Franklin Graham is known for his unrelenting focus on proclaiming the gospel. The head of both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), a ministry founded by his father, Graham gives courageous leadership to prominent organizations that serve on the front lines of great physical and spiritual need around the world. The breadth and depth of both ministries stretches the average evangelical’s imagination. Millions have been reached with the Bible’s message that Jesus Christ is man’s only hope.
Graham is more comfortable distributing shoe boxes to needy children in other countries, working on the front lines of a natural disaster or preaching the gospel in one of his many festival events than he is with political engagement. But last year he said God led him to plan a series of prayer rallies across the United States for 2016.
Some 6,700 Missourians gathered on the south steps of the Capitol in Jefferson City on May 17 as part of the Decision America Tour.
His focus is still on proclaiming the gospel. But Graham is deeply concerned about the moral decline of the nation. So, beginning in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 5, the Decision America Tour launched with 2,500 people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol. By the end of July rallies have been held in 32 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The average estimated attendance at each gathering to date is 4,700.
Steve Rhodes, vice-president of BGEA with responsibilities for relating to churches through the Decision America Tour, said the 50 rallies have two goals. The first is to gather Christians for prayer. “Franklin is asking God to raise up an army of people who will pray,” he said. “That has been in short supply in our country recently. The church has done everything else but pray – programs, praise and worship, education – but prayer has not been central. Yet that is where all of the power resides. So Franklin has started with [saying] we need people to pray and call on God and see God do something that we haven’t seen before in our country.”
The second purpose of Decision America is to call on the church to be salt and light. Rhodes said we need to actively engage our culture “across all different disciplines. We need people involved in medicine, law, business and public policy. We need a Christian voice in all of those areas.”
He said Graham has watched many Christians retreat as the world had gotten darker and more confrontational against Christians.
“You get the sense that Christians throw up their hands and kind of see it as a lost cause, asking ‘What can we do?’” said Rhodes. “But we can do something. We’re called to do something. Certainly it is no more difficult in America than it was in ancient Rome. The church got a hold of God, and the church moved in the first century.”
Graham and ministry leaders are pleased with the results of the events. Attendance has exceeded expectations. Rhodes said each state has ordinances requiring permits for such events. “When we went to the first state capitols and pulled permits, we’ve always pulled permits for between 500-2,000 people. That’s what most capitols expect. … We’ve been excited to see what God has done.”
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Rhodes continued. “Look, we’re an evangelistic organization, and we generally hold festivals and stadium events where people can come, hear the gospel and trust Christ and be planted into churches. … This is different. This is a call to action to Christians, instead of speaking to unbelievers. … It’s time for us to stand up and to be obedient to the command of Christ on our lives. … We’re encouraged by the rallies. God is working.”
He said the attendance is strong because Christians recognize America’s spiritual demise and are deeply concerned. Graham is pleased to see that pastors are becoming more focused on America’s need for revival – even in states that are not strongholds of evangelical Christianity.
Rhodes said, “Olympia, Wash.; Salem, Ore.; Madison, Wis., – these are difficult places. So to see the church awake and willing to trudge through discouragement and protesters and come to pray – it’s going beyond what we anticipated a year-and-a-half ago when we started planning [the tour].”
According to reports, pastors across denominational and racial lines who minister in the same city but have never met each other, are coming together. They see the need for a unified Christian voice against unbiblical laws and social engineering. Organizing 50 rallies in less than a year has been a mammoth logistical challenge. But Rhodes said it has been a great experience for BGEA staff. “God has answered prayer. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are praying for these rallies. … I don’t think anybody is anxious for this to end. … It’s striking a chord in the hearts of people to say that it really is time for the church to wake up,” he added.
As expected, protesters have been at almost every rally. In response Christians have been “polite, generous, kind and welcoming,” said Rhodes. “It’s important for us Christians to be sure we get our tone right, and be loving and kind, but still not back up one inch on what the Bible says.”
Even protesters who strongly disagree with Graham have not been a serious problem. Rhodes described the opposition as “confrontational, but civil.”
The last 18 rallies are spread over August, September and October, with the final event in Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 13 at noon on the south side of the Capitol steps.
Franklin Graham is intentionally closing the 50-state tour in his home state of North Carolina. There are many reasons for this. BGEA is based in Charlotte. Samaritan’s Purse is based in Boone. Both ministries have strong supporters in the state. And there is heightened concern by Christians in the state due to the opposition toward biblical values.
I want to encourage N.C. Baptists and all Christians to pray for the final 18 rallies. Reserve time to attend the one-hour event in Raleigh.
You can carpool with your friends, reserve a bus, be a volunteer and get your church involved. Go to DecisionAmericaTour.com and register as a prayer partner or volunteer. Hundreds of volunteers are needed for the rally. The website gives information you need for all logistics, including parking. There is also a Facebook page for N.C.: facebook.com/groups/DecisionAmericaNC.