By JOHN FORTMEYER
SALEM — At times there was just a wide murmuring as thousands joined hands in fervent petition to God for their state and nation.
At other moments the amplified, passionate voice of the featured speaker reverberated against the huge building behind him.
Whether in hushed tones or in loud proclamation, the theme of the noon hour rally under sunny skies outside the Oregon State Capitol June 28 was clear and consistent — America is a nation on the precipice, and there is only one solution.
“The only hope for the United States of America is God!” evangelist Franklin Graham confidently declared before thousands gathered for the 30th of his 50 Decision America rallies held this year in each of the nation’s state capitals.
The crowd responded in seemingly full agreement with Graham’s view that “Our nation is in trouble.”
“Big trouble,” one woman in the crowd whispered as she nodded her head.
But Graham was quick to also offer a message of hope for the nation. He likened America to ancient Israel, which experienced a restoration as a result of the fervent and repentant prayer and fasting of the Old Testament figure Nehemiah.
“God heard Nehemiah’s prayer,” Graham said. “Let me tell you something, friends. With God anything can be done.”
At press time for this newspaper, an official crowd estimate had not been determined by the Graham team, but it was clear that the packed throng filled much of the huge Capitol Mall. The gathering preceded by one day a similar Washington state rally held in Olympia, and for which a similarly large turnout also was anticipated.
The program at the Oregon rally followed the format to which Graham has adhered across the nation since January. After about five minutes of singing led by Graham’s close friend, guitarist Dennis Agajanian, Graham took the podium and spoke for roughly a half-hour. There were no other featured speakers and no one was else was introduced.
At times sounding unmistakably like his famed evangelist father, Billy Graham, he led the assembly through several steps. First was a prayer of confession for the nation’s many sins; Graham identified, among various examples, abortion, same-sex marriage, racism and materialism.
Next came prayers of repentance, asking God to grant forgiveness and mercy not only to the nation but also to individual participants.
Then came prayers for all those who work in the State Capitol, including all elected leaders.
“Let’s pray loud enough for everyone in this building to hear,” he said. “I want them to know that the men and women of God are here today praying for them.”
He specifically focused his attention on Gov. Kate Brown, praying, “Father, it is my prayer that she will come to know your Son, Jesus Christ.”
Graham also drew applause when he called for support of the state’s law enforcement personnel.
“They put their lives on the line every day for us. We need to pray for them,” he said.
Finally — as has been the case for decades at all Graham team events — the evangelist invited those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ to do so with a prayer of repentance.
“Before our nation can be healed, our individual hearts need to be healed,” he said.
Graham devoted the remainder of his time to emphasizing the huge importance of Christians voting — especially backing candidates who support Biblical morality — and also positively influencing their communities in other ways, including seriously considering running for public office. The nation sorely needs “men and women in high places” who honor God so as to combat the “atheistic Godlessness” that is pervading the nation, Graham said.
If change can happen on the local and state level, the entire nation can see a turnaround, he said: “If we can take capitals like this back, we can take our nation back.”
As one possible indicator of the dizzying pace of Graham’s Decision America tour nationally, he mistakenly told about 400 local Christian leaders at a pre-rally meeting at the nearby Willamette Heritage Center that he would be speaking in Juneau, Alaska, the next day. That Juneau event was instead scheduled for three days later. Then at the main rally shortly thereafter, his friend Agajanian mistakenly greeted the Salem crowd with “Hello, Portland, Oregon!”
“I just need to correct Dennis,” Graham said with a grin when he stepped forward. “This is Salem.”