On the eve of his taking the oath of office, President-elect Donald Trump began his Thursday morning by tweeting a quote from North Carolina-based evangelist – and gung-ho Trump champion – Franklin Graham.
“It wasn’t Donald Trump that divided this country, this country has been divided for a long time!” Trump tweeted. “Stated today by Reverend Franklin Graham.”
Graham, who will be among the clergy participating in Trump’s inauguration Friday, made the comment Thursday morning on TV’s “Fox & Friends.”
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The fuller quote: “It wasn’t Donald Trump that has divided this country. This country has been divided for a long time, and we need to pray today more than ever. ... Only God can fix the country.”
Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, also told the show’s hosts that he stood by his controversial comment that God had answered the prayer of Trump supporters to give the Republican the win in November.
He told “Fox & Friends” that his feeling was formed last year as he held prayer rallies in all 50 state capitals.
“I just sensed as I went around the country that God was getting ready to change the direction of this country,” Graham said on the Thursday morning show.
Graham, who is already in Washington, will follow up his interview on “Fox & Friends” with other TV appearances later Thursday on MSNBC and CNN. According to Graham’s Facebook post, he will be on Greta Van Susteren’s “For the Record” program on MSNBC between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Then, at 9:30 p.m., he’s scheduled to be among the guests on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
At Trump’s inauguration Friday, Graham will be one of six faith leaders – five of them Christian – giving prayers or reading Bible passages.
Graham will read a passage he chose from the New Testament. “It’s going to be short, but it’ll be to the point,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”
The official printed inauguration program says Graham will be one of the three clergy speaking after the new president delivers his inaugural address.
Under “Readings & Benediction,” the program lists (in order) Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Reverend Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and Bishop Wayne Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International.
In the days leading up to the inauguration, the country’s leading Muslim civil rights group has called on Trump to drop Graham from the ceremonies because the evangelist has called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.”
“If President-elect Trump truly seeks to unite our nation as he promised in his acceptance speech, he will limit the list of those offering prayers at the inauguration to religious leaders who work to bring us together, not to create divisions between faiths,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Rev. Graham’s ill-informed and extremist views are incompatible with the Constitution and with American values of religious liberty and inclusion.”
But, far from dropping Graham, Trump appears to have developed a closer relationship with the evangelist since the election. In December, Graham was invited to join the president-elect at a Trump “Thank You” rally in Mobile, Ala. That’s where Graham told the crowd that he believed that God had intervened in the election to give Trump the win.
Though Graham was careful not to officially endorse Trump during his election-year prayer rallies, he criticized Democrats and agreed with Republicans on many of his daily Facebook posts.
After a tape was released in October showing Trump speaking crudely about women, Graham wrote on Facebook that the comments could not be defended. But he added that “the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended.” He appeared to suggest that Christian voters, instead, keep their focus on what kind of justices Trump and Clinton would nominate for the U.S. Supreme Court. Clearly, Graham preferred Trump’s promise to name conservative justices who would favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court ruling throwing out state laws banning abortion.
Graham may have helped energize conservative Christian voters for Trump: The Republican candidate won 81 percent of white evangelical voters in the 2016 election.
Billy Graham, Franklin’s famous Charlotte-born father, offered prayers at the presidential inaugurations of Richard Nixon (in 1969), George H.W. Bush (in 1989) and Bill Clinton (in 1993 and 1997).
Trump is the second president-elect to tap Franklin Graham to offer a prayer at his inauguration.
In 2001, at George W. Bush's first inauguration, the younger Graham sparked controversy by invoking Jesus during his prayer. Many Jews and Muslims were outraged.