After more than an hour of often-earsplitting Christian rock and praise music Friday, the Rev. Franklin Graham took the podium at the Consol Energy Center for the start of a three-day revival, the Three Rivers Festival of Hope.
And Rev. Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham and himself a veteran evangelist and head of a wide-reaching humanitarian organization, immediately launched into a sobering survey of the headlines — warfare in Ukraine and the Middle East, racial unrest in Missouri and child immigrants at the border, as he offered a stark choice to the crowd of 7,412: accept Jesus as the only solution.
"We ask, what's the hope?" Rev. Graham said.
He said many people feel what a wounded military veteran recently told him after a suicide attempt, that his “bucket of hope was low.”
"You've come here with that bucket of hope pretty empty," Rev. Graham said. "I want you to know God is here. God is willing to heal your heart. I don't care how far you think you have fallen."
And Rev. Graham, who has stirred controversy for his denunciations of other religions and gay marriage, received repeated applause as he delved in numerous hot-button issues,
"Our nation has turned its back on God, our politicians have turned their backs on God and we have taken the path of secularism, which is really anti-God," he said.
He said "a marriage relationship is defined by almighty God (as) between a man and a woman," and anyone who has had sex outside of such a marriage is "guilty of sexual sins."
He also received applause by speaking against abortion. "You say now Franklin, you're stepping on people's toes. ... I want you to know God sees this as murder. It doesn't matter what the state says, it doesn't matter what the president says."
But he told the crowd that God will "cleanse you and he'll take that burden of sin away from you."
He added: "Muhammad, he didn't die for your sins. Buddha, no. There's only one person in history and that's God's son, Jesus Christ."
He returned to the theme later. Rev. Graham, who has drawn controversy in the past for calling Islam an evil religion, describing the convert-or-die tactic of ISIS in Iraq as being a trait of the religion itself, although groups such as the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have denounced ISIS as violating the Quran's command that there be no compulsion in religion.
Rev. Graham said: "Where Islam and some of these other religions want to force themselves, make you, God doesn't force himself. He's a gentleman."
Hundreds of people streamed forward when Rev. Graham made the appeal for people to make decisions to commit or recommit their lives to Jesus, although many of them were wearing cards identifying themselves as counselors who were trained to talk with the converts.
Rev. Graham, the leader of the North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid and evangelistic association, also spoke in an interview earlier Friday and said both of the Ebola-stricken workers affiliated with his aid organization are recovering from the deadly disease at an Atlanta hospital.
He also said his group, which works in the Kurdish region of Iraq, is bringing in hundreds of tents and other supplies for refugees who have fled to the Kurdish area of Iraq following the violent onslaught of ISIS.
The festival is one of the biggest cooperative ventures across dozens of Catholic and Protestant denominations since Billy Graham came for a 1993 revival at Three Rivers Stadium.
The revival continues with a youth-oriented night Saturday at 7 p.m. and a concluding service Sunday at 4 p.m.
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.
Peter Smith: email@example.com or 412-263-1416. First Published August 15, 2014 12:00 AM