Evangelist Franklin Graham said Monday that Hurricane Katrina could spark a revival in New Orleans, cleaning up its image as a city of sin.

“There’s been satanic worship. There’s been sexual perversion,” Graham said in an address at Thomas Road Baptist Church’s Super Conference 2005, being held at Liberty University.

“God is going to use that storm to bring revival,” said Graham, the designated successor to his father, evangelist Billy Graham. “God has a plan. God has a purpose.”

“In the past few weeks we have seen the power of two horrific storms,” Graham said, quoted by the Lynchburg News & Advance. He added that God had also provided a counter power to comfort the lost and hurting.

“There is the power of the gospel,” Graham said. “The good news is that God loves sinners. Jesus Christ is coming back and he’s alive.”

Unlike some evangelical leaders–including Hal Lindsay, Chuck Colson and Pat Robertson, Graham said he didn’t believe the hurricane was God’s punishment for sin.

“I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place,” he said on CNN, adding: “And I believe God has a plan and purpose for everything in life. And sometimes there are storms in life. And we have to look beyond those storms and just trust God, that God will use this storm in a way that will benefit the people of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana and Mississippi in a much stronger way in the years to come.”

But he said the city’s Mardi Gras revelry and ties to voodoo were contrary to Christian beliefs.

“New Orleans has been known for years as a party town,” Graham said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his office in Boone, N.C. “It is a city that has strong ties to the gay and lesbian movement, and these types of things.”

Earlier Graham, who heads the evangelical charity Samaritan’s Purse, said on the Fox News Channel that the mayhem and looting in New Orleans following Katrina could be traced to a lack of religious instruction.

“This happens in our country when we have taken God out of our schools and God out of our, out of society. We don’t have a moral standard,” he said.

Graham said he has prayed with clergy in New Orleans for deliverance from “this dark spiritual cloud,” and he sees signs of promise as churches “black and white work hand in hand” to restore the city.

Asked on CNN if he believed that many residents of New Orleans would find his remarks insensitive, Graham answered: “No, I disagree with you. I think there are many residents of New Orleans who would agree with me. The archbishop himself on Sunday at the first Mass at the cathedral there said he prayed that the new makeup of New Orleans would be–have a stronger moral fiber, free from racial tension and also less rampant self-indulgence. And so, he is praying for a city that has a stronger moral fiber.

“The churches that I have met with, the pastors down there, are praying that they will see a change in New Orleans in the years and months to come. Now, New Orleans has been known, of course, as a party city for Mardi Gras, voodoo, all types of things like this–Bourbon Street.

“And, as a minister of the gospel, there are a lot of people in New Orleans that are praying that God will bring a stronger, moral fiber to this city than this city has ever had before.”

Asked if he hoped that elements like the gay and lesbian community would be purged from New Orleans, he said: “Well, I certainly hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached. I want to see men and women converted.”

“Jesus Christ came for sinners,” Graham said. “I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ gave his life on Calvary’s cross for the sins of this world. We put our faith and trust in him. God will forgive us and he will cleanse us of all of our sins.

“And I would certainly pray that the gay and lesbian movement, the people that have this lifestyle, will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and experience their sins being forgiven.”

Some mainline religious leaders have criticized plans by FEMA to fund hurricane relief efforts by churches and other organizations that proselytize.

“Some religious organizations are openly using the hurricane relief efforts to win new converts,” said Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “If these groups can’t separate their evangelism from their relief work, they should not be eligible for public funding. People displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should not be subjected to unwanted, high-pressure religious coercion as the price of getting help from their own government.”

Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches said the decision to reimburse religious organizations for hurricane relief “could easily upset the delicate balance that is the separation of church and state.”

But Graham said critics have a hidden agenda.

“There people in this country that hate God,” he said. “What made this country great is God.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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