Evangelist Franklin Graham has said in a media interview that he’s surprised to see all the confirmed venues in the United Kingdom pulling out due to his views on homosexuality, even as his supporters have started an online petition calling it “bullying” and a “hate crime.”
“I have been surprised… I'm not coming to speak against anybody and I don’t name any groups of people,” Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, told Christian Today, based in the U.K., in an interview. “I’m coming to tell people how they can have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Graham plans to tour the U.K. with eight stops starting in May, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which he heads, says more than 1,800 churches across the United Kingdom are cooperating with it “to share the Gospel in multiple cities this spring.”
Currently, he and his team are searching for other venues after all the original locations canceled despite having signed contracts and received deposits.
What he's most concerned about is the stifling of free speech for churches.
"... If we don't stand up for the right to free speech and freedom of religion, there are lots of churches in this country that meet in public who are at risk," he told Christian Today. "They could be kicked out, they could be forced to go somewhere else, just because of their faith.
"We haven't broken any laws and I think it's important for the church that we resolve this matter so that it protects them," he said of possibly pursuing legal action.
This isn't the first time the evangelist met opposition from LGBT groups. In 2018, bus ads for his 2018 evangelistic festival were pulled following outcry from LGBT groups.
Graham believes that the need for preaching the Gospel in the U.K. is "greater than ever."
He wants people “to know that we are all sinners and our sins separate us from God.”
“And unless we confess our sins and repent, and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have no hope. The only hope that we have is through Christ,” he continued. “And so, I'm coming to tell the people of the U.K. how they can have a relationship with God through faith in His Son, and I want people to know what steps we have to take in order to have that relationship. I'm certainly not here to speak against anyone. I'm here to speak for everyone.”
However, he added, some people don’t want to hear that they are sinners. “They think that this is hateful and angry speech. It's not. In love, I want to warn people and tell them the steps they need to take to have a right relationship with God, and how they can be sure their sins are forgiven.”
Jesus, he continued, “is the only one to have paid the debt of sin.”
Graham recently wrote to the U.K.’s LGBTQ community, explaining his stand.
“It is said by some that I am coming to the UK to bring hateful speech to your community. This is just not true. I am coming to share the Gospel, which is the Good News that God loves the people of the UK, and that Jesus Christ came to this earth to save us from our sins,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“The rub, I think, comes in whether God defines homosexuality as sin. The answer is yes. But God goes even further than that, to say that we are all sinners—myself included. The Bible says that every human being is guilty of sin and in need of forgiveness and cleansing. The penalty of sin is spiritual death—separation from God for eternity.”
In the interview, Graham was also asked about his public support of President Donald Trump, another issue that has caused some to oppose the evangelist’s tour.
“I certainly don’t support the president in everything he says or does,” he explained. “I did not campaign for him and I’m not campaigning for him now. But if the president does something good for the American people, I certainly will try to support him the best I can.”
He pointed out that Trump stands for the right to life and defends religious freedom.
Meanwhile, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition on CitizenGo — launched by Voice for Justice UK, a Christian group that advocates the traditional view of marriage and sexuality — defending Graham’s tour of the U.K.
Graham “planned a four-month evangelistic tour of the UK, in hopes of sparking a Revival similar to that spearheaded by his father Billy Graham, in the 1950s,” reads the petition, calling “for Mr Graham’s bullying opponents to be investigated for hate crimes, and for Her Majesty’s Government to defend the right of Christians to practise and manifest their belief without intimidation or pressure.”
Graham also wrote a letter to his supporters earlier, urging prayers “that God will keep the doors open” for him to preach the Gospel in the U.K.
“For the last two years we have been preparing to go to the United Kingdom and take the Gospel to eight different cities starting in Scotland, going down to Wales, and finishing up in London,” he wrote. “As we move closer to these events in late May and June, we are experiencing opposition from LGBTQ activists who want to stop this Gospel work. This small but vocal minority is pressuring venues to back out of our contracts because I have said that God defines homosexuality as sin. Several venues have already told us that they are cancelling.”