WASHINGTON — Rev. Franklin Graham, the outspoken son of evangelist Billy Graham, believes the American Church hasn't done enough to act against the persecution of Christians abroad.
Graham, the CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was a keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C. vigil held outside the White House Thursday evening for imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini.
"I don't think we're doing enough. No, I don't. There is much more we can do," Graham told The Christian Post regarding the need for American Christians to be more active in the struggle for religious liberty overseas.
"The greatest thing we can do is to pray — to pray for the Christians who are suffering. Saeed Abedini is on the poster behind us, but there are thousands upon thousands of Christians in Syria and Iraq who are suffering because of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Washington vigil was one among 460 in 30 countries marking the two-year anniversary when Abedini was arrested by Iranian officials for his Christian faith.
Abedini, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had traveled to Iran to work on a children's orphanage. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly threatening national security.
Several international campaigns have rallied to demand Saeed's release, with his wife, Naghmeh, speaking often on his behalf.
During the vigil Graham was also critical of Muslims throughout the world who he said are not doing enough to denounce the violence committed by extremists
"Followers of a peaceful religion do not cut off the heads of innocent people in the barbaric action the world has been watching," said Graham before those gathered.
"Believers in a peaceful religion do not kidnap 300 young school girls as Boko Haram did in Northeastern Nigeria in April. ... Men who practice a peaceful religion do not detonate bombs on American streets during a marathon race to kill and to maim."
Several American politicians have written letters urging the Iranian government to release Abedini from prison. President Barack Obama has also spoken on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Abedini's sentence.
Naghmeh Abedini also spoke at the Washington #SaveSaeed vigil, accompanied by her two children. She spoke about her husband's trials and her source of strength during this time.
"Every morning I wake up and my husband's not next to me, and he's suffering in an Iranian prison because of his Christian faith, and he's being tortured and abused," Naghmeh described.
"So it's hard for me knowing that, and watching my kids suffer, but I can actually get up and have strength because of Jesus Christ," she asserted.
Scores of people gathered at Lafayette Square for the vigil, with volunteers handing out electric candles and pins with the Twitter hashtag #SaveSaeed. And a band from a local church played contemporary Christian music before Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, gave opening remarks.
Sekulow noted that with entities like the European Union and the United Nations denouncing Abedini's treatment, statements from high level bodies can lead to action.
"I think it takes international pressure," Sekulow told CP. "We believe in the power of prayer as well. That's why we're asking people to come together this way."
"We believe it's important for the United States to take a tougher tone. We're talking about a situation where Iran can do the right thing, release Saeed, return him to his wife and children in the United States. And that can go a long way in maybe changing people's minds about how they view this new Iranian government."
After a prayer was given by Graham, the crowd, with their electric candles turned on, walked toward the White House with Graham, Naghmeh, and the Abedini children at the front.