Billy Graham wanted to 'spread gospel' to Soviets


MOSCOW -- In an interview published Wednesday, Billy Graham told Soviets he made his trip to their country hoping to 'spread the gospel.'

Graham also told Literary Gazette he endorses the idea of a summit this fall between President Leonid Brezhnev and President Reagan.


The evangelist said he accepted an invitation to attend a week-long religious conference against nuclear war earlier this month 'for the possibility of spreading the gospel in the Soviet Union.' He said he was especially eager to preach in the Moscow Baptist Church and a cathedral.

Graham, whose advisers cautioned him against making the trip, came under fire when he implied there is more religious freedom in the Soviet Union than in Britain, Japan and several other countries.

The 63-year-old preacher later said he meant to differentiate between 'freedom of worship,' which he claimed is allowed in the Soviet Union, and 'freedom of religion,' which he admitted is restricted.

Graham's words to Literary Gazette sounded uncritical.

'Americans would be surprised if I told them that Saturday evening I was in three churches, that they were all packed, that choirs were singing and services under way,' he said.

Soviet churches usually are crowded for weekend services. Moscow currently has about one church for every 100,000 people -- less than a fifth as many as there were per capita before the 1917 revolution.


'Churches are open everywhere in the Soviet Union, although their activities are, perhaps, in some ways more restricted than in the United States although, it is possible, other restrictions exit there,' Graham told the Gazette.

The newspaper said editorially that Graham was warned before making his trip that 'Communists might use (him) for their own ends.'

It also interjected a comment when Graham, talking about world peace, referred to the Bible. 'We atheists, of course, look completely differently at what is happening in the world,' the newspaper said.

Graham said he believes that Reagan, in the depths of his soul, is working toward peace and the reduction of nuclear arms.

Literary Gazette said it would like to believe Graham, but, 'The actions of the current U.S. administration are cause for concern.'

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