Evangelist Billy Graham is 91 years old now and spends his waning days at his mountaintop retreat in North Carolina meeting -- when his health permits -- with fortunate pols like Sarah Palin, as he did last November
, or Barack Obama, as he did last week. But "America's Pastor" largely stays out of partisan politics these days, preferring to meet leaders of either party for some spiritual counseling and a photo-op.
Not so Billy Graham's son and heir apparent, Franklin Graham. The younger Graham attended the April 25 meeting
between his father and the president in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and afterward raised with Obama his frustration over the Pentagon's decision last month to uninvite Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event at the military complex.
The Pentagon canceled Graham's appearance at Thursday's event (Graham will still take part in a Capitol Hill service) because his previous criticisms of Islam as an "evil" religion were "not appropriate" to a prayer service for armed services personnel of all faiths.
After his conversation with the president, Franklin Graham said Obama told him he "was going to look into it."
Apparently, the president has not moved quickly enough or in the right direction, and with the National Day of Prayer set for tomorrow -- and with the nation riveted on last weekend's near-miss Times Square bombing
by a Pakistani-born Muslim -- Graham has been ramping up his public criticism of Obama with language that is as politically explosive as anything his father ever said.
On Monday, for example, Graham accused Obama of "giving Islam a pass" and said the revoking of his invitation to the prayer service was "a slap at all evangelical Christians."
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The younger evangelist told the conservative media outlet Newsmax
that while Obama may not have been directly responsible for the Pentagon snub, White House aides surely gave the go-ahead to uninvite him.
"I'm certain that some of the men around him are very much opposed to what we stand for and what we believe," Graham said. He said the pattern of hostility dated to the Clinton years, and that after the evangelical-friendly Bush administration, the federal government has returned to a pattern of "hostility" toward Christians that he said foretells a coming persecution.
"I'm being restricted from my religious rights and from what I believe," Graham said of his dismissal from the Pentagon service.
Even more galling, he added, is that at the same time that Christians are being repressed, Islam is being given special treatment.
"I just don't understand why the president would be giving Islam a pass," Graham told Newsmax. "We certainly love the Muslim people. But that is not the faith of this country. And that is not the religion that built this nation. The people of the Christian faith and the Jewish faith are the ones who built America, and it is not Islam."
On Tuesday, Graham told USA Today
that if Obama does not order the Pentagon to include him in the prayer service, "it will be a slap in the face of all Christians." He said that he would pray in front of the Pentagon in protest if he were not re-invited.
In the USA Today interview, Franklin Graham renewed his criticism of Islam, saying, "Muslims do not worship the same 'God the Father' I worship." He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, "No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it's all going to get better in this world. It's not going to get better."
He also criticized Obama for giving preference to black charismatic and Pentecostal pastors over "mainstream" evangelicals and "the historic Christian majority" of the country.
In fact, Obama has come under criticism from some black pastors, who feel he has been ignoring them and the needs of their community, and he met with African-American clergy
after Easter to mend ties.
Franklin Graham is unlikely to be mollified so quickly, and Graham's critics -- such as my PoliticsDaily colleague David Corn
-- have noted that if a Muslim cleric described Christianity as "evil" and were invited to a Pentagon prayer service, all heck would break loose.
At the "On Faith" blog
, David Waters also pointed out that neither Billy Graham nor George W. Bush would have endorsed Franklin Graham's disparagements of Islam. In fact, the former president frequently praised Islam.
"Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Bush said
in 2002. "Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance and we welcome people of all faiths in America."
Obama is apparently not going to mix it up with Graham, however. "The president is a committed Christian who is proud of his engagement with people of faith" was the only comment that a White House spokesman, Shin Inouye, gave USA Today.