- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

The Rev. Franklin Graham, successor to his ailing father, the Rev. Billy Graham, preached salvation at the Pentagon Good Friday service yesterday, saying Jesus Christ has risen and will return to the Earth soon.

"Oh, it's Friday, it's Friday," said Mr. Graham, weighing his words with a cadence similar to his father's preaching style, "and it's a good one."

"Jesus is alive because He is risen, and He is coming back. And He is coming back soon," Mr. Graham said to "amens" from the crowd.

The 12-minute sermon was given before a standing-room-only crowd in a fifth-floor, 270-seat auditorium and broadcast to hundreds of other employees on closed-circuit TV. The 50-year-old evangelist, who has visited the building several times in recent years, is a hit with employees, a Pentagon spokesman said.

"This week, we look back on the events of the last few weeks," Mr. Graham said, "and we come to thank God for this nation, the freedom He has given us and the principles on which this nation stands."

He also asked for God's blessings on the president and members of the U.S. armed forces. But most of the sermon was spent in tracing the last 24 hours of Jesus' life.

"He was betrayed by one of His own," Mr. Graham said. "He was deserted. He was denied by those He loved. Their conversation must have been something like, 'Can you believe this? We believed in Him and if we'd hung around another five minutes, we'd be right in there with Him. We sure got out in the nick of time, didn't we?'

"He was falsely accused by the religious establishment. People just made up things. Called Him everything they could think to call Him. He was turned over to the Roman authorities. Surely, our Lord would receive justice. The Romans could see through this whole charade.

"Pilate did see through it. Oh, he saw right through it. … But it was Friday. I am sure Pilate had weekend plans. You get involved with this Jewish problem here, well it might cost you your weekend."

Mr. Graham added: "So to keep from being involved, he washed his hands and submitted this innocent man to the mob."

After the 50-minute service, dozens of people lined up before Mr. Graham, requesting an autograph. One of his sons, Edward Graham, 23, a senior cadet at West Point, was also in attendance.

Franklin Graham has enjoyed a high profile with the administration ever since he was asked to give an opening prayer during President Bush's inauguration. But after a post-September 11 interview with NBC, during which Mr. Graham called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," Muslim groups began attacking him. One Iranian ayatollah publicly suggested killing him, along with the Rev. Jerry Falwell and religious broadcaster the Rev. Pat Robertson.

Then the Pentagon's chaplain's office, which hosts Muslim and Jewish gatherings as well as Christian ones, invited Mr. Graham in January to deliver a Good Friday sermon.

Once word leaked out about Mr. Graham's Good Friday invitation, three Muslim employees complained to the chaplain's office, according to a spokesman. Despite the complaints from Muslim groups, the Pentagon refused to withdraw the invitation, saying employees had requested his presence.

Mr. Graham did not refer to the complaints or the issue of Islam in yesterday's sermon.

But a spokesman said that Muslim employees could request a speaker of their choice.

"If the Muslims in the Pentagon wanted [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan, with all sincerity, the chaplain's office would try to accommodate," Army spokesman Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis said. "I think it'd be a hoot."

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