The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is looking for venues in London and Liverpool for Franklin Graham’s upcoming UK tour.
Management of ACC Liverpool said Jan. 24 that it was dropping plans to host a June 12 Graham event, citing a number of statements by the evangelist “which we consider to be incompatible with our values.”
“In light of this we can no longer reconcile the balance between freedom of speech and the divisive impact this event is having in our city,” the venue said in a statement. “We have informed the organizers of the event that the booking will no longer be fulfilled.”
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson supported the decision, saying: “Our city is a diverse city and proud of our LGBTQ+ community and always will be. We cannot allow hatred and intolerance to go unchallenged by anyone including by religious groups or sects.”
Graham’s London appearance scheduled Oct. 4 won’t be at the 20,000-seat O2 Arena as originally announced. Newsweek quoted a venue official as saying that while Graham had expressed an interest in speaking there, no deal was made and the event would not be happening.
More than 8,000 people signed a petition to stop Graham’s London appearance, saying the evangelist “wants to spread hatred and division.”
“U.S. preacher Franklin Graham travels around the world telling tens of thousands of people that Satan runs the LGBT+ movement,” says the petition sponsored by the gay-rights group All Out. “He persuades audiences that LGBT+ people don’t deserve to have families. He stands on stages in huge arenas warning people of the consequences of being gay, threatening impressionable young people with the ‘flames of hell.’ In short, he spends a lot of time and money telling the world that our love is a sin and encouraging those who want to hurt us.”
Graham said on Facebook he is not coming to the UK to bring hateful speech but rather to preach the gospel.
“The rub, I think, comes in whether God defines homosexuality as sin,” Graham said in a post addressing the LGBTQ community in the UK. “The answer is yes. But God goes even further than that, to say that we are all sinners – myself included.”
Religious communities in the UK are divided over the planned eight-city tour. The Bishop of Sheffield said in December that he could not support the June 6 event at the city’s FlyDSA Arena.
“Mr. Graham’s rhetoric is repeatedly and unnecessarily inflammatory, and, in my opinion, represents a risk to the social cohesion of our city,” Bishop Pete Wilcox said.
Bishops in Liverpool and Oxford said they agree with Wilcox, while the Bishop of Birkenhead commended the tour.
Writing for Christian Today, former daily newspaper journalist and Anglican minister David Baker, said much of Graham’s criticism is because of his steadfast support for Donald Trump.
“It’s hard for many American Christians to get their heads around how much most people in Britain loathe Trump, and how that revulsion is also felt by many godly British believers,” Baker wrote in December. “There’s not space here to go into all the reasons for that – but, rightly or wrongly, it is there.”
In a statement to Newsweek Jan. 28, Graham said he believes he is facing discrimination because of his religious beliefs. “It is wrong for venue managers and local officials to make a decision that disadvantages Christians,” he said.
Graham’s current tour in Florida is also being met by protests.
“Faithful America’s Christian members believe that very little of what Franklin Graham says actually resembles Jesus Christ’s instructions to love our neighbors as well as love our enemies,” Nathan Empsall, campaigns director for Faithful America, told local media in Fort Myers.
“Graham has supported the president’s march to war in Iran while saying he worships the Prince of Peace, and he engages in repeated hatred to the LGBTQ community despite the fact that each and every person is made in God’s image,” said Empsall, a priest associate at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James in New Haven, Connecticut.