Prayer or politics? Evangelist rallies Christians in Boston

BOSTON (AP) — The son of evangelist Billy Graham urged a gathering on the historic Boston Common on Tuesday to vote in the November election but stressed he was taking no sides publicly in the U.S. presidential race.

The event was the latest stop on the Rev. Franklin Graham’s 50-state Decision America tour, during which he asked Christians to take a pledge to support, whenever possible, candidates who uphold biblical principles.

Making no direct reference in his remarks to Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton, Graham said the nation was in trouble spiritually, economically and politically and neither major party could turn that around.

“I have no hope in the Democratic Party all right, zero hope,” Graham said to some applause, adding quickly that before Republicans in the audience “high-five each other, I have no hope for the Republican Party.”

Organizers of the event estimated the crowd at about 3,400 on the balmy late summer day. No official count was available.

Similar rallies were scheduled this week in Providence, Rhode Island, and Hartford, Connecticut.

New England is believed to have proportionately fewer evangelical Christians than many other parts of the country. Less than 10 percent of Christians in Massachusetts identify as evangelical, according to recent estimates.

Boston Common, established in 1634 by the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay colony, has often been called America’s first public park. It has occasionally hosted religious-style events, including the first U.S. Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit.

While a smattering of Trump signs were evident Tuesday, many in the crowd echoed Graham’s largely non-partisan theme.

“This for me is spiritual, not political,” said Robbie McNerney, a Massachusetts native who was taking a break from missionary work in Vietnam.

McNerney, who attended with his Vietnamese-born wife, Mihlloan McNerney, and their two young children, said he had not chosen between Clinton and Trump.

“Neither of the political candidates can solve our problems,” he said. “I think whoever is our next president will need the grace of God.”

Daniel Hamil and his wife, Sarah Hamil, retirees from Bolton, said they had decided who to vote for but preferred not to say. They cited the nation’s “moral decline” as their main concern.

Speaking in the shadow of the Massachusetts Statehouse, Graham did not directly criticize state politicians but railed against progressives who he argued were taking away individual rights to religious expression.

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and its current leaders are strongly pro-abortion rights.

The pledge calls on voters to support politicians who uphold the “sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage.”

Graham met with Trump last week during the Republican’s visit to flood-ravaged parts of Louisiana.

After the rally, Graham, who said he had known Clinton longer than he had known Trump, repeated his assertion he was not instructing people who to vote for.

“Both parties, Democrat and Republican, have turned their backs on God and embraced secularism,” he said.

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