Franklin Graham conducts services at Pentagon
No mention of Muslims
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Christian minister Franklin Graham delivered a Good Friday message at the Pentagon over objections from some Muslim employees who complained about his earlier description of Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."
Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, thanked God for "the principles on which this nation was built and what it stands for" and "for our president and all those who are in authority over us." He made no mention of Muslims.
Christians remember the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, prior to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Graham noted that the icon of his faith was "falsely accused by the religious establishment" who "just made up things" to make a case for his death.
The Pentagon's chaplain office invited Graham to conduct the services and refused to rescind the invitation after hearing the concerns of three Muslim employees, a Pentagon source told CNN.
"It's important to remember that the Pentagon's chaplain's office invites speakers and religious leaders from all sorts of different places representing all sorts of different faiths and organizations," the source said. "It's a policy of openness and inclusiveness."
After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Graham was quoted on NBC Nightly News as having denounced Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion" -- although a month before those comments he told CNN that Americans should not "paint (Muslims) in a broad brush" because a "small group of people" were responsible for the terror attacks.
Graham has acknowledged that his statements about Islam have caused controversy. On his Samaritan's Purse Web site he said, "While I respect the rights of all people to adopt their own beliefs, I would respectfully disagree with any religion that teaches people to put their faith in other gods."
He said he is not against Islam, pointing out that his relief group has supplied goods to Islamic countries. "But as a minister, not a politician, I believe it is my responsibility to speak out against the terrible deeds that are committed as a result of Islamic teaching," he said.
Responding to Muslim complaints, Graham said on his Web site, "I decry the evil that has been done in the name of Islam, or any other faith, including Christianity."
Graham, speaking with CNN's Judy Woodruff on September 14, 2001 -- three days after the terror attacks -- said Americans should not turn against Muslims simply because they are Muslim.
"We shouldn't do that," he said. "I have many Arab friends, many Muslim friends, they're wonderful people who, of course, are just as brokenhearted and disgusted over the incidents of this past week as we are. And we should not just turn our hatred toward people of another race or of another religion."
Focus on those responsible
"We need to focus on those who are actually responsible for this," he added. "And it wasn't a race of people who did this, it was a small group of people who are bent on the destruction of this country, those Islamic fundamentalist that need to be stopped. So I plead with people not to paint in a broad brush, so to speak, the people of the Middle East. They're wonderful people."
But a month later, Graham had apparently changed his views.
"We're not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us," NBC News quoted Graham saying at the dedication of a North Carolina chapel in October. "The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
When NBC asked him to clarify his statements, he said, "It wasn't Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn't Lutherans. It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith."
Muslims also have accused Graham and other Christian groups of hoping to convert Muslims in Iraq under the guise of doing humanitarian work there.
Graham told the Los Angeles Times last week that Samaritan's Purse will work in Iraq, offering "physical assistance to those who need it, with no strings attached." He said the group will do no proselytizing.
-- CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.