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Franklin Graham hopes to launch Latino religious revival

After speaking across Central and South America, he kicks off a Festival de Esperanza in the Los Angeles area Saturday. Experts say the Latino audience may not embrace his across-the-board conservatism.

June 25, 2011|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times
  • Franklin Graham has been preaching, with the help of a translator, across Central and South America and now is bringing his Festival de Esperanza to the Los Angeles area.
Franklin Graham has been preaching, with the help of a translator, across… (Arkasha Stevenson / Los…)

Sixty-two years ago it was the father, evangelist Billy Graham, who captivated Los Angeles with an old-fashioned tent revival that launched his career as America's most influential preacher.

Today it is his son, Franklin Graham, who hopes to use Southern California as a launch pad for a national religious revival — this one aimed at Latinos, who represent fertile soil for Christian evangelists.

Graham's Festival de Esperanza, or Festival of Hope, kicks off Saturday evening at the Home Depot Center in Carson, somewhat spiffier grounds than those available to the elder Graham, who in 1949 pitched his revival in a tent on Washington Boulevard and Hill Street. That meeting, held in the hope-filled years after World War II, helped establish Billy Graham as a national figure.

The younger Graham, however, is a very different figure and is not entirely comfortable comparing his crusade, the first he has done in the Los Angeles area, to that of his father.

"That's something that happened 60 years ago, and what we're doing is so different," Franklin Graham said Friday in an interview with The Times. He insisted that "I don't know of anybody who has done what we're doing right here in Los Angeles."

Graham, who doesn't speak Spanish, said he has preached with a translator's help in all but one of the Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America, the exception being Guatemala, and would offer a similar experience to those attending this weekend's festivals.

"We're treating this festival the same as if I was in Argentina, or if I was in Lima or Guayaquil," he said. If it is successful, he added, he hopes to hold Latino revivals in other places, such as Houston, San Antonio, Fresno and Miami.

"Graham is really acknowledging that the face of evangelicalism is changing," said Helene Slessarev-Jamir, a professor of urban ministries and ethics at the Claremont School of Theology.

She wondered, though, if a Latino audience would accept some of his conservative political positions. "Latino evangelicals are conservative on many social issues," she said, but not on other matters, especially immigration. "Franklin Graham tends to be conservative all the way around," she added.

It has been a decade since Franklin Graham became chief executive, and later president, of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. Now 58, he has raised his profile through a series of outspoken and controversial statements about politics and religion that have invited comparison to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, not his own father.

He has repeatedly spoken out against Islam, once calling it "a religion of hatred." He has raised questions about the sincerity of President Obama's Christianity, and heaped praise on several of the Republicans seeking to challenge Obama in 2012.

Asked Friday about his position on immigration reform, he said only that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed to allow people to "travel freely back and forth" across borders. He didn't say how that might be accomplished. He said he had no position on the federal Dream Act, legislation that died in the U.S. Senate last year but would have given legal status to many young undocumented immigrants who now attend college or serve in the military.

"I'm not a politician," he said. "I'm for law, and I believe that our laws need to be obeyed, whatever they are."

Billy Graham, now 92, was recently hospitalized with pneumonia. His son said he had fully recovered and was in generally good health, although his eyesight is failing. Recently, Franklin Graham said, "He told me, 'Son, I think God's going to let me live to 95.' "

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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