Several British pastors and politicians are voicing concerns about a controversial American evangelist’s plans to preach in the U.K. next year.
Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelical pastor who has made blatantly homophobic and Islamophobic statements in the past, is scheduled to headline the Lancashire Festival of Hope in Blackpool in September 2018. Graham’s three-day event — similar to the “crusades” once led by his famous father, Billy Graham — is reportedly taking place with the blessing of more than 300 church leaders and members in England.
But not all residents of the area are enthused about Graham coming to town. Some have urged the U.K.’s home secretary Amber Rudd to ban the preacher from entering the country altogether, the Guardian reports.
Nina Parker, the pastor of a church in Blackpool, told HuffPost in an email that she’s worried that Graham’s visit could embolden those who are prejudiced toward Muslims and queer people to express that hate.
“It will give oxygen to those who hate as they will be aware of hatred being expressed by a man of high status in the Church,” Parker wrote to HuffPost. “It will portray a Trump style, hard line, hate filled version of Christianity devoid of understanding of and acceptance of ordinary people. It will destroy the reputation of Christianity in this region as it will be assumed that this man speaks for all. It will bring Christians into disrepute.”
Parker has more than 6,000 signatures to an online petition asking the home secretary to stop Graham from coming to the U.K.
Paul Maynard, Cat Smith and Gordon Marsden, three members of Parliament from the region, have also called on Rudd to consider banning Graham, according to BBC Radio Lancashire.
In an interview with the station in November, Marsden said he’d heard from his constituents, including faith leaders, who told him they were worried about Graham’s visit. Marsden said he’s concerned that Graham could violate the U.K.’s laws against hate speech, given his troubling prior statements.
“Personally, as a Christian, I have my own views on people who claim the authority of God and Jesus and then advocate attitudes which appear to be poles apart from what we’re told about in the Gospel,” Marsden said, “but as a member of Parliament — and I have to represent people of all faiths — I have to be concerned about where extreme fundamentalism and where speech or opinions that might stir up hatred against groups of people goes.”
“I think frankly the evidence is piling up that his visit to the U.K., and certainly to Blackpool and Lancashire, would not be a good thing and not probably, in my view, a very a Christian thing.”
Two Anglican priests in the Blackpool area, The Rev. Canon Andrew Sage and The Rev. Tracy Charnock, have condemned Graham’s rhetoric. In an open letter, they urged their bishop to speak up and distance the local Church of England diocese from Graham.
“How else shall we be able to look our Muslim brothers and sisters in the eye?” they wrote in the letter.
Graham, a vocal ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, has claimed in the past that Islam is an “evil and wicked religion” and has repeatedly equated the terrorist group known as the Islamic State with the religion followed by 1.6 billion people around the world. Graham proposed a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. in July 2015, months before Trump did the same.
Graham has also suggested that allowing LGBTQ people into churches or Christian homes is allowing the “enemy,” or Satan, to “devour our homes.” Graham praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 for protecting Russian children from the “damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
Graham is the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a missions-driven Christian nonprofit founded by his father. Through the BGEA, Graham has teamed up with local churches to hold “festivals” throughout the world to convert people to Christianity and engage local Christian communities.
A representative for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Graham’s Blackpool festival or respond to questions about his rhetoric on Muslims and queer people.
Instead, the representative told HuffPost that the festival “will be a positive and encouraging event with music and a message from Franklin Graham about the hope that can be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Graham is also the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization that provides aid to victims of war, disease and disaster around the world, including in Muslim-majority countries like Iraq.
The pastor has maintained a close relationship with Trump, and was among several faith leaders chosen to read Bible passages at the presidential inauguration in January.
Graham’s political views have created controversies for his festivals in the past. Before a festival in Vancouver in February, more than 30 Canadian Christian leaders issued a letter publicly criticizing Graham for making “disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and LGBTQ+ community.” Vancouver’s mayor also asked him to stay away.
In response to the letter, Graham said Muslims and queer people were welcome to attend, and added that he was thankful the controversy would help “get the word out” and boost attendance. In the end, the BGEA of Canada claimed more than 34,000 people attended the festival.