Thousands gathered outside the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon as the Rev. Franklin Graham — a national figure in the world of Evangelical Christianity — stopped in Madison as part of his nationwide Decision America tour.
During his talk, Franklin Graham, the son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, urged attendees to exercise their faith at the voting booth to move forward Christian values in the government.
The crowd, a mix of religious attendees and pro-LGBTQ+ protesters, was relatively subdued. Capitol Police estimated there were around 4,000 people in attendance. Those protesting against Graham — city and state officials among them — said they stood against the Reverend’s message of intolerance and hate.
Franklin Graham spoke about the sins committed by the nation including, same sex marriage and abortion, though he said those in the LGBTQ+ community were not beyond saving. Franklin Graham also lead the crowd in prayer and lamented that America had seemingly turned away from its founding Christian values.
“Secularism came to Washington and they took God out of our schools,” Franklin Graham said.
Some protesters at the rally said they were motivated to attend in part by the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and saw the event as an opportunity to support the gay community.
Pat Calchina, a protester carrying a pride flag, said she came out to oppose Franklin Graham and his followers because she rejected his message that those in the LGBTQ+ community are unchristian or unacceptable to society. She said she did not know of Franklin Graham until recently and had been motivated to come out in light of the Orlando shooting.
“Given the terrible tragedy, I just felt like I have to be here. I have to bear witness,” Calchina said.
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Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, also a pride flag-bearing protester, said Franklin Graham’s hateful rhetoric toward the LGBTQ+ community did not reflect the values of Madison nor Dane County. He said he wasn’t surprised by the large crowd Graham drew and speculated that many of those in attendance had traveled from across the state to see him speak.
The protest took on added significance in light of the Orlando shooting, McDonell said.
“It’s rhetoric like this that fuels the hatred that we saw in Orlando and it’s time that we all stand up to that,” McDonell said.
Keran Morales, a local volunteer for Franklin Graham’s Decision America tour, said she supported Franklin Graham because she believes the political system is broken. She said she believed the country was in such a terrible state of affairs that only God could fix it now.
Franklin Graham’s message of being politically active and voting really resonated with Morales despite her political cynicism, she said.
“I was thinking of not even voting but then he said it is our responsibility to do it,” Morales said.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, also among the protesters, said she stood on the side of equality and human rights against a message of hate and inequality. She said violence toward underrepresented communities is a result of hateful rhetoric such as Franklin Graham’s.
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There is a significant political impact on government policy as a result of speeches such as Franklin Graham’s, Taylor said. Specifically, she pointed to Republican legislation at the state level that would discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, such as a recent so-called “bathroom bill” proposed by Republicans.
“We know the kind of hate preached here does get recycled into really bad policies and we are standing against that today,” Taylor said.
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Billy Graham as “the late Christian evangelist.” The Badger Herald regrets this error.