Gays, Muslims, politicians and progressive Christians are organizing to protest U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham’s upcoming visit to England.
The Muslim Council of Britain and three members of parliament recently asked the U.K. government to apply hate-speech criteria to block Graham’s visa application for the Festival of Hope, scheduled Sept. 21-23 in the coastal city Blackpool in northwest England.
“In the past, the government has banned individuals whom they claim are ‘not conducive to the public good.’ We would expect the government to apply its criteria here,” the umbrella group of more than 500 Islamic organizations and mosques said in a statement quoted by the Huffington Post. “If it does not, it will send a clear message that it is not consistent in challenging all forms of bigotry.”
Graham, who once called Islam “a very wicked and evil religion,” is planning to headline the event sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association with the support of nearly 200 churches.
A smaller group of churches is planning a counter rally called Rainbow Weekend to “celebrate, affirm and welcome people” regardless of sexual orientation, reacting to Graham’s past statements about homosexuality and other issues. Other churches have indicated they will not support Graham’s festival.
“Franklin Graham claims to exclusively know the truth of the Bible but interprets the Bible in the most barbaric ways,” Nina Parker, pastor of LGBTQ-friendly Liberty Church, told the Blackpool Gazette.
“His brand of conservative Christianity has historically used the Bible to justify racism, slavery and discrimination against women, and now he is using it to condemn men and women who are gay,” said Parker, who previously started an online petition signed by more than 8,000 individuals opposed to Graham’s visit.
“Unlike his father, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham engages in outspoken bigotry targeting refugees, Muslims and LGBT people,” the now-closed petition reads in part. “His father promoted unity and respect in communities, but Franklin Graham’s extreme views promote prejudice and division.”
“They know that I will call sin what God calls sin in His Word, and they object to that.”
Last December two Anglican ministers from the area wrote an open letter calling on church leaders to distance themselves from Graham. In July, Blackpool Transport banned ads on its buses that promoted the Festival of Hope after complaints from the LGBTQ community.
Two local members of parliament – one a conservative and the other a socialist – said they would support denying Graham a visa.
Others objecting to the visit cite Graham’s unwavering support of U.S. President Donald Trump and what some view as his excessive salary for an executive in a non-profit organization. In his twin roles as president of his late father’s evangelical association and the humanitarian agency Samaritan’s Purse, Graham earned more than $880,000 in 2015, according to The Charlotte Observer, down from $1.2 million he received in 2008.
Graham has faced similar push-back before. Baptists in Puerto Rico withdrew support for his Festival of Hope in San Juan in February 2017, and two Canadian Baptist pastors joined a boycott in 2016 of his crusade in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Graham said Sept. 4 that he intends to proceed with plans to offer Blackpool “a message of hope,” even though “some in Blackpool are determined to prevent that.”
“Despite the desperate spiritual need, a small but influential group of activists hostile to the authority of God’s Word are protesting the evangelistic event in Blackpool and taking steps to undermine or derail it if they can,” the evangelist said in a statement. “They know that I will call sin what God calls sin in His Word, and they object to that.”
“Regardless of the hostility, I plan to preach the Word of God” in Blackpool, Graham said, requesting prayer that he would have “boldness in our God to speak … the gospel of God amid much opposition,” quoting a verse in First Thessalonians.
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