Evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, said Tuesday that a sinful New Orleans could find spiritual rebirth in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
He said the city’s revelry in Mardi Gras celebrations and ties to voodoo run counter to Christian beliefs, but Graham emphasized his belief that the disaster did not signify a punishment from God.
He discussed his philosophy from Boon, North Carolina, with CNN’s John King.
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KING: Post Hurricane Katrina, evangelist Franklin Graham recently likened New Orleans to a city of sin, saying, “God is going to use that storm to bring revival.” The Reverend Graham is my guest now from Boone, North Carolina. Reverend Graham, I want to ask you about that quote.
I want to read you something you said: “There’s been Satanic worship in New Orleans. There’s been sexual perversion. God is going to use that storm to bring a revival. God has a plan. God has a purpose.”
Sir, what did you mean by that? I assume that many residents of the city of New Orleans would take that as beyond insensitive.
GRAHAM: No, I disagree with you. I think there are many residents of New Orleans who would agree with me. The archbishop himself on Sunday at the first Mass at the cathedral there said he prayed that the new makeup of New Orleans would be — have a stronger moral fiber, free from racial tension and also less rampant self-indulgence. And so, he is praying for a city that has a stronger moral fiber.
The churches that I have met with, the pastors down there, are praying that they will see a change in New Orleans in the years and months to come. Now, New Orleans has been known, of course, as a party city for Mardi Gras, voodoo, all types of things like this — Bourbon Street.
And, as a minister of the gospel, there are a lot of people in New Orleans that are praying that God will bring a stronger, moral fiber to this city than this city has ever had before.
KING: When you use words though, sort of like, “God has a plan, God has a purpose,” I don’t assume you’re trying to say that this storm happened and hit New Orleans because of any activity of its people?
GRAHAM: No, I certainly don’t. I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place. In the scripture Jesus mentioned some men that were killed in Jerusalem when a tower fell. And he asked the question, “Do you suppose they were worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem because they died this way?” And he said, “No.” He said, “But unless you repent, you, too, will perish.”
And I believe God has a plan and purpose for everything in life. And sometimes there are storms in life. And we have to look beyond those storms and just trust God, that God will use this storm in a way that will benefit the people of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana and Mississippi in a much stronger way in the years to come.
There’s some good things that can come out of this, even though we don’t see it right now. I believe New Orleans will be a much stronger city in the years to come.
KING: Another thing you said in the wake of this is — and you just touched on it a moment ago. Speaking of New Orleans: “It’s a city that has strong ties to the gay and lesbian movement and these type of things.” Is it your hope now, sir, that these elements, the gay and lesbian community, will somehow be purged from New Orleans?
GRAHAM: Well, I certainly hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached. I want to see men and women converted. Jesus said, “I am the way, the way and truth and light. No man comes to the father but by me.” I believe that the only way that we can approach a holy God is through the person of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus Christ came for sinners. I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ gave his life on Calvary’s cross for the sins of this world. We put our faith and trust in him. God will forgive us and he will cleanse us of all of our sins.
And I would certainly pray that the gay and lesbian movement, the people that have this lifestyle, will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and experience their sins being forgiven. God — the Bible says — “God so loves the world” — that includes New Orleans — “that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shouldn’t perish but have everlasting life.”
KING: Sir, I was in New Orleans last week, and as the French Quarter started to reopen among the first businesses to reopen were the strip clubs. By your account of God’s purpose, I would assume that things aren’t going as you would envision them or wish them so far?
GRAHAM: Well, this is the type of thing that I think the archbishop and other ministers would hope would not reopen in New Orleans.
KING: Let me ask you about — there’s a bigger question here about what type of New Orleans will be rebuilt. Should the energy of church and men of faith like yourself be spent on worrying about what the gay community and the lesbian community does? Or would it be better focused on worrying about what happens in the Lower 9th Ward, where most of the residents live way below the poverty line?
Most of them rented and do not have a right to return to their home. They don’t even know if their community will be rebuilt. And their fear is that rich developers will … get in there, and they will not be welcomed home. What is a better use, if you will, of the focus of the church?
GRAHAM: Well, first of all. I’m not focused on the gay and lesbian movement. That’s not my issue. Samaritan’s Purse, the organizations I represent, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, we’re working with the churches in New Orleans trying to house people. I’m bringing trailers into New Orleans, trying to provide homes and shelters. We’re fixing roofs on housing that were damaged. So, that’s my focus.
But I agree that there is going to be a land-grab in New Orleans. And, unfortunately, it’s going to be the poor people in that Lower 9th Ward and other areas where their land — I’m not saying it’s going to be taken from them, but they won’t be allowed to rebuild and someone else will come in.
They will be compensated, I’m sure. But somebody else is going to come in and make a pretty big profit off their misfortune. And that’s probably what is going to happen. But you’ve got a Democratic mayor and a Democratic elected governor, and I would certainly hope that these men and women will do everything they can to stand up and protect the poor.
KING: You don’t worry, sir, that at a time when those are the big issues on the table, that talking about Satanic worship, saying that God has a purpose for New Orleans, criticizing the influence of the gay and the lesbian community — there are those who agree with you profoundly. There are those who disagree with you profoundly. You’re not at all concerned that can become a distraction at a time when, in the eyes of many, there would be bigger issues on the table?
GRAHAM: It’s not a distraction for me. And I just spoke with the White House today about the trailers that FEMA has. You know there are thousands and thousands of trailers. And I think these trailers ought to be given — these mobile homes ought to be given to the churches for the ministers in the community to decide what are the poor families that need these trailers and not the government.
I don’t think the government should be in the trailer-park business. I don’t think they know how to run a trailer park. But if you give these five trailers to every church and let every church in Louisiana have five trailers and to take in five families that lost their homes and let the church look after them and care for them, and then at the end of one year let the church take possession of the trailer.
It can be theirs. They can sell it. They can give it to another family, do whatever they want to do. But the management of those trailers ought to be in the hands of the churches and not the federal government. These are issues we need to be focusing on.
KING: And what was the White House response, sir, when you raised the point. And as you answer, most people here in Washington say yes, things were botched in the beginning. They think things are going pretty well right now. Is that a fair assessment, or are things not going so well?
GRAHAM: Well, I think things are going better. But as you go down the road you’re learning things every day. And you always have hindsight. The president, Bush, has done more than any other president. I think he has done a fantastic job with this. And, absolutely, things as you look with hindsight could have been done better. But he’s on the right track. He’s doing the right thing. And, of course, my suggestion about these trailers — it was told to me that that would be given to Homeland Security, and that suggestion would be listened to. So we’ll wait and see.