On North Carolina vacation, President Obama fitting in visit with evangelist Billy Graham

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Obama plans meeting with evangelist Billy Graham

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — President Barack Obama is fitting in his first visit with ailing evangelist Billy Graham during his vacation weekend in North Carolina.

Obama planned to see the 91-year-old Graham and his son Franklin at the elder Graham’s mountainside home in Montreat, about 20 miles east of Asheville, where Obama spent a few days away from the White House.

“I expect they’ll have prayer, but beyond that I don’t know what they’ll talk about,” said Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Grahams.

A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, said that when Obama last spoke with Billy Graham, in a telephone call in November on Graham’s birthday, they said they would try to get together as soon as possible.

DeMoss said the White House requested the meeting several days ago. He noted that the meeting had been tentative, given the president’s schedule and Billy Graham’s unpredictable health.

Billy Graham’s last crusade was in 2005, in New York. Since his wife’s death nearly three years ago, he has spent most of his time at his home. Public appearances have been rare, and his hearing and eyesight are failing. He has counseled every president since Dwight Eisenhower. Billy Graham’s personal spokesman, Larry Ross, said Obama’s visit will be the first time a sitting president has met with Billy Graham at his home.

Later Sunday, Obama planned to speak at a memorial service in West Virginia for the 29 coal miners killed in an explosion on April 5.

Evangelist Franklin Graham has been in the news recently, with the Army rescinding an invitation for him to speak at a Pentagon prayer service, citing what it said were his inappropriate comments about Islam.

In 2001, the younger Graham described Islam as evil. More recently, he has said he finds Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

An Army spokesman, Col. Tom Collins, said last week that Graham’s remarks were “not appropriate.”

“We’re an all-inclusive military,” Collins said. “We honor all faiths. … Our message to our service and civilian work force is about the need for diversity and appreciation of all faiths.”

Graham said he regretted that the Army felt its decision was necessary. In a statement, Graham said he would continue to pray for the troops to “give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country.”

Associated Press writer Mike Baker in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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