Faced with mounting evidence of horrific war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin, a leading American evangelical working in humanitarian relief efforts has yet to call out the Russian president for his brutal assault on Ukraine.
Just back from a two-day visit to Ukraine, Franklin Graham continued to describe the ill effects of the Russian invasion in Ukraine without naming the aggressor. Instead, he called on both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to declare a cease-fire during Holy Week.
Zelensky and his people have been defending their country against Putin’s unprovoked attack that has left thousands dead and entire cities in rubble. Yet Graham’s public call for a cease-fire is based on a both-sides-need-to-stop mentality.
“If they can stop fighting for a week or 10 days, maybe they can stop fighting for two weeks,” Graham told Religion News Service. “If they stop for two weeks maybe they can stop for a month. If they stop for a month, maybe they can stop for good. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
“They” in this case is both the Russian invaders and the Ukrainian defenders. Graham made no apparent distinction between the two sides, even though his own nonprofit, Samaritan’s Purse, is actively aiding victims of Putin’s aggression across Ukraine.
Prior to the war, Graham had been a defender of Putin because of shared values on social issues such as homosexuality and abortion and a certain view of religious liberty.
The cease-fire Graham suggested would run from April 10 to April 24, due to the ways the Eastern and Western church celebrate Easter differently.
During the runup to the war, as Russian troops were assembling en masse on the Ukrainian border, Graham called on Americans to pray for Putin: “Pray for President Putin today. This may sound like a strange request, but we need to pray that God would work in his heart so that war could be avoided at all cost.”
Those prayers weren’t answered, as four days later Putin launched the invasion.
Meanwhile, Samaritan’s Purse has about 160 staff and volunteers working in Ukraine today, Graham said. The organization has distributed 90 tons of food and is funding the rescue and relief efforts of local Baptist and Pentecostal churches with $16 million in donations.
Graham told RNS he plans to go back to Ukraine during Holy Week to show solidarity with Christians there and to encourage them. That encouragement apparently will not include any condemnation of Putin as a war criminal.
Ukraine’s just war | Opinion by David Gushee
Ukrainian seminary dean among those shot dead and left on the street by Russian troops
Franklin Graham terms opposition to Trump ‘almost’ demonic
The blasphemy of Franklin Graham | Opinion by Robert Sellers