BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's not Coachella, Bottle Rocket, or even San Francisco's up-coming Clusterfest comedy festival, but Franklin Graham is bringing a festival-like atmosphere to California with his 10-stop, three-bus caravan, Decision America tour featuring highly produced videos, Christian singers, laser light shows, and preaching from Graham himself. With a Bible in one hand and primary ballots in the other, Graham's Decision America tour is timed to put a dent in what he calls, the state's "blue wall."
In his first series of major events since the death of his father, the Reverend Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, the often un-hinged weapon of mass derision, will top off his tour with an appearance in Berkeley this weekend. Graham's political agenda is more like the second coming of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, rather than his father's less than enthusiastic embrace of politics, as he is encouraging evangelical Christians to get politically organized and run for office to beat back such things as sex-education programs in the schools and the so-called LGBTQ agenda.
"If every church here put up one person for school board, got behind them financially and helped them to run, you could take over your school board," Graham has said. "If this happened in every community, in 10 years you could see a difference politically in this state."
While he doesn't cop to it, there is no doubt that the tour is overtly political. However, whether Graham's unapologetic Islamophobia, homophobia and unstinting support for all things Trump, takes center stage as he encourages Trump's base to get out and vote in next week's primaries, remains to be seen.
Graham appears to be a Trumper-For-Life: As New York magazine's Ed Kilgore pointed out, "Graham has defended the president on television and social media through the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and the slur against Haiti and Africa."
"People say that the president says mean things. I can't think of anything mean he's said. I think he speaks what he feels," Mr. Graham said in a wide-ranging telephone interview Kilgore reported.
Graham told Fox News conservative pundit Todd Starnes that he is encouraging Christians with firm anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage beliefs to run for office. "When I say Christians, I mean Christians who are willing to take a stand for biblical truth for what the Bible has to say about marriage, what the Bible has to say about the sanctity of life and are willing to stand behind God's principles and take a bullet for that," Graham explained. "What I mean by take a bullet is when they get criticized or attacked for their political views, that they just stand there smile and take it and not budge. We need Christians to take a stand and take a hit if need be."
He also told Starnes that "People are leaving the state. The tax base is eroding. They are turning their once beautiful cities into sanctuary cities, which are just a little picture of Hell," Graham said. "Just go to San Francisco and go to this once-beautiful city and see what has happened to it."
While no one expects any Republican candidates to seriously compete for statewide offices, there are as many as seven California congressional districts, currently held by Republicans that Hillary Clinton on in 2016. The New York Times' Elizabeth Dias recently pointed out.
Basically, Graham's appearances in California are aimed to erode California's "blue wall," and "turn this state around. At a stop at the Fresno Fairgrounds, according to the Fresno Bee, Graham told the faithful that, "Our country is in trouble," "Your state's in trouble – you know that. But there are things that we can do. You know God hears prayer."
The New York Times reported that three of Graham's stops "are in or bordering critical House districts in the Central Valley," while "others hug the line between red and blue up the state."
A few weeks back, in a packed locker room at the Rose Bowl, surrounded by fellow evangelists, pastors, and his top Los Angeles donors, Graham maintained that the term "progressive," is "just another word for godless," The Times reported. Speaking of donors, The Times reported that other than Graham's home state of North Carolina, "California is the second largest donor base for Samaritan's Purse and his other organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association."
According to the Pew Research Center, one in five adults in California are evangelical Protestants, and white born-again Christians made up 13 percent of the state's voters in 2016. The New York Times, pointed out that "there are more megachurches in California than in any other state."
Graham told The New York Times that "The church just has to be wakened. People say, what goes in California is the way the rest of the nation is going to go. So, if we want to see changes, it is going to have to be done here."
"All of California is like a university town now," he went on. "But you are beginning to see a groundswell of revolt out here. Orange County, San Diego County, are beginning to take on Governor Brown. It's good for Christians to capitalize on that. So yah, we could help turn the tide."
"And when Graham is talking about Christians, he means white evangelical Christians," Robert Jones, CEO of the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, which has done extensive surveys of the evangelical community, told The San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli. "The white evangelical political movement is at a last stand kind of moment here," Jones said. "What does give them outsize power is that they are so disproportionately active on the Republican side."
On Friday, Graham will be appearing at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, which as Garofoli noted is "named after the Latino farmworker icon, [and is] an odd pairing."