Baptists in Puerto Rico have withdrawn support for a major rally led by Franklin Graham in San Juan this weekend, over the evangelist's endorsement of the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump.
Baptist News reported that the executive minister and the president of the Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico issued a statement saying that Graham's backing for Trump's policies is "for us contrary to the values of the Kingdom".
Executive Minister Roberto Dieppa-Báez and President Margarita Ramirez said in the statement written in Spanish: "The Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico historically affirms that our standard of faith and conduct is the Bible. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, God continually calls us to justice, to love, peace and mercy and, above all, to accompany the marginalized, foreigners, widows and orphans."
The statement said that Trump's immigration policies "attack the life of our neighbour, and Jesus has always called us to love even enemies and to be our brother's keeper".
The Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico directors have withdrawn their support for the event, which is being held at the same stadium where Graham's father, Billy Graham, preached to more than 175,000 people during the San Juan Global Mission in 1995.
The Baptist leaders said individual churches and pastors remain free to make up their own mind about whether to participate, but that they could not "for reasons of conscience".
Franklin Graham, who succeeded his father as CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 2002, has said that Trump's move to ban immigration, refugees and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was, for him, "not a Bible issue". He told the Huffington Post: "It's not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that's not a Bible issue...We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws...Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful."
The Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico is one of 34 regions affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, and the only one that is fully Hispanic. In 2011, the region numbered 112 churches with more than 25,000 members, the Baptist News reported.
The region's leaders said they do not intend to undermine the Festival of Hope but took their position in order "to affirm our testimony in favour of the poor, marginalized and foreigners, among others".
They continued: "Let us continue in prayer so that the gospel of Jesus can be proclaimed and lived in all our earth."
This is not the first time that Graham's controversially conservative views on issues such as homosexuality, Islam and immigration have caused church leaders to withdraw support for his events. Last autumn five pastors in Canada – incouding two Baptists – said publicly they would not be supporting Graham's March 2017 Festival of Hope crusade in Vancouver, saying he was a poor witness for the gospel.
As well as his role with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Graham runs Samaritan's Purse, an international relief agency.