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Evangelist leads crowd in confession of nation's sins

BISMARCK -- Christians from all over North Dakota flocked to Bismarck on Wednesday to fill the grassy lawn near the Capitol steps, where evangelist Franklin Graham urged them to turn to God, vote and run for office.

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People filled the Capitol grounds in Bismarck to hear the Rev. Franklin Graham's 50 State Decision America Tour 2016 address on Wednesday afternoon. (TOM STROMME, Bismarck Tribune)

BISMARCK -- Christians from all over North Dakota flocked to Bismarck on Wednesday to fill the grassy lawn near the Capitol steps, where evangelist Franklin Graham urged them to turn to God, vote and run for office.

Though it rained at times during the lunch-hour rally, organizers estimated 3,100 people showed up to hear Graham's message.

He told the crowd the nation is in trouble spiritually, morally, economically and racially. Neither the Democratic nor Republican party can turn the country around, he said.

"The only hope for this nation is God," he said. "The most important thing we can do today is pray."

Graham stopped in Bismarck as part of his "Decision America" tour, which wraps up in October before election day. North Dakota is the 26th state he has visited on his mission to speak at all 50 state capitol grounds.

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Graham is the son of 97-year-old Billy Graham, well-known for his sermons and Christian programs broadcast over the radio and television. The younger Graham is head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization.

During Wednesday's rally, Franklin Graham asked attendees to take one another's hands and confess out loud the sins of the nation. For his part, he listed abortion, same-sex marriage, racism, inadequate care for the poor, and an entertainment industry that promotes sex and violence. He then led the crowd in asking God for forgiveness and accepting Jesus into their lives.

"Jesus Christ took your sins. He died in your place, and God raised his son to life," Graham said. "Jesus Christ is not dead, he is alive. He is right here in Bismarck this afternoon, right here today at your Capitol."

Though Graham did not endorse any candidate or political party, he urged the crowd to vote for candidates willing to live out biblical principles. He said such action will fight secularism, which has crept into federal, state and local government, as well as schools, in recent years.

"We have taken God out," he said.

Graham drew a parallel to communism - a concern for his generation growing up. "I can tell you there is no difference between communism and secularism," he said. "The devil is behind both of them."

Beyond voting, Graham implored each audience member to consider running for office. And he encouraged pastors to look for members of their congregations to seek seats in local elections.

"Wouldn't it be something, then, if all the candidates that were running were Christian?" he asked. "That would be a great problem to have, wouldn't it?"

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He said it's possible to take the nation back, starting with communities.

If municipal leaders demonstrate their support for Christ, that will soon translate to the statehouse, he said.

"If we can control the state government, we may get Washington back one day," he said.

Graham acknowledged the separation of church and state, saying the country's founding fathers never intended Americans to remove God from their lives; "they just didn't want government representing one denomination."

Crowd grows at Capitol

As people walked the mall toward the Capitol to hear Graham speak, many picked up small American flags to wave during the rally. Some drove hours Wednesday morning to attend.

Mike Willey, who works in the oil patch, came from Williston with two friends. He heard about Graham's tour last year because he subscribes to a newsletter from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

"He's spot on," Willey said. "Everything he talked about is what we need to turn this country around."

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A pair of sisters from Bismarck stood near Graham's bus after he finished his speech.

Destiny Haider, 15, said Graham's comments about God being removed from schools resonated with her. She is home-schooled.

"If you say 'Jesus' in some schools, you will go to detention," she said.

Her sister, Mariah Haider, 20, touched on a similar note.

"Our foundation was based on God," she said. "It's being kicked out."

Though the younger Haider cannot yet vote, she said Graham's words encouraged her to do so when she turns 18 to effect change.

"It definitely has an impact," Destiny Haider said.

Also in the crowd was the Rev. Daniel Maloney, the Catholic chaplain for the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery.

"I think it was very positive and very ecumenical," he said of Graham's message. "He included all Christians. It was very patriotic at the same time."

Maloney is a past president of the Bismarck Ministerial Association, a group of local faith leaders from a variety of denominations. He recalled watching the "Billy Graham Crusades" on television years ago -- religious campaigns with events held around the world.

Franklin Graham will continue that work through 24 more states. His next stop is June 14 in Springfield, Ill., followed by Madison, Wis., and St. Paul, Minn., on subsequent days.

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