Franklin Graham’s UK tour has been hit as all eight venues booked for his crusade meetings have now pulled the plug on the US preacher amid outcry from the LGBT community. The prominent evangelist is set to commence a series of preaching events across the UK in late May. Those opposed to Graham’s visit have argued that he is “anti-gay” because of remarks made by the prominent preacher in relation to homosexuality being classed as “sin”, a position that he solidified in a Facebook post responding to the cancellations last week. “The rub, I think, comes in whether God defines homosexuality as sin,” Graham wrote. “The answer is yes.”
Jayne Bryant, Assembly Member for Newport West, insists that Graham has “a long record of preaching hate, prejudice and intolerance”, a sentiment echoed by many other council officials involved in sabotaging the preacher’s bookings. One Welsh venue said that while its policy was “to remain impartial to the individual beliefs of both our clients and visitors,” they had been made aware of “a number of views held and comments made by the Graham organisation” which they deemed “incompatible” with their values of “equality, diversity and inclusivity.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said that they were unfazed by the negative press. “No matter what the media says, we are confident that the tour is going ahead,” said spokesman Reuben Morley. “We’ve been speaking to many church leaders on the ground and they are excited for what’s to come.” Speaking to The Scotsman in response to the controversy, Graham himself insisted that his gospel message was “inclusive”. “I don’t preach hate speech. We’re not coming to speak against anybody, everybody is invited to our meetings,” he urged. Graham, known for his staunchly conservative policy positions, also hinted at bringing legal action against the venues.
Peter Lynas, UK director of the Evangelical Alliance said “We live in a society of incredible freedom, but not so much, it seems, when it comes to Franklin Graham and free speech. Public conversations have been curtailed as campaign groups, protest organisers, councils and venue operators cancel events featuring views they profoundly disagree with or simply don’t like. If we disagree with someone, we no longer discuss or debate with them, instead we ‘no platform’ them. Private landlords and local councils are being pressured to cancel events with ‘unsavoury’ speakers, ironically in the name of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.”
Lynas went on “Franklin Graham is set to tour the UK in the coming months as part of an evangelistic tour. Over the last few weeks we have seen venues fall like dominoes as councils scramble to toe the progressive line and no-platform the American preacher. Franklin Graham was booked to speak at the Hydro Centre in Glasgow as part of the tour. The venue is part owned by the city council. Susan Aitken, the leader of the local authority said allowing Graham to go ahead could break the law. I am curious what law she has in mind. As a former barrister, it beats me. Instead, it feels like Graham is being penalised for what someone thinks he might say.”
“In fact, it may be that the council have to explain how their decision is not a breach of the Equalities Act. This would appear to be discrimination based on religious beliefs” Lynas said. “It would be naive not to admit that Franklin Graham is a marmite figure. Some see him as a bold prophetic voice, others see his political views as divisive and unhelpful. But that is not the point. Freedom of speech is only worth something when it affirms the freedom of all people, including the ones we disagree with. Whether we agree with what someone says or not, free speech is central to liberal democracy” Lynas said
Lynas concluded “We need to create space to have honest conversations about Franklin Graham’s views being seen as controversial. We also need to find space for honest conversations about where a culture of banning ends. Any of us might be next. In the Evangelical Alliance we have members actively supporting the Graham tour and others who have concerns. There are good conversations to be had about what effective evangelism looks like and the role of the local church in that. But in this moment, venues, often owned by local people and run by their councils, are challenging freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We should all share concerns about that.
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