Mitt Romney speaks with the Rev. Billy Graham in Montreat, N.C. (Jim Watson / AFP-Getty Images )
Evangelist Billy Graham effectively endorsed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, hailing his “values and strong moral convictions” as well as his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Hours after Romney visited the ailing Graham at his home in Montreat, N.C., on Thursday, the evangelist issued a statement that did not explicitly endorse the GOP nominee, but left little doubt about his preference.
“It was a privilege to pray with Gov. Romney — for his family and our country,” the statement read. “I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms.”
Those were references to same-sex marriage and abortion and, presumably, to complaints by many conservative Christians that President Obama has undertaken policies that encroach on religious freedom. (More liberal Christians dispute this.)
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Although Graham has been supportive of presidential candidates in the past, he has not issued endorsements, and his statement about Romney, who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seemed to go beyond his statements about other recent political figures.
Obama paid a visit to Graham in April. Afterward, Graham's son, Franklin, described the meeting as “very cordial, very nice,” adding that the two men prayed for each other. There was no statement indicating support for Obama's reelection. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain made a similar pilgrimage, but came away only with a statement of praise from Franklin Graham for his “personal faith and his moral clarity.”
The statement about Romney could reflect the growing influence of Franklin Graham, who has been more outspoken than his father about politics. Franklin Graham announced in 2004 that he had voted for President George W. Bush. His father kept his vote confidential, despite a long and close relationship with Bush.
During their meeting this week, Billy Graham and Romney discussed religious freedom and persecution, the conflict in Afghanistan and growing ministries in nations such as China and North Korea.
“I'll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that,” Graham said at the end of the 30-minute meeting, which also included Franklin.
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