Despite every single venue cancelling, the organisers of Franklin Graham’s planned UK tour say it has the strong support of churches across the country.
Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, will be kicking off his tour in Glasgow on May 30. It was supposed to take place at the Glasgow Hydro, but the venue pulled out after coming under pressure from LGBT+ campaigners.
It wasn’t alone, with seven venues in total all withdrawing from the event after LGBT+ campaigners accused Graham of hate speech because of his traditional views on human sexuality and marriage.
Despite the fierce opposition, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK (BGEA UK) said the eight-date tour has “torrents of support”, with over 1,800 churches across the UK engaging in some capacity.
“When Billy Graham made his first trip to the UK in 1954, many protested his visit, leaving Billy Graham to wonder if he would even be allowed off the ship after his transatlantic voyage,” it said.
“By the end of his time there, thousands had come to know Jesus Christ, and many today still share how God transformed their lives during those Crusades.”
The Newcastle Utilita Arena was the last of the seven previously confirmed venues to pull the plug on Wednesday. An eighth venue for the final stop in London on October 4 had not been decided.
Graham has denied that he is bringing a message of hate to the UK but only the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“When my father first came to Harringay, there was a petition circulated by many churches demanding that he not be allowed in the country. Throughout history, the Gospel has consistently faced opposition,” he said.
“Our world is filled with turmoil. People are searching for purpose, peace, and meaning to life, for which there is only one source—Jesus Christ.
“I’m coming to preach the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the only way to salvation.”
Graham’s tour has divided opinion even among evangelicals. Paul Eddy, vicar of St Denys Church, Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire, has accused Graham of failing to listen to local Christians in the UK.
Evangelist and blogger David Robertson has questioned the effectiveness of arena-sized evangelistic events within the UK context.
But many evangelicals have sounded the alarm over the threat to freedom of speech.
In a statement responding to the cancellation of all seven venues, the Free Church of Scotland called on the UK to honour its obligations to protect free speech as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
“It seems that the spirit of the UDHR is not so universal after all. Strangely, free speech is now unwelcome in our 21st century context,” the Free Church said.
“A declaration meant to bind all peoples in shared values and common aspirations is set aside. So, we must conclude that only some speech is free and only certain religious views may be freely held.”
It continued: “The Free Church of Scotland affirms its support of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We affirm these rights and condemn the cancellations not because Franklin Graham is preaching the Christian message but because these freedoms are fundamental to a free society and a free people.
“We affirm George Orwell’s assertion, ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ Let us resolve to honour our national commitment to these universal human rights regardless of who is speaking or which particular religion is being commended.”
Stephen Kneale, pastor at Oldham Bethel Church, an FIEC church in the Greater Manchester area, raised similar concerns.
“If we value our right to speak, and if we think free speech matters, we should be bothered about this case,” he wrote on his blog, Building Jerusalem.
“I would be saying the same if this were an event by the local Satanic Society. We cannot call for things to be cancelled just because we don’t like them.
“That way lies nothing but bland utterances of culturally acceptable orthodoxy.
“It will kill debate and discussion, ending free speech in reality. Whatever your particular views on the things Franklin Graham says, we should all fight tooth and nail for his right to say them. That is the only ground on which we can guarantee our right to say anything back, should we so wish.”