It was a recipe for conflict on a Trumpian scale.
Several thousand evangelicals gathered on the west steps of California’s Capitol were greeted Thursday by a counter-protest of several dozen rainbow flag-waving LGBTQ activists.
Before the rally – led by evangelist Franklin Graham – cleared out, a flock of ambulances were summoned to the scene, but heat, not fists, were the suspected cause of some half a dozen calls for service.
The noon prayer rally by Graham, son of Christian icon Billy Graham, was stop 13 on his “Decision America” tour, aimed at taking his message to all 50 state capitals.
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Graham called on the older, but relatively diverse audience gathered on the Capitol lawn to vote for candidates who will govern in accordance with biblical principles and encouraged them to run for office themselves.
“We need leaders today that honor the almighty God,” Graham said. “When I went to school we had the 10 Commandments.”
Graham’s rock the Christian vote message comes just at it appears California may have a meaningful role in deciding the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations in the June 6 primary. But he didn’t make any specific recommendations.
Graham left the GOP in December after a budget vote to include funding for Planned Parenthood
“You may have to go to the poll and vote for the least heathen,” Graham said.
Graham very publicly split from the GOP in December in response to passage of a budget that included funding for Planned Parenthood, saying taxpayers should not pay for abortions.
“We need Christians to run for city council,” Graham said, asking the crowd not to focus on not only the presidential race.
“Think about the impact it would have across this country,” he said. “Let’s take this country back.”
During the hourlong rally, Graham asked participants to make a pledge to God and country. To date 64,437 have signed up for the pledge, according to the decisionamericatour.com website.
While the pledge calls on people to “where possible” vote for candidates who will “uphold biblical principles, including the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage,” he didn’t make any direct references to the nearby LGBTQ protests nor did he use the inflammatory language used by some opposed to legalized gay marriage.
Before the rally concluded, the few dozen LGBTQ activists moved to the sidewalk between the prayer rally and the Tower Bridge, but even a few feet from the thousands at the Graham rally there was little conflict.
In fact, the rainbow flag holding protesters joined in singing “God Bless America” as the rally broke up. One man in makeup who declined to shake hands and a woman who was told by California Highway Patrol officers on horseback to return to the sidewalk was about as much conflict as could be found.
A nearby suspicious package and about a half-dozen people collapsing added some excitement to what was otherwise a relatively calm event. Four of the people evaluated by medical personal were taken to a hospital with what officials believe were heat-related health issues. The suspicious package reported at a nearby parking garage turned out to be a backpack with a box of batteries, officials said.
Steve Klicka flew up from San Diego to participate. He said America would be a better place if it was governed by Christian values. He said that was actually the Founding Fathers’ intent.
Lou Donofrio, of Los Angeles, said he was happy to see such diversity in the crowd.
According to the tour’s website, Franklin’s next prayer rally is April 12 in Little Rock, Ark.