'God Loves You'. 'Looking for Something More?'. They may not be the most outstanding advertising slogans you have ever heard, but apparently in modern Britain, these slogans now constitute "hate speech". At least they do if they are said by Franklin Graham. It seems we have reached a place where hate speech is no longer about what is said, but rather who says it.
The American evangelist is due to speak at a youth event in the Wirral and at the Liverpool exhibition centre on 14 May as part of his God Loves You UK tour. The invite says, "Join Franklin Graham as he shares a personal message of hope and enjoy an exciting evening of live music. This event is free of charge. Bring your friends and family!"
The sight of these slogans on the side of buses in Liverpool seems to have triggered the Metro Mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotherham, who wrote to the bus companies demanding that they remove the adverts.
He told Arriva, "To say that I'm angry that the views of a known hate preacher - who has an appalling track record of homophobic and Islamophobic views - are being displayed anywhere in our city region would be an understatement."
Apparently, Mr Graham is a "known hate preacher" because he is opposed to radical Islam and same-sex marriage.
We have been here before. In 2020, Franklin Graham's UK tour was cancelled because of similar concerns. He went to court and was successful. A few years ago, Blackpool City Council also lost a court case after they were sued for removing bus adverts for a Franklin Graham event. They had to apologise and make compensation to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In both these cases the judge noted that the councils were not behaving in a fair and appropriate manner for a civic authority.
Rotherham has clearly not learned that lesson. As a civic authority he thinks that he has the right to demand that private companies remove legal slogans, for a legal campaign – just because he does not like the person who is making them. It is not (yet) illegal in the UK to disagree with Islam, or to oppose same-sex marriage, although it is clear that Rotherham thinks it should be.
Notice also the disingenuity of Rotherham's argument. He tweeted; "No one should feel unsafe or uncomfortable using our public transport. Bus companies should prioritise the feelings of passengers – who pay their hard-earned money – over promoting the work of a hate preacher."
This would be an amusing silly tweet, if it were not for the chilling implications of it. The idea that someone feels "unsafe" seeing an advert that says 'God loves you' or 'Looking for Something More?' is as absurd as the notion that no bus company should put an advert which makes anyone feel 'uncomfortable'. That would put an end to all advertising!
But of course, Rotherham does not believe that this should apply to everyone. Personally, I find the mayor's views uncomfortable, and they certainly make me feel unsafe – he is after all seeking to ban people like me. But of course, I don't count, because I am a Christian.
And therein lies the rub. In his letter to Arriva, he argues that Liverpool is a "diverse and vibrant community of more than 1.6 million people". But in the Newspeak language of the new progressives, 'diverse' means 'the same'. Just as in this Brave New World, 'tolerance' actually means 'we will not tolerate those who disagree'; and 'equal' means 'there are some groups who are more equal than others'.
So, in this same letter the Metro Mayor expresses his support for Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson and Liverpool City Council in seeking to "develop an ethical charter to prevent events like these happening in the future". In the name of diversity, equality and tolerance, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool is seeking to ban Christian preachers who hold to the teaching of the Bible, from being able to meet in his city. That's the progressive view of tolerance and diversity!
There is one other disturbing factor. Why the rage? I can understand raging about the poverty in Liverpool, the drug abuse, the crime, the prostitution, the sexual abuse, the broken homes, the homelessness and the many other social problems facing the city. But to rage against a couple of slogans on a bus?
Jesus warned us about this kind of civic authority: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
One could argue that Rotherham is himself guilty of hate speech by seeking to stir up hatred towards Christians who do not share his social views. Unlike Franklin Graham, he is not willing to permit those who disagree with his views to have a public platform. In writing his letter to the bus companies, he is using his power to intimidate and bully, in order to silence those with whom he does not agree.
I suspect that Mr Rotherham's hatred of traditional Christian views, fuelled by his ignorance and prejudice, is only the beginning of what the Church can expect in the UK in the years to come, which is why the Gospel needs to be proclaimed more than ever. We have to work while it is still light – before the darkness deepens.
David Robertson runs The ASK Project in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at the Wee Flea.