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ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon chaplains say they have no intention of withdrawing a Good Friday speaking invitation to a controversial Christian evangelical leader who has called Islam “wicked, violent and not of the same God.”

In January, the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office invited the Rev. Franklin Graham to give the homily, or sermon, during the April 18 Good Friday services that are held as part of the chaplain’s regular program of multidenominational religious events, according to Army Col. George Campbell Jr., the Pentagon’s deputy chaplain.

The 50-year-old evangelist is the fourth child of the Rev. Billy Graham, America’s best-known Christian evangelical leader. Franklin Graham has made a number of highly controversial statements regarding Islam, including the “wicked and violent” comments he made in October, during the dedication of a chapel in Wilkesboro, N.C.

The evangelist has since said that he was “not attacking Muslims.” But in his latest book, “The Name,” Graham writes that Christianity and Islam are enemies, locked in a “classic struggle that will end with the second coming of Christ.”

Graham has participated in Pentagon religious services at least twice in the past three years, attracting large crowds each time, Campbell said in a Tuesday interview in his Pentagon office.

“He’s a big draw,” Campbell said.

Yet although Graham’s upcoming engagement has been posted on the Pentagon chaplain’s Web site for the past three months, it was just last Friday that three members of the building’s Muslim community voiced their concerns about the speaker, the chaplain said.

The Muslims “expressed their concern about [Graham’s] view of the Islamic faith,” Campbell said. “They weren’t asking us to do anything [about Graham’s engagement] this year. They said, ‘We’re just trying to raise the level of sensitivity in the future.’”

“It was a very reasonable request, and one we will certainly take into consideration,” Campbell said.

Friday’s service, however, will go on as scheduled, Campbell said.

“We have made a commitment,” he said. “While I, personally, would not agree with some of Rev. Graham’s comments and observations, I would defend his right to have his religious views as part of the freedom we have as Americans.”

Canceling the Baptist leader would be contrary to the chaplains’ mission, “which is to try to make sure everyone’s religious needs are met,” Campbell said. “What kind of a message would it send if we canceled [Graham]? That if someone objects, you can’t practice your religion?”

“The service on Friday is not a political service. It is a service of worship,” Campbell said. “I don’t anticipate Rev. Graham will talk about anything except the death and resurrection of Christ.”


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