Franklin Graham, son of world-famous evangelist Billy Graham, is due to speak at a series of evangelistic meetings in the UK this summer. However, over the past couple of weeks most of the venues have cancelled the booking after pressure from LGBT campaigners.
High-profile locations such as the Sheffield Arena, Glasgow SSE Hydro, ICC Wales and the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes have pulled out and the Utilita Arena in Newcastle is coming under intense pressure from local Pride campaigners and Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes. A petition started on change.org by Northern Pride calling on Utilita to cancel the event has been signed by over 5,000 people.
Northern Pride said that Graham has “publicly promoted homophobia” by claiming that homosexuality is a “sin”. Having called for the unwelcoming boycott (with no sense of irony) they went on to say that “Franklin Graham’s views are wholly inconsistent with our city, which is preparing to welcome huge celebrations and tens of thousands of people this summer for UK Pride.” Pink News rather nastily describes him as “hate preacher”.
We may have our doubts about whether the style of mass-evangelism practised by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) still has its place; we can argue about whether the BGEA is paternalistic, and whether Franklin Graham’s association with Donald Trump is unfortunate and an obstacle to the gospel being heard through him; we may wish that he had said more about homosexuality than just “it’s a sin”.
We are painfully and increasingly aware of how difficult it is to be heard once the issue of homosexuality has been raised. In many situations it becomes the deal-breaker that closes down further useful argument.
Another sad milestone
Having said all that, we need to recognise that this is another watershed moment in our nation’s recent history. Here is a Christian preacher, whose mission is to tell people about Jesus – a Christian preacher who is saying what the Bible says about sex and gender (and with which most Christians will agree). And he is effectively being banned from using large venues in this country by a social media campaign and complicit local authorities.
The end of free speech?
The Bible teaches the dignity of all human beings as made in God’s image. This seems to also imply a right to free speech for all. Whether we think such is a biblical principle or just a “good thing”, the way it is being applied here is inconsistent and unfair. We should dismiss the completely spurious argument that Graham is inciting hatred. This is the one group with a particular ideology being allowed, even assisted, in silencing another group with a different view. It is all of a piece with what is going on across UK universities as they “no-platform” invited speakers who do not agree with the current zeitgeist.
Apart from the inconvenience for organisers of these evangelistic events this summer, this trend is also immensely damaging to a healthy democracy where ideas can be discussed, debated and refined. It is a significant step away from freedom of thought and expression.
All this is not such a big step away from Christians who go against the cultural tide being prevented from using any public venues – and ultimately maybe even barred from speaking at all.
How should we respond?
We could consider writing to our local MP or the venues that have reneged on their contracts with the BGEA to host Franklin Graham. Christians are usually the last ones to protest, often out of a misplaced deference for authority and perhaps too much of a desire for a quiet life. We should remember that the Apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to obtain release from prison in order to continue his gospel work.
And we should pray for wisdom for the Christians involved in this situation.
Pray, too, for the hearts of those who do not believe to give others a fair hearing and listen to what the gospel has to say.
There is no cause for alarm. Misunderstanding and suppression of the truth are to be expected; rejection and persecution of Christians through unjust rulings are to expected and should not surprise or disturb us.
God is still on the throne, and he will be heard.