The ads convey one of two messages from evangelist Billy Graham:
The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.
On November 6, the day before my 94th birthday, our nation will hold one of the most critical elections in my lifetime. We are at a crossroads and there are profound moral issues at stake. I strongly urge you to vote for candidates who support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman, protect the sanctity of life, and defend our religious freedoms. The Bible speaks clearly on these crucial issues. Please join me in praying for America, that we will turn our hearts back toward God.
The ad campaign is the latest in a series of public statements this year that have prompted questions on whether they truly reflect Billy Graham's concerns or whether they were initiated by his son Franklin Graham, who has been more outspoken than his father on political matters in recent years.
Earlier in the week, the BGEA removed an article listing Mormonism as a "cult" from its website. The move came after Graham welcomed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his home and reportedly promised, "I'll do all I can to help you." (An official statement followed.)
In July, Graham pledged to participate in former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" when restaurant chain president Dan Cathy's comments on marriage drew a media firestorm. And in May, Graham urged North Carolina residents (in full-page newspaper ads) to vote for a state constitutional amendment on marriage.
In a press statement, the BGEA said the new ads "intentionally do not mention any candidate, political party, or contest, urging instead for readers to cast votes for candidates, at all levels, based on their support for biblical values. [Billy Graham] recently expressed a desire to publicly call America back to God and to prayer, and to draw attention to moral issues that are clearly addressed in the Bible and have increasingly become part of a national political dialog."
But Graham himself has earlier expressed wishes that he'd been more politically neutral and nonpartisan throughout his ministry.
When asked by CT in 2011 if he would "go back and do anything differently," Graham, whose relationship with President Richard Nixon drew considerable controversy, replied:
I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now.
Similarly, in a 2008 CT interview, Graham said,"I'm not making any [political] endorsements, and I'm staying out of partisan politics. I'm grateful for our system of government, and I strongly urge people to vote—but I don't endorse any candidate."