Evangelist Franklin Graham says the steep spike in sexually transmitted diseases in the United States is further proof that there's a "moral crisis" of sin facing the nation.
The president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association took to Facebook Tuesday night after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the country in 2017.
The mark breaks a record previously set in 2016 by over 200,000 cases and also marked the fourth consecutive year of "sharp increases in these sexually transmitted diseases."
While some health experts are calling on President Donald Trump to declare a public health crisis, Graham told his 7 million Facebook followers that he believes what America really "has is a moral crisis and a spiritual crisis."
"And it manifests itself in many ways, including this public health crisis," Graham wrote on the social media page. "Sin always has a cost, a consequence."
The son of late evangelist Billy Graham stressed that while God "loves us and wants to protect us," it is "His Word" that instructs people how to live.
"Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body," Graham wrote, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:18.
"The real answer doesn't lie in practicing their definition of safe-sex, increased testing, or funding for clinics as the experts recommend — the answer lies in hearts turning to God and living within the guidelines He gives us in His Word."
As words like that can rub many people the wrong way, Graham admitted that his is not the "politically correct answer."
"But it's the truth," he concluded.
The CDC analysis of STD cases reported for 2013 and preliminary data for 2017 "shows steep [and] sustained increases" in gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis and chlamydia.
Chlamydia remained the most common STD reported to CDC with more than 1.7 million cases diagnosed in 2017, an increase of over 110,000 cases from 2016. Forty-five percent of cases 2017 were among females aged 15 to 24 years old.
"We are sliding backward," Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a statement. "It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point."
As for gonorrhea, cases increased 67 percent overall, from 333,004 in 2013 to 555,608 in 2017. The disease nearly doubled among men and also increased among women at a speed the CDC says is "concerning" as cases have gone up for the third year in a row.
Primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent from 17,375 cases in 2013 to 30,644 cases in 2017. According to CDC, almost 70 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases involved gay, bisexual and "other men who have sex with men" in situations where the sex of the partner is known.
In total, there was an increase over 542,000 cases reported of those three diseases in 2017 than there was in 2013.
Scott Phelps of the Abstinence & Marriage Education Partnership, who is the author of five popular abstinence education programs, spoke with Christian radio host Julie Roys following the report. He was asked if he agrees with some researchers who say the rise of STDs is due to less frequent condom use and a decrease in funding for STD Prevention.
Phelps, a Christian, disagreed.
"The CDC deserves much of the blame for the STD epidemic. Every year they call for more money and more condoms — but these are not the answer," Phelps stressed. "There is only one way to reduce STDs, and it's the one thing they refuse to say: Reserve all sexual activity for marriage. I say they deserve much of the blame due to their stubborn refusal to say what is true."
Phelps added that rise of dating and hook-up apps on cells phones over the last few years hasn't helped the situation either.
"They perpetuate and promote non-marital sexual activity in just the same way that Planned Parenthood and government funded sex-education programs do," Phelps said. "Planned parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in America, and the largest provider of sex-education in American schools. That is your problem right there. Call it Tinder in the classroom. No one should be surprised that STDs continue to soar."
Rob Stephenson, a professor and director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, argued in an interview with CNN that "it's not a difficult jump" to see how funding cuts for sexual health and STD prevention programs in recent years at state and local levels is "preventing us from winning the fight against negative sexual health outcomes."
David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told CNN that declaring a national health crisis would entail "emergency access to public health funding to make a dent in these STD rates."