June 24, 2005 — -- As the Rev. Billy Graham preaches in New York this weekend at what he believes will be his final U.S. "crusade," his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, will be by his side.
Franklin Graham already runs the daily operations of his father's religious organization as chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 2000, and will be ready to step in this weekend in New York's Flushing Meadows-Corona Park should his 86-year-old father falter at the podium.
ABC News' Bill Weir spoke with Franklin Graham this morning on "Good Morning America." Following are excerpts of the interview.
Bill Weir, "Good Morning America": "You certainly sparked a fiery debate after 9/11, when you called Islam 'evil and wicked,' [an] 'evil and wicked religion.' Do you feel like our efforts in the Middle East at all are a defense of Christianity? Is this a holy war?"
The Rev. Franklin Graham: "No, no, not at all. Not from our perspective. I think maybe for the radical Islamist it is. But it's not for this country, at all."
Weir: "From your perspective, are we ever gonna reach a place in our lifetimes where we do have a religious tolerance, or is it going to be a winner take all, Christianity versus Islam?"
Graham: "Well, Islam's been here for many years and Christianity precedes Islam. We have to find a way to live together."
Weir: "Is it possible to separate religion and politics in this country? Should we even try?"
Graham: "Oh, sure, I think you can. I want to separate 'em as much as you can. There are moral issues that do affect this country and I think as a minister of the gospel, I have a right to speak out on moral issues. And some candidates, no question, have stronger views than others."
Weir: "You wrote a book, 'Rebel With A Cause.' You talked about your 'wild youth.' … You say that you wrestled with alcohol, smoking. Is it not possible to do those things and still be a man a God?"
Graham: "Well, first of all, I was running from God, I didn't want God in my life, and so I was afraid that if I gave God my life, I would be in like a spiritual straitjacket. … I didn't want to live like that. I wanted to be free. I wanted to have fun. … Can you be a Christian and smoke? … Sure; absolutely. But those are things that I felt God were asking me to give up."
Weir: "This three-day event means so much, on so many levels -- end of an era; beginning of a new era. … You've taken on this mantle from a man who redefined the evangelical movement in so many ways. Are you ready?"
Graham:" Well, first of all, I can't take the mantle, so to speak, and I can't fill his, my father' shoes. He's a wonderful man. … But this will be an end of a great chapter in the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelist Association -- my, you know, my father's crusades."
Weir: "OK. What are your hopes for this weekend's revival? Well, I hope it doesn't rain cause we're outside. … It seems like your dad would have a line for the big man for that. Can he arrange that?"
Graham: "Well, we've been in the rain before. But … this is an exciting time to be in New York, and I think it's going to be a great weekend."
Weir: "And you'll be standing by his side."
Graham: "I'll be behind him, encouraging him."