Franklin Graham: 'Donald Trump Is A Changed Man. I Trust Him'
Donald Trump will put together the best team in Washington that America has seen for many years, influential US evangelist Franklin Graham said today.
In an interview with Christian Today, Graham said there was "no question" that God had a hand in the election of Trump as the next President of the United States, and predicted a "huge impact" from his nominations to the Supreme Court.
He revealed that Trump had told him personally that he will repeal the controversial Johnson Amendment of 1954, which prevents church leaders from endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit.
In the face of deep political divisions both within and outside of the church, Graham called on Americans now to "come together" and unite behind their new President. According to polls, white evangelical Christians backed Trump by 81 per cent to 16 per cent – a larger margin of the evangelical vote than was achieved by a Republican candidate in the past three elections. However, Christians who did not support Trump have expressed outrage at his presidency, particularly over his rhetoric regarding women and minority groups.
Graham said Trump is a "changed man" from when he made his notorious lewd comments about women. Though he made courting the evangelical vote a hallmark of his election campaign, Trump faced some calls to step down after a 2005 video recording surfaced in which he could be heard openly speaking about groping women and trying to seduce a married woman.
"I know Donald Trump and have been with him on a number of occasions," Graham said, adding that he had spoken to him privately on Monday this week, the day before the election.
"What you see is what you get. Politicians are pretty good at smiling and being one thing in public and then when the doors are closed, they are different people."
Donald Trump, by contrast, is the same in private as he appears on television, Graham said.
"He's not polished, like a lot of politicians. He's a little rough around the edges. But he means what he says. People need to understand that he's a very powerful person, very strong, he's got a very good family, great children. He's going to put together maybe one of the best teams in Washington that we have seen in years."
Graham said there was no question that God a hand in the election. "The vast majority of the evangelical community supported Donald Trump because he has said he is going to support Christians, not only at home but around the world.
"So when we see Christianity being attacked worldwide, not just by militant Muslims but by secularism, it's refreshing to have a leader who is willing to defend the Christian faith."
He cited research that showed up to 35 million evangelical Christians did not vote in the last election four years ago. It was this that inspired him to visit all 50 states on his Decision America tour to encourage Christians to go to the ballot box.
"That's why I went to all 50 states and prayed on the Capitol steps encouraging people to vote. I did not tell them who to vote for. I said you pray before you vote. God will tell you who to vote for. But vote. Don't stay home. Because if you stay home we are going to lose this country.
"I think many Christians heard that. We know that over 80 per cent of the evangelicals voted for Trump."
Graham has personally known Trump for eight years, and said he'd seen "a change in him" during that time. "He came to my father's [evangelist Billy Graham] 95th birthday party three years ago and he had met my father on several occasions when my father was preaching in New York," Graham said.
Graham is by no means the only prominent evangelical to see a positive side to the election outcome. Theological and church leaders from Wayne Grudem to Bill Johnson have lined up to praise Trump, and he also won the support of Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr.
But the criticism has been vocal. Prominent Christians such as Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, sometimes referred to as "post evangelicals", have spoken out against evangelicals who they have accused of exalting Trump over Jesus. Claiborne said that as a result, many Christians in post-election America are now spiritually "homeless". He has called for these Christians to abandon the term "evangelical" and reclaim their identity as "followers of Jesus".
One aspect of the election result that was truly a surprise to so many was that Trump's moral character was apparently not a problem for many leading Christians. Some students at Liberty even set up a petition to distance themselves from Trump and the support he received from Falwell. The petition stated: "Associating any politician with Christianity is damaging to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But Donald Trump is not just any politician. He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose."
Graham, however, emphasised that Trump should be assessed by the people he surrounds himself with, and said he knows a "handful" of pastors that have been talking to Trump. During the campaign, Trump appointed a "council" of evangelical pastors to advise him, he said. Graham was asked to join this council but the evangelist declined because he was doing his tour and did not want the prayer rallies to be political.
But, he said, the President-elect had changed "quite a bit" in the last few years.
Graham said: "I know there are a number of pastors that have had a great influence on his life. People change over a period of time. I think Donald Trump has changed. Now at the same time, if he gets mad he may use 'hell', or 'damn', or some other words to express his displeasure. But I trust him. I think when he says something he means it. If he says he's going to do something, he's going to do it."
According to Graham, the key to assessing Trump's character is to look at the people in his team.
"Donald Trump has surrounded himself with strong evangelicals and for me as a Christian, I'm very pleased with that," he said.
In an article today headlined Evangelical Christian will be the power behind the throne, The Times reports on the importance of the Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, a prominent and ultra-conservative evangelical. In Washington, The Times reports, it is being said Pence will be in charge of "domestic and foreign policy". When the question was asked: "What would Mr Trump be in charge of?", the answer came back: "Making America great again."
Graham did not say whether he considers Trump to be a Christian or not – "Only God really knows a person's heart" – but, "You can tell a lot about a person by the people that they surround themselves with. Our current president claimed to be a Christian but you don't see that in the people around him.
"Trump has strong evangelical Christians surrounding him. I've known Ben Carson for many years. He is a wonderful man of God. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas – another fine Christian gentleman. Mike Pence. These are the people that he surrounds himself with."
Graham also knows Mike Pence and has spent time with him: "He is a man of God, he is a very strong evangelical. Donald Trump has surrounded himself with some strong Christians which is very encouraging."
He contrasted this with the Democrats: "If you take Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, I don't know of one evangelical Christian in the White House. I don't know of one evangelical Christian on her campaign. None."
One of the key drivers of evangelical support for Trump has been his promise to nominate conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, and Graham said the Court would be "in good hands" under his leadership.
"These would be conservative judges, judges that are constitutionalist and believe in interpreting from the constitution, and not making law from the bench," Graham said. "Clinton wanted progressive judges on the bench. These would be people that would use that position to make law and go around congress. So I think the Supreme Court will be in good hands.
"President-elect Trump will nominate one justice in February. Within the next few years there will be two or three more. That will have a huge impact on this country for years to come."
Of the Johnson amendment, Graham said Trump had promised to "work to have that repealed".
Lyndon Johnson, then a senator, put forward an amendment in 1954 that to this day threatens organisations such as churches with loss of their tax exempt status if they support or oppose political candidates.
Graham said: "He's [Trump] told me that he's going to work to have that repealed. It will be huge. I think that the Johnson Amendment was a stupid thing. It was somewhat racial in the sense that Johnson did not want black pastors at that time to speak out against him."
He and many other evangelicals welcome the prospect of that change which will have a massive impact on the way churches and other religious groups engage in politics.
"It's stayed on the American landscape for all these years and Trump is the first one to say, I'm going to repeal it. I appreciate that about him," Graham said.
Since the announcement that Trump won the election, protests against his presidency have taken place across America. "There is a small group in this country that are anarchists," Graham said of the demonstrations. "They want to see anarchy, not just in the United States but worldwide. You have them in the UK as well. And they are just a small group. Of course they are very unhappy because their side did not win. So they use it as an opportunity to damage properly, to hurt innocent people."
He compared the election of Trump to the decision by the British people to leave the EU.
"The EU has some tremendous financial problems. The people of the UK voted on this and it's their decisions. I think there will be other nations that will leave the EU. I don't think the EU has been good for some countries. And I'm not sure it's been good for any country. Especially when you look at the way immigrants have come in from the Middle East. Once they get in to one EU country they can just flood into any country they want to. Europe has some great problems that European politicans are going to have to try and fix. The UK people are smart enough to realise that when a ship is sinking, it is better to get off it."
But, he said, it is now time for Americans to pull together and unite behind Trump.
"We have to come together behind our leaders where the will of the people has spoken. We are a democracy and so I wasn't pleased when President Obama was elected because I feared his policies would hurt us as the church and they have. But we got behind him. He was our President and we supported him. He is still our President. But we have new leadership. We need to come together as Americans. There needs to be healing. Let's move on."
Franklin was speaking to Christian Today 50 years after millions attended his father Billy Graham's month-long 1966 London Crusade at Earl's Court Arena.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has released the new film for this year's My Hope UK campaign, The Worth of a Soul.
Graham said the My Hope videos had "incredible" results from the start. "It's a tool for the Church. It just gives the Church a film they can use, in a service or a meeing, where the gospel is presented, where it is explained, and where there is an invitation. It is just a tool. It is for the Church, it is free."
The aim is to "take Jesus Christ before the masses, before the people, that he is the Son of God," he said. "People can have a one on one relationship with God."