Critics of today's National Day of Prayer say the congressionally mandated tradition, which dates to 1952, has in effect become a campaign event for the Christian right that features an unseemly mix of politics and religion -- and this year evangelist Franklin Graham appears determined to bolster their arguments.
Continuing to escalate his criticisms of President Obama for not restoring Graham's rescinded invitation to a prayer event at the Pentagon, Graham has warned the president that "millions of Evangelical Christians that voted for Barack Obama in this last election" likely won't "be at the table next time" because Obama is not giving Graham and his allies their due.
Graham has been miffed that the Pentagon last month revoked his invitation to a prayer event there today after a range of religious activists complained that his repeated criticisms of Islam as "evil" and inferior to Christianity and Judaism were not appropriate for an event aimed at including everyone in a religiously diverse military that is currently waging war in largely Muslim Iraq and Afghanistan.
Graham took up the issue last week when Obama paid a courtesy call to his ailing father, Billy Graham, but as it became clear Obama would not overturn the Pentagon decision, the younger Graham this week began intensifying his public criticism
of the president, saying he is "giving Islam" a pass while dissing evangelical Christians and displaying a consistent hostility to Christianity.
On Thursday morning Graham took his anger to the sidewalk in front of the Pentagon, praying in protest
with a half-dozen others while the official event took place inside. He told reporters that he prayed for the men and women of the armed forces and that he doesn't feel his statements about other religions have been offensive.
Still, the younger Graham's remarks about Obama -- as well as his criticism of Islam -- are far more harsh and political than anything his father would say, and they took on an especially political cast in a Wednesday interview with David Brody
of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Graham repeated his view that Obama is going easy on Muslims and said evangelical Christians would remember that this November and in 2012:
"I don't think they will be at the table next time," he said of the "millions" of evangelicals who voted for Obama in 2008. "I think they've seen things from this administration that concern them, that worry them, but that's up to them when the election comes."
"I just pray," he added, "that this year and that in two years from now, that churches all across America will sign up women and men to vote, not to tell them how to vote, but to sign them up, register them to vote. Because I believe the church of Jesus Christ can make a huge difference in these next two elections, but you've got to get out and vote. And if we don't do it, we're going to be in trouble. So, that would be my word of encouragement: Get out there, pastors, get the men and women in your church to register and go vote."
It seems pretty clear how Graham would like those voters to vote.
As Brody put it in his commentary on the piece:
"Let me just say that Franklin Graham's words should not be ignored by the president's supporters. Think of these comments as a warning sign. While you can make the case that the president has tried to be more civil in tone, the stark reality is that from a policy perspective, conservative Evangelicals who liked what they saw in 2008 are having a hard time swallowing some big parts of this administration's agenda. (Health care, gay rights, judges, softening tone towards radical Islam, just to name a few)."