As tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to boil to a potential tipping point, evangelist Franklin Graham is encouraging his followers to pray for Russian President Vladimir Putin — and he’s facing rebuke as a result.
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“Pray for President Putin,” Graham wrote on Twitter and Facebook, noting his request could spark frustration. “This may sound like a strange request, and I might get some angry comments, but we need to pray that God would work in his heart so that war — and the loss of thousands of lives — could be avoided at all cost.”
The evangelist went on to ask for wisdom for the world leaders involved in the dispute, noting prayer could have a life-saving impact.
“Our prayers might make the difference between life and death,” Graham said.
But some took immediate issue with Graham’s call. As The Christian Post noted, Democratic congressional candidate Scott Huffman lambasted the evangelist’s prayer call.
“Franklin Graham asks his followers to pray for Putin. Guess he forgot about the Ukrainians and our NATO allies,” he wrote. “It’s almost like he supports the enemy who is about to declare war and kill people.”
Franklin Graham asks his followers to pray for Putin.— Scott Huffman for NC 🇺🇲 (@HuffmanForNC) February 19, 2022
Guess he forgot about the Ukrainians and our NATO allies.
It’s almost like he supports the enemy who is about to declare war and kill people. 🤔
Huffman isn’t alone, either. Democratic operative Jon Cooper added his dismay into the mix.
“Trump-loving evangelist Franklin Graham just told his followers: ‘Pray for President Putin today,'” he tweeted. “Unreal.
Trump-loving evangelist Franklin Graham just told his followers: “Pray for President Putin today.”— Jon Cooper (@joncoopertweets) February 19, 2022
Some expressed concern over the call to prayer by citing old tweets from Graham surrounding Putin and Russia. Graham wrote the following in 2021: “@POTUS said Russian President Putin is a ‘killer.’ President Biden’s words have offended the Russian people & have set our relations with this country back considerably. President Biden should consider that, in God’s eyes, abortion is murder.”
Despite these critiques, others defended Graham and pointed to biblical calls to pray for leaders — and enemies.
Jesus himself makes this calling clear in the Sermon on the Mount. Here are his words in Matthew 5:44-48 (NIV):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Many of Graham’s followers made this message clear in their responses.
“Amen. Pray for our enemies,” one woman named Donna wrote.
Virginia added, “Is not strange to me! I pray for him that he will come to know the Lord.”
Attorney and writer David French, a commentator who has criticized Graham in the past, came to his defense on the Putin prayer debate.
“I’ve had my criticisms of Graham, but attacks on him here are off base,” French tweeted. “This is Putin’s war, if he chooses it, and praying that he would seek peace isn’t merely justifiable, I think it’s imperative. That’s what I’m praying.”
I’ve had my criticisms of Graham, but attacks on him here are off base. This is Putin’s war, if he chooses it, and praying that he would seek peace isn’t merely justifiable, I think it’s imperative. That’s what I’m praying. https://t.co/5HrVZxqX9t— David French (@DavidAFrench) February 19, 2022
You can read other responses here.
It seems Graham’s point was to encourage people to pray for heart change in Putin. While some also wanted to see him mention the Ukrainian people, his post was clearly tailored to stopping an armed conflict from unfolding.
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