Next week, Franklin Graham will visit Blackpool, where Billy Graham visited 36 years ago, and just for three nights, not the three months his father spent in England more than six decades ago. And Franklin’s arrival is raising a different sort of response from British Christians than did his father’s did.
From Religion News Service:
While Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse has done humanitarian work in Muslim countries, Graham, who now runs his late father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a history of calling Islam a “wicked and evil religion.” He has also called homosexuality a sin and has spoken against same-sex marriage and adoptions by gays.
In response to complaints, a local transit company in Blackpool removed advertising for the event from its buses, and some 8,000 people signed a petition requesting the home secretary to deny Graham entry to the country.
Blackpool’s two ministers to Parliament have also expressed their concern, with one suggesting that Graham’s comments amounted to hate speech.
Criticism has also been focused on the Church of England’s local bishop, the Rt. Rev. Julian Henderson, for refusing to take a position on Graham’s visit. Henderson defended his stance in a statement last weekend, saying that his neutrality enabled him to conduct an ongoing listening exercise with people from both sides.
Henderson condemns the use of hate speech, and he and his leadership team will not attend Franklin Graham’s festival, which comes at the invitation of Anglican and independent churches:
“Franklin will come with a positive message of hope,” said Steve Haskett, vicar of the Anglican church of St. John’s in Blackpool, one of 200 independent and Anglican churches that helped bring Graham to the festival. “There are few people around who can share the Christian message with the clarity and conviction that Franklin does and that’s why we’ve invited him.”
Blackpool Transport, the company that removed the ads for the festival from its buses, did so in response to public concern over Graham’s denouncement of the LGBTQ community. From Huffington Post:
“The removal of these adverts is as a result of us listening and acting on customer and public feedback which we aim to do at all times,” the company’s managing director, Jane Cole, said in a statement released to HuffPost. “Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset.”
I’m sorry that some see hope as offensive, but I can assure you that tens of thousands of people in Blackpool and across the United Kingdom are searching for hope. Sex, drugs, money, even religion—none of these are the answer. I’m coming to share with everyone in Blackpool, Lancashire, and across North West England that there is One who can give you hope. Hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity. His name is Jesus Christ! Will you pray with me for this event in September and for God to work in a mighty way to transform hearts and lives across this region?
From the Huffington Post:
These views, along with Graham’s other political positions, have meant that Christian leaders in some of the cities he visits have been divided over whether to receive him with open arms. Even some some conservative Christians, who may agree with Graham on matters of sexuality, have withdrawn their support from his Festivals of Hope. Graham has faced resistance from Christian leaders in Japan, Norway, Canada, Puerto Rico and now the U.K.
Jayne Ozanne, a gay British Christian activist, told HuffPost she thinks Graham probably holds his controversial views “in good faith.” But she questions whether the gospel he’s preaching is one that witnesses “Christ’s unconditional love and acceptance of all.”
“This event will not model ‘good disagreement’, but will rather provide a platform for espousing bigotry and hate in Christ’s name,” Ozanne wrote in an email. “It seems particularly unfortunate that this is occurring during a time when many of us are trying to build bridges of understanding between groups who hold widely opposing views.”
Following is an excerpt from a statement published on the festival’s website, linked above:
…The purpose of the Festival of Hope is to share with as many people as possible, the simple gospel message summarised in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Nearly 200 Lancashire churches have engaged so far in the Festival process. In the recent Christian Life & Witness training course, over 1300 church members participated in the preparation stage. The Festival will be a positive event, and the largest ecumenical Christian event in Lancashire for a generation. There is a great deal of excitement amongst large parts of Lancashire’s Christian community as we prepare to share the hope of Jesus Christ.
In light of this, it seems a travesty that a company we had formally contracted to provide an advertising service should withdraw this inoffensive Festival invitation, in response to small minority of people who objected via social media.
The managing director of Blackpool Transport is quoted in the media as saying, “The removal of these adverts is a result of us listening and acting on customer and public feedback which we aim to do at all times.” Because the Christian community is also a customer, we hope Blackpool Transport will listen to our public feedback as well, and not show what appears to be a potential bias toward Christians. We have contacted Blackpool Transport and asked to meet with the Directors as a matter of urgency, to clarify their thinking in this matter.
It’s unclear what a “small minority” is, but many have spoken up, including thousands of names on a petition calling for Graham’s visa to be denied, objecting to the bias Graham has shown toward Muslims and the LGBTQ community. The Muslim Council of Britain has added its voice to those calling for the denial of Graham’s visa, according to Newsweek:
The MCB in a statement to The Guardian said: “In the past the government has banned individuals whom they claim are ‘not conducive to the public good’. Mr Graham’s remarks are on record and clearly demonstrate a hatred for Muslims and other minorities.
“We would expect the government to apply its criteria here. If it does not, it will send a clear message that it is not consistent in challenging all forms of bigotry.”
A supporter of President Donald Trump, Graham has described Islam as “evil” and a “religion of war,” claimed that Barack Obama was “born a Muslim,” claimed that Satan is behind the movement for LGBTQ rights. He has praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin for opposing the “homosexual agenda” in his country and his controversial “gay propaganda” ban.
Franklin Graham and his father Billy Graham in 1994; by Paul M. Walsh – Billy and Franklin Graham, CC BY 2.0