criticism, the entire media was united against him and so he was attacked from the left and the right. Even Republicans were against him in 2016.
Q. Maybe for a good reason.
A. But I’m saying that he did not have the support of the Bush faction of the Republican Party. It did not have, of course, the support of the Democratic Party. All the media, except maybe one outlet, was against him. And so, it was almost kind of demonic. It’s never happened before in the history of our nation. No politician has been treated like Donald Trump.
Q. Because there has never been a politician like Donald Trump.
A. I’m not defending him, I’m making just a point. It’s just a fact, it’s unusual.
Q. Many churches in Germany participate in the “Operation Christmas Child” campaign. Through this, poor children receive Christmas presents every year. There are congregations that find your political statements stomach-churning and feel compelled to justify them. What do you say to that?
[destacate]“Abortion is legal in almost every Western country in the world. But as Christians, we believe abortion is murder”
[/destacate]A. Well, I don’t know, I’m not a politician. Sometimes politicians take moral positions. And try to make them political positions. I think it’s important that as a Christian, and as a Christian preacher, that I speak out on moral issues. This is not an exclusive right of politicians. If they want to take on moral issues, I think I have a right to speak about moral issues as well.
And so, one of the big issues in our country, of course, is murder. And as Christians, we believe abortion is murder. I know it’s legal in almost every Western country in the world, but just because the politicians have said it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.
I don’t speak out on whether they should increase taxes or send people into space. Tose are not moral issues. But any time there’s a moral issue, I think it’s important to say what God has to say.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Graham.
A. Thank you.
This interview was first translated and re-published with permission of the author.