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Billy Graham Promises to Avoid Partisan Politics During Crusade in Washington

From Times Wire Services

The Rev. Billy Graham is taking a new crack at the nation’s capital, embarking on a weeklong religious crusade more than a third of a century after declaring: “Washington, with its sins, its drunkenness, its crime, will prove the test of what is going to happen to America.”

The nation’s best-known evangelist and a frequent visitor at the White House and elsewhere in Washington in the years since that comment held a news conference here Thursday, three days before the crusade’s opening.

“Despite the tremendous unique influences and contributions of Washington, in many ways it mirrors--sometimes in stark detail--many of the problems of our entire nation,” such as poverty and the homeless, widespread drug abuse, corruption, the breakup of families and loneliness, Graham said.

Third Washington Crusade

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Graham, 67, will be conducting his third major crusade in Washington. The first was in 1952, when the young Baptist preacher from North Carolina talked in such dire fashion of the capital’s sins. The second one, in 1960, drew 139,000 people to an eight-day crusade.

There were efforts in 1973 to organize another one. But that fell through, partly due to a lack of support from black church leaders who felt left out of the preparations. They also felt that Graham had not sufficiently spoken out against racism and other social ills while he too strongly supported the Vietnam War.

No such problems have occurred this year. A total of 630 area churches are sponsoring the event. Graham was joined at Thursday’s news conference by the Rev. Ernest Gibson, the executive director of the Washington Council of Churches who called organizing the new crusade “a common cause” transcending racial, geographic and income separations in the area.

Graham has continued to be the preacher best known for meeting with high government officials. And he said he talked only recently with President Reagan, Vice President George Bush and members of Congress--as well as with church leaders and Washingtonians in menial jobs--as he prepared his crusade.

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But he said his preaching will not be aimed at influencing government action.

Reagan will be in Japan for an economic summit meeting. And if members of Congress or other officials show up--as Graham expects some will--"I hope they’re going to sit there not as political leaders but as individuals.”

While saying he will avoid partisan politics, Graham also defended the right of preachers to run for political office.

‘Have Every Right’

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“I think they have every right to,” he said. “After all, we have actors running for President.”

But he said he would not be interested in being television evangelist Pat Robertson’s running mate if Robertson makes a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, “and I’ve already told him that.”

Graham added: “I do not come to Washington to deal with questions of partisan politics. I do not claim to be an expert on many of these complex issues and, at any rate, this is not my calling from God.”

But he said there are some issues that “clearly have a moral and spiritual dimension,” including peace in a nuclear age, poverty, hunger and the homeless, terrorism “and the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.”

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