Franklin Graham backlash for urging followers to pray for Vladimir Putin

Franklin Graham is CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.(Photo: Facebook/Franklin Graham)

A social media post by evangelist Franklin Graham asking followers to pray for Russian President Vladimir Putin to avoid a war with Ukraine is drawing backlash from liberals on social media, while some have come to Graham's defense.

"Pray for President Putin today. This may sound like a strange request, but we need to pray that God would work in his heart so that war could be avoided at all cost," Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote on Facebook and Twitter Friday.

"May God give wisdom to the leaders involved in these talks and negotiations, as well as those advising them. Our prayers might make the difference between life and death."

The post from the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham drew criticism, mostly on Twitter.

Jon Cooper, a Democratic operative who served as the national finance chair of Draft Biden 2016, wrote: "Trump-loving evangelist Franklin Graham just told his followers: 'Pray for President Putin today.' Unreal."

Scott Huffman, a Democrat running for North Carolina's 10th congressional district, tweeted: "Franklin Graham asks his followers to pray for Putin. Guess he forgot about the Ukrainians and our NATO allies. It's almost like he supports the enemy who is about to declare war and kill people."

USA singers, a group of virtuoso performers from New Jersey, responded by tweeting: "Franklin Graham praying for Putin and not for Biden tells you all you need to know about Franklin Graham." However, Graham has often encouraged Christians to pray for their political leaders, including Biden.

David French, a conservative evangelical writer, wrote on Twitter that while he has had his criticisms of Graham, he believes the "attacks on him here are off base."

"This is Putin's war, if he chooses it, and praying that he would seek peace isn't merely justifiable, I think it's imperative," French wrote. "That's what I'm praying."

Syndicated radio host Joseph Pagliarulo took to Twitter, stating that critics should understand that Graham wants prayer to "are to ask God to work on Putin's heart to avoid war."

Vanity Fair contributing editor Jeff Sharlet tweeted that critics of Graham's post are taking his meaning "out of context" and replicating "fascist misinformation."

"Graham asks followers to pray that God turn Putin from war. There's enough nasty on the Right; no need to manufacture," Sharlet stated, adding that he is usually the "last to defend Graham" as someone who writes on Christian nationalism.

"I hear people sometimes defend overstatement about far right actions on grounds that they're true in essence. Nope. And fudging it feeds the Right's ability to persuade low-information folks that leftists must be lying about all of it."

Actress Martha Kelly tweeted that Graham asked followers to "pray for God to change Putin's heart so that he won't attack Ukraine."

"It's fine to dismiss that as a dumb plan but it's dishonest to frame it as Graham telling people to pray for Putin's success or something," Kelly stated.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that Russia is planning the most significant war in Europe since 1945 by attacking Ukraine, threatening to use "all the pressure we can bring" to "make sure that this venture does not succeed," The Guardian reported.

A U.K. Foreign Office minister also said an invasion by the more than 100,000 Russian forces deployed on the border with Ukraine "seems far more likely than unlikely," the newspaper added.