The Rev. Franklin Graham reacted to a Kansas middle school’s decision to sever ties with his charity project, Operation Christmas Child, and expressed doubt that “our country will ever come together.”
“We don’t solicit necessarily from schools,” Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” Friday. “Anybody can participate and what this is, this is just children there at the school that did this on their own and got their school involved."
The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation had sent a complaint letter dated Nov. 3, to Superintendent Tony Helfrich, urging the district to take "immediate action to cease promoting and endorsing Christianity in its schools." FFRF specifically cited Liberty Middle School, based in Pratt, Kansas, where morning announcements often include references to Jesus and Operation Christmas Child is promoted.
After contending that the Samaritan’s Purse website states that “the purpose of the shoe boxes is to attract children in the developing world to convert to Christianity,” FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line argued that “organizing a donation drive that for all intents and purposes employs school staff and resources to convert people to Christianity violates constitutional principles.”
In response, Helfrich sent a letter to FFRF explaining that the district was discontinuing the collaboration with Operation Christmas Child “upon learning that its mission is more sectarian in nature than we realized.”
Though the school has pulled out of participating in the shoebox gift donations, Graham encouraged students at Liberty Middle School to send gifts directly to the ministry instead.
“I want every child that gets a box to know that God loves them and that he cares for them,” Graham said. “We don’t hide the fact that we’re Christians. … It’s on our website, we’re very upfront about our … position and our faith.”
He added that “if we would just turn from our sins, that God would forgive our sins and heal our sins.”
When asked by Fox News host Laura Ingraham to respond to Pastor John MacArthur's recent comments that “America’s in a moral free fall,” Graham responded: “I do share his concerns and I think we are in a moral free fall in this country.”
According to Graham, “the only hope for our country, I believe, is God. … For that to happen is we’ve got to come to Him in repentance, turning from our sins and putting our faith and trust in His son, Jesus Christ. And I think if we do that, then God will hear our prayers and He’ll heal this country.”
Addressing the question of what it will take to “bring this country together,” Graham argued: “I don’t think our country will ever come together. I think we’re so divided now and it’s only going to get worse and the hatred that we see from many … in the public square toward Christians is incredible.
“I’m not going to back down. I’m just going to keep telling people that God loves them and He cares for them and Christ died for their sins.”
This is not the first instance of an atheist group targeting public schools for their collaboration with Operation Christmas Child. In 2013, the American Humanist Association sent letters to public schools in West Columbia, South Carolina, and Douglas County, Colorado, threatening them with legal action if they did not terminate their relationships with the charitable organization.
Both schools complied with the AHA’s demands, citing a desire to avoid the legal fees and media attention that would accompany a lawsuit by the atheist group.