Franklin Graham’s a tall man, as is his father Billy, who’s 97 now and mostly housebound at his North Carolina homestead. I’m a skosh over 6 feet, and I had to look up to gaze into the younger Graham’s eyes as we spoke.

But the famous evangelist’s offspring has his father’s squared-off face, gray-blue eyes, and a voice that speaks with resolute certainty in a soft Tar Heel accent.

And, the younger Graham said when he spoke at a prayer rally at Augusta’s Capitol Park Tuesday, his present message of prayer, active commitment to public life and the restoration of a God-centered worldview to American society would be exactly what his father would be preaching today if he were able.

Graham runs a charity, Samaritan’s Purse, that sends relief supplies to disaster areas worldwide. He’s collecting now for flood victims in Louisiana.

But unlike some other Christians, he hasn’t forgotten that the Gospel message is twofold, including substantive faith as well as charitable works.

So he’s on a mission to preach in all 50 state capitals before the November election. Augusta was No. 36 on his “Decision America” tour, which winds up at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Oct. 13.

Labeling his talk “controversial” would be both accurate and misleading — because it depends on the audience.

To nearly all the estimated 3,000-plus evangelical Christians that organizers said had gathered to hear him (the media estimate of 1,500 was a woeful undercount), a better word would be “challenging.”

His plea for traditional Christians not only to repent and pray for their communities, their states and their nation, but to move actively into influential social and governmental roles, was a call to action whose outcome remains to be seen.

In some ways, the rally was a typical evangelical gathering, starting off with a call for repentance of personal, familial and national sins, followed by a request to repeat the standard “sinner’s prayer” for a commitment to following Christ, “the only road to Heaven.”

To outsiders, it probably seemed like boilerplate recitation, but to many people there, it was a chance to commit (or recommit) themselves to Christianity’s life-changing dynamic of belief and growth.

Still, while it may have been standard Graham-family fare up to that point, what followed was not.

Moving from practical spirituality to what might be called “spiritual practicality,” Graham proclaimed a powerful call for Christians to move from the back benches to the front lines of social and political issues.

Quoting from his father’s sermons, and asking people to text the words “Decision” or “America” to 21777 (for either commitment or political information), Graham called on his hearers to combat “secularism” with activism, to become “community organizers” for a restoration of God’s standards in society.

“I’m not telling you who to vote for,” he said, “that’s up to you. But I do want you to educate yourselves about the different party platforms,” and then personally commit to either running for office or finding someone of similar views to back in that pursuit.

He explicitly linked that call with a plea to resist such liberal social policies as abortion on demand and same-sex marriage. It seems clear that among this part of our culture, orthodox Biblical teachings still have more to say to believers than changes in secular laws.

“They will call you intolerant,” he said, “but that is just a way to shame you into being quiet.”

The crowd wasn’t unanimous. I ran into Tom Waddell of Litchfield, head of the Maine chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who was there specifically to promote atheism and secularism, and who called Graham a purveyor of “hate, division and inequality.”

In a brief interview after the rally, I asked Graham about that charge. “You were here when I spoke,” he replied. “Did you think anything I said showed hatred of anyone?”

No, but I know that some people will interpret the rejection of actions with rejection of individuals, even if that is not remotely what is intended.

And for those who believe their personal choices outweigh a moral code they reject, calling them to change on the basis of its principles isn’t likely to happen.

That’s the key, isn’t it? I sympathize entirely with Graham’s message, but even if his call for political activism succeeded, the point of the faith is not electoral victories (though they are not incompatible with it), but conversion of hearts.

If people are converted, lasting victories will follow. If they are not, any electoral triumphs will be secondary achievements at best.

Rally attendees may follow Graham’s call for political activism, and more power to them. However, telling one’s friends, family, neighbors and even total strangers about the freedom found in Christ is, I fear, far harder.

But it remains believers’ principal challenge — and obligation.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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