Baptists in Puerto Rico have withdrawn support for Franklin Graham’s Feb. 10-12 Festival of Hope evangelistic rally in San Juan in protest of the evangelist’s endorsement of anti-immigration policies espoused by President Donald Trump.
The executive minister and the president of the Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico issued a statement Feb. 4 saying Graham’s endorsement of Trump’s policies “are for us contrary to the values of the Kingdom.”
“The Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico historically affirms that our standard of faith and conduct is the Bible,” Executive Minister Roberto Dieppa-Báez and President Margarita Ramirez said in the statement written in Spanish.
“From the Old Testament to the New Testament, God continually calls us to justice, to love, peace and mercy and, above all, to accompany the marginalized, foreigners, widows and orphans,” they said according to an Internet translation.
The Baptist leaders said Trump’s immigration policies “attack the life of our neighbor, and Jesus has always called us to love even enemies and to be our brother’s keeper.”
The release said the Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico board of directors decided to withdraw their support for the event — being held at the same stadium where Graham’s father, Billy Graham, preached to more than 175,000 people during the San Juan Global Mission in 1995 — “for reasons of conscience.”
The Baptist leaders said individual churches and pastors remain free to make up their own mind about whether to participate.
Franklin Graham, who succeeded his father as CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 2002, recently defended Trump’s executive order blocking refugees from Syria from entering the country and barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations deemed high risk by the White House, saying for him it is “not a Bible issue.”
“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Graham said in a Huffington Post article published Jan. 25.
“We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws,” Graham told associate religion editor Carol Kuruvilla. “Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”
The Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico is one of 34 regions affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the only one that is fully Hispanic. As of 2011 the region numbered 112 churches with more than 25,000 members.
The region’s leaders said they do not intend to undermine the Festival of Hope but issued their statement in order “to affirm our testimony in favor of the poor, marginalized and foreigners, among others.”
“Let us continue in prayer so that the gospel of Jesus can be proclaimed and lived in all our earth,” the Baptist leaders said.
It isn’t the first time that Graham’s outspoken views on controversial issues such as homosexuality, Islam and immigration have caused a stumbling block for an evangelistic event. Last fall five pastors in Canada — two of them Baptists — said publicly they would not be supporting Graham’s March 2017 Festival of Hope crusade in Vancouver, labeling him a poor witness for the gospel.
In addition to his role with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Graham runs Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief agency with programs including Operation Christmas Child, an annual event that recruits volunteers in churches and other organizations to fill shoeboxes with Christmas gifts for impoverished children in more than 150 countries and territories around the world.
A Baptist News Global columnist recently suggested moderate Baptist churches that participate in Operation Christmas Child unwittingly give Graham a platform to spout his political views.
“Do you really want to send a dose of hatred along with that shoebox of Christmas trinkets?” Mark Wingfield, associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, wrote Jan. 28. “Does handing out Christmas gifts counterbalance Graham’s declaration that many of those who receive them would not be welcome in America?”
“There are other — and better — ways to support refugees and children in need around the world,” said Wingfield, a member of the Baptist News Global board of directors. “In reality, sending a shoebox of odds and ends is less effective than providing food and clothing and shelter and education.
“If you are outraged by Franklin Graham’s misrepresentation of Christian doctrine, channel your support somewhere else, like World Vision or any of the reputable denomination-based relief agencies,” Wingfield said.
The Charlotte Observer reported in 2015 that between his two jobs Graham received compensation totaling more than $880,000 in 2013. That made him the highest-paid CEO of any international relief agency based in the United States, but it was less than the $1.2 million he received in 2008.
Last year the IRS reclassified the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as an “association of churches” so that the charity is no longer required to file a financial disclosure form that includes top salaries of executives. The sister organization Samaritan’s Purse also requested reclassification for the same reasons but reportedly did not receive an immediate response.