The Russian connection: When Franklin Graham met Putin

Religion News Service | 8/7/2018 | Staff
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This piece is part of an ongoing series tracking connections between Russia and the American religious right. You can read the first entry in this series here.

(RNS) — When President Trump stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month and said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia who attempted to influence the 2016 election, the subsequent firestorm of criticism included liberals as well as prominent Republicans.

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“I am a tea party conservative, that will never change. But Trump was a traitor to this country today,” tweeted prominent conservative and former congressman Joe Walsh.

But there was one group that kept uncharacteristically quiet: the president’s evangelical advisers.

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“Let’s pray for @POTUS @realDonaldTrump in these key meetings,” Franklin Graham, who heads his late father’s Billy Graham Evangelical Association, tweeted before the meeting. After Trump and Putin’s press conference, Graham declined to critique the president (who would later walk back his remarks), only praising him for “pursuing peace above politics.”

There are good reasons why some Christian right leaders are less than eager to address Trump’s attempts to warm relations between the U.S. and Russia. For years, American evangelicals have cultivated ties with Russia, highlighted by a 2015 meeting between Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, and Putin in Russia.

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In April 2017, Franklin Graham tweeted a photo of his 2015 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Those ties are now facing scrutiny as, the day that Graham tweeted, news broke that the Department of Justice had charged Mariia Butina, a Russian national, for allegedly lobbying without registering as a foreign agent with the U.S. government. Authorities claim religion was a part of her scheme: Among the channels she was attempting to exploit, according to her indictment, was the National Prayer Breakfast.

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Founded in 1953, with help from Billy Graham,...
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