(Photo: A. Larry Ross Communications)
Members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church continued on Tuesday their two-day protest of one of the world's most influential evangelical leaders – Billy Graham.
The Topeka, Kansas-based group said it was picketing a "false prophet" and further accused Graham, who has retired, of preaching for money and influence.
"When they began preaching in the 1940's, Billy Graham & WBC pastor Fred Phelps taught the same doctrine. Yes! But as soon as it became unprofitable to preach God's standards (Repent! Obey or perish! Salvation is by God-given faith & grace, and 'free will' is a soul-damning heresy.), Graham started preaching sugary Arminian lies, thereby becoming 'America's preacher,'" Westboro argued.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association released a statement Monday, maintaining that their message has never changed over the past 70 years.
That message, the organization said, is "of God's love for all people and the hope that only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ."
"While they (WBC) have the right to express themselves, we don't share their opinions or condone their methods."
Westboro is a small church that is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination. It is made up primarily of the family of its head pastor, Fred Phelps. The church has drawn controversy for its messages of hate and protests at military funerals.
The group began protesting Graham on Monday at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., and continued at the Billy Graham Training Center (The Cove) in Asheville on Tuesday.
Westboro denounced Graham's message that "God loves everyone" and accused him of being silent on issues such as homosexuality.
While Graham has in large part avoided political hot-button issues, earlier this year, the evangelist voiced his support for an amendment in North Carolina that would protect the traditional definition of marriage.
"At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage," Graham said in May. "The Bible is clear – God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote."
The amendment passed.
Graham, 93, has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history – nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.
He held his last evangelistic crusade in June 2005 in New York City. Since then, Graham has remained at home and has been hospitalized several times due to pneumonia, among other conditions. He has expressed several times his wish to preach one last public sermon.