Evangelical leader Franklin Graham was criticized after he appeared on Fox News to call on people to "pray" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has received nearly universal condemnation from the international community over his war with Ukraine and the numerous human rights violations committed by soldiers under his watch.
During an interview with Maureen Mackey, the host of Fox News Digital, Graham said that he admires the Ukrainian resistance but believes that Putin might benefit from the power of prayer.
While Graham conceded that he does not know "what President Putin’s end game is," he nonetheless advised that people should pray for a man whose war has caused the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis Europe has seen in decades.
Speaking of the Ukrainian people, Graham said:
“I admire them, and we want to do all that we can to help them. It’s a mess. It’s going to get worse, I’m afraid."
"And what President Putin’s end game is, I don’t know. But I think we just need to pray that God can change his heart."
He added that people should pray for Putin but insisted that he did not want his recommendation "to be misunderstood":
"I want people to pray that God would change his heart. And turn his heart around, and that he would see the sin that he’s involved in."
"That he would repent and turn from it. And if we pray, that could happen.”
Graham later took to Twitter to urge his followers to engage in "10 days of prayer for the people of Ukraine and an end to the conflict."
The following day, he shared a more traditional Easter message calling on his followers to put their "faith and trust" in Jesus Christ.
But neither of Graham's messages went over well and he was swiftly criticized.
Graham has come under fire for lauding Putin in the past. The two men even met in 2015 and a few years later, Graham met with Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a close associate of Putin who was sanctioned by the international community following the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Grham has also praised Putin for cracking down on homosexuality after Putin's administratiion passed a federal law "for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values," also referred to in English-language media as the gay propaganda law, that has sought to restrict content and behavior that would present homosexuality as a societal norm.