Franklin Graham paid Moscow a working visit
L a d u s h k i n -- On the Russian scene, Franklin Graham, CEO of the „Billy Graham Evangelistic Association“ (BGEA) and its humanitarian arm, „Samaritan’s Purse“, has rebounded from the major setbacks of 2016. In May of that year, the “Russian Orthodox Church” (ROC) and the Kremlin had abruptly withdrawn from a “World Summit in Defence of Persecuted Christians” scheduled for Moscow in October. That had led to financial and political losses on the part of the BGEA.
Though no top-brass was evident on the part of the hosts, Protestant observers in the country are interpreting Graham’s working visit in Moscow from 26 to 29 July 2021 as a major success. A meeting between Graham and Metropolitan Hilarion, who is responsible for external affairs, did occur behind closed doors on the 26th. Yet in public sessions, neither Hilarion, Patriarch Kirill nor top-level Kremlin actors were to be seen.
The “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) as well as the “Russian Evangelical Alliance” and its General-Secretary, Vitaly Vlasenko, have expressed a strong desire to be a part of Graham’s bridge of communication between Russia and the USA. Though two would have been sufficient, the Russian Baptist website published 37 photos of the meetings with Graham. Yet the ROC and BGEA see each other as by far the most significant players in this Christian bridge across the divide – more players on the uppermost level are not necessarily welcome.
After the deteriorating US-President Joseph Biden agreed on national TV on 17 March that Vladimir Putin was a “killer”, it took
Franklin Graham no more than a day to retort that the US administration was itself heavily involved in the “killing of the innocent” – abortion. The Russian hosts were equally appreciative of a
courageous statement made by Graham in Moscow on 28 July: “If Russia had not intervened in the situation in Syria, I don’t think there would be a single Christian church left there.” A joint,
Christian Russian-US front for the defence of religious freedom has long been a primary theme behind the relationship between the BGEA and ROC.
The Russian church and state responded by inviting Graham to a “World Conference on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue” scheduled for St. Petersburg in May 2022. The RUECB pointed on its part to events on evangelism it is planning for January and July of next year. The July one is entitled “Festival of Hope”.
In my assessment, a “bridge of peace” between Russia and the USA can only be lauded. Yet in a highly-polarized setting such as the USA, a peace initiative based on a conservative, pro-family and anti-gay agenda only reaches a certain segment of the populace. The liberal and heavily-secular half of US-society will remain aloof from such an approach. This bridge can also only reach that portion of the conservative, pro-Trump audience not allied with Ukraine. Perhaps that amounts to no more than 25% of the US total at best – which could still signify a respectable start. This agenda is also foreign to Russia’s own liberal-and-secular minority. In addition, the Baptist and Pentecostal unions based in Kiev are also very unhappy with Graham’s appearance in Moscow.
Since the 1970s, Billy Graham’s organisation has been appearing on international stages where other Christian groups fear to or cannot tread. One of many examples are the remarkable photos of the deceased Billy Graham and North Korea’s Kim Il-sung physically embracing in Pyongyang in April 1992. Franklin himself last visited that country in 2011. Here in Moscow we have seen only the most recent example of such peace-making efforts.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Ladushkin, 03 August 2021
A journalistic release for which only the author is responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #21-16, 587 words.