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By Tim Funk, The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Franklin Graham has an answer for those turned off by his litany of controversial condemnations of gays and lesbians, Islam and President Barack Obama: He claims he’s only saying what his father would say if Billy Graham, now 95, were a younger man.

In a Tuesday interview with The Charlotte Observer, the younger Graham cast himself in the tradition of his father, who he said took unpopular but moral stands in his prime against racial segregation and communism.

“You talk about controversy — my father stood with Martin Luther King in the early 1960s,” Graham said. “My father never worried about polls. I don’t care about them, either. And with the issues we are facing today — if my father were a younger man, he would be addressing and speaking out in the exact same way I’m speaking out on them.”

Franklin Graham’s critics have charged otherwise, saying he’s steering the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association toward a conservative political agenda and away from Billy Graham’s later-in-life emphasis on a loving God.

The younger Graham said his comments criticizing gays and lesbians and others “living in sin” do spring from love.

“I love people enough and care enough,” Graham said, “to warn them … that if they chose to continue to live in sin, God is going to judge them one day and they’ll be separated from him for eternity in hell.”

Speaking of hell, Graham also said that his father had started writing a book on that very subject, but he may need help finishing it.

“He’s not able to work on it, but he gave us the outlines of what he wanted,” Graham said.

Now mostly bedridden in his Montreat, North Carolina, home, Billy Graham may be in slightly better health, his son said, than last year, when he took a turn for the worse after his 95th birthday party.

Still, Graham said, “he just doesn’t have reserves. He’s very, very weak.”

Franklin Graham also addressed for the first time his latest venture into controversy: his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” — a record, Graham wrote in a March magazine article, that is better than Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.

Graham said his concern in speaking out was protecting children from abuse and exploitation from all groups.

“Of course, gays and lesbians cannot have children,” he said.

When it was pointed out that homosexual couples can adopt children, Graham responded: “They can recruit. You can adopt a child into a marriage, but you can also recruit children into your cause. I believe in protecting children from exploitation — all exploitations.”

Photo: Escapedtowisconsin via Flickr

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