LGBTQ+ campaigners want Franklin Graham's UK tour cancelled

Rev Franklin Graham

LGBTQ+ activists in Sheffield are trying to have Franklin Graham's upcoming UK tour cancelled. 

The eight-date tour gets underway in Glasgow on May 30 and will visit cities across mainly England, with one stop in Wales, before wrapping up at the 02 Arena in London on October 4. 

Graham, an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage and staunch supporter of Donald Trump, said he would be bringing the "same powerful message" to the UK as his father, the late evangelist Billy Graham, who visited the country on a number of occasions. 

But gay activists in Sheffield claim that he promotes homophobic views and are pushing for the cancellation of his tour date at the city's FlyDSA Arena on June 6. 

A letter signed by 22 members of the city's LGBTQ+ community has been sent to Sheffield City Trust, which runs the venue, saying that Graham should not be welcomed to the city. 

"Franklin Graham has repeatedly publicly promoted his homophobic beliefs, including but not limited to branding homosexuality a sin," they write, according to the Guardian. 

"We believe that these statements far exceed freedom of speech and are direct hate speech and incitement to violence against LGBTQ+ communities and individuals, which should not be welcomed in our city or anywhere else."

The trust has defended its decision to host Graham's Sheffield tour date on the grounds of free speech. 

David Grey, chairman of the trust, told the newspaper that he had met local faith groups and taken advice from South Yorkshire police over Graham's visit, and supported the "right to free speech and freedom of expression whilst promoting equality and freedom from hatred and abuse".

Last November, the Bishop of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox, said he could not support Graham's visit. 

"Mr Graham's rhetoric is repeatedly and unnecessarily inflammatory and in my opinion represents a risk to the social cohesion of our city," he said.

"I gladly took part in Billy Graham's Mission England in 1984 as a candidate for ordained ministry, and in his LiveLink Mission in 1989 as a curate.

"But to my sadness I detect a tailing off of humility and generosity in the Graham organisation since those days."

However, other Christians have been supportive.

The Bishop of Birkenhead, Keith Sinclair, was happy to commend the tour, saying he hoped to see many "experience a new birth in the Holy Spirit".

"I owe my own conversion to Christ in part to the Billy Graham Crusade in Earls Court London in 1966," he said.

"I have long admired and been blessed by the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The first week after my ordination as deacon in Birmingham in 1984, I was at Aston Villa for Mission England.

"I am thankful for the continuing evangelistic mission of the BGEA and want to commend the Graham Tour event at M&S Bank Arena [in Liverpool] on 12 June 2020.

"Many from churches across the Wirral and beyond may be bringing friends, as I was brought over fifty years ago.

"May many hear the saving news of God in Christ. May many come to receive and experience a new birth in the Holy Spirit."

Judah Cole, pastor of OpenWell Church in Liverpool, said he was excited to be partnering with Graham on the tour and "to see what God will do here".

"The year 2020 marks a huge shift in the UK. In a year of change we need the certainty that only God can provide," said Cole.

"Franklin Graham is going to bring a clear message of faith and peace as he points people to Jesus Christ, the source of true and lasting stability."