Church and community leaders in Vancouver, British Columbia, are campaigning to stop the controversial Christian evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, from speaking to thousands of people at a two day festival in the city next week. Graham is scheduled to preach at the Festival of Hope from 3-5 March at one of the city's largest stadiums. But many of his past statements are causing concern. Graham has called on the United States "to use weapons of mass destruction if need be" and referred to Islam as "a very evil and a very wicked religion." He has also made disparaging remarks about homosexuals, and praised Russian President Vladmir Putin for his oppressive stance toward members of gay community.
"This is unusual for us to deal with in Vancouver - this kind of individual and this kind of hate rhetoric. "We live in a country that has free speech, but there's a difference between free speech and hate speech" said Councillor Tim Stevenson, who is also an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada.
Stevenson said the worry is that Graham will incite hate speech and that is particularly concerning in light of the recent attack at a Quebec mosque that left six dead. "The city has an issue of safety here and we're really concerned about it," he said.
On February 10, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson took part in meeting of 14 local church leaders from Anglican, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and other Christian groups.
A letter published below, has been signed by the Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver, Michael Miller, Vancouver-area Anglican Bishop Melissa Skelton; Jeremy Bell of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada; Garry Janzen of the Mennonite Church BC, Cari Copeman-Haynes of the BC Conference of the United Church; David Chow of Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church, Gordie Lagore of Vancouver East Vineyard Church, Daniel Louie of Urban Village Church and many others.
"We have no problem with someone coming to preach the gospel. But it can't be such a divisive figure that's so anti-Muslim, anti-gay, anti-black," said Tom Cooper, a minister and the president of the City in Focus Group.
A petition has also been launched calling for Franklin's removal.
Tim Stevenson pointed out if the situation was reversed, there would be an uproar. "If there was a fiery imam that came to Vancouver and held a rally with 30,000 Muslims and his rhetoric had been of the same nature -- the hatred toward Christians -- we know we'd have people tramping into city hall saying: 'What are you doing about this imam?'"
Frank King, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada who are organising the event, said: "With every Festival of Hope we do in every city around the world there's always going to be some opposition to what we're doing.. To even entertain any kind of thought of changing any event ... we simply would not do that."
The three-day event is meant to spread the message of Christianity and invites non-Christians to attend, he explained. "He'll be inviting people to become Christians at each of these events - that's his sole purpose for being here in Vancouver," said King.
See the petition here: www.change.org/p/no-thanks-franklin-graham/w?source_location=petition_show
An Open Letter Concerning Franklin Graham's Visit to Vancouver, Canada
We, the undersigned, represent a broad diversity of Christian churches, including evangelical congregations, and over 60% of the Christians in the metro area.
We are releasing the attached letter regarding Franklin Graham being the speaker for the Festival of Hope, after nine months of dialogue with the Festival of Hope committee.
Diversity of opinion is not a sign of disunity. It is a sign of health. We have learned from each other that unity is best achieved at the start of a journey together, before an irrevocable decision like the selection of a speaker has been made. Despite this diversity of opinion about Mr. Graham, we trust that many will find new life in Christ at the Festival of Hope over these next few days and that, irrespective of anything else, this city will experience the love of God in new and profound ways. We pray to that end.
We had planned to release the letter on February 21st, but agreed to hold it until today to give Mr Graham time to reply in writing. We received Mr Graham's reply last night (the 23rd). We are encouraged that he gave us a gracious response and has publicly pledged to avoid controversial topics while in Vancouver and to focus on the "simple Gospel."
However, Mr Graham has neither retracted nor sufficiently addressed the harmful statements to which we drew his attention, and which can be found here. Therefore, we are releasing our letter. We urge Mr. Graham to release the reply he sent us.
We want to make clear that our letter was not written at the request of the City of Vancouver. It was already in draft form when a few of us met with the Mayor earlier this month. The Mayor called that meeting because he wanted to share his concerns and to ask what the Christian community could do to diminish the potential risk of inciting violence that he and the Vancouver Police Department perceived.
We love and respect our sisters and brothers on the Festival of Hope Committee. We have worked together for many years and hope to do so for many years to come. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to clarify our concerns to the wider community, regarding our perspective on what brings honour to Jesus and on the Good News he asks us to share in word and deed.
We are eager to dialogue further with our sisters and brothers about their concerns and ours - and with Mr. Graham if he is so inclined.
Full letter text:
February 24th, 2017
To our Christian colleagues and our fellow Vancouverites,
As pastors and Christian leaders in greater Vancouver, we deeply believe in a Jesus who is "for" all human beings. He is so "for" us that he willingly died to teach us how we can have life to the fullest with him. We desire that all people hear his message of hope.
We are concerned that Franklin Graham, who is our brother in Christ, will be the keynote speaker at the Festival of Hope conference to be held here in March.
Our concern is that the contentious and confrontational political and social rhetoric that Mr. Graham has used has the potential to overshadow the message of Jesus and incite hostility in our highly charged social climate.
We wish to make clear that we value the work our sisters and brothers in Christ have done in organizing the Festival, which intends to celebrate and share the true message of Christianity: the Good News about Jesus of Nazareth. We pray that the Festival of Hope will be all that God wants it to be.
Jesus's life, sacrificial death, and resurrection ensure that justice will ultimately prevail in the world, that the universe will be restored to its full goodness and wellbeing, and that everyone may find in Jesus forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with the Creator who knows and loves each of us in our unique particularity.
Jesus inaugurated his ministry in and for the world by announcing, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:18-19).
Regrettably, Franklin Graham's public comments appear to compromise Jesus's mission of love and justice for all. He has made disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, while portraying the election, administration and policies of US President Donald Trump as intrinsically aligned with the Christian Church.
For instance, Franklin Graham has said that:
• All Muslims should be banned from the United States because Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion" at war with the Christian West;
• LGBTQ+ persons should not be allowed to enter churches or even enter as guests into Christian homes, because "the Enemy [Satan] wants to devour our homes";
• The outcome of the recent US presidential election was due to "the hand of God," giving the impression that the Christian church as an institution is partisanly aligned with an administration and its policies.
Such blending of politics and religion is dangerous. First, it comes close to aligning the power of the church with the power of the state. Second, it does so by seeming to develop a false religious narrative to support an exalted and troubling American nationalism. Third, it can divide Christians who do not view things the same way as Mr. Graham. Fourth, we are concerned that some of the policies of the Trump administration have introduced unprecedented structural shifts that put the most vulnerable in our world at risk of greater harm. These policies may jeopardize refugees and reinforce prejudice.
Some examples of the incendiary speech Mr. Graham often employs can be found at whatfrankgrahamsaid.wixsite.com/whatfrankgrahamsaid. Statements like these do not convey the spirit of Christ that we would hope to see preached by an ambassador of the Gospel to Canada.
Offering a Christian presence and witness in Vancouver is a lifelong task that belongs to all of us. Unfortunately it's one we may find more difficult if our fellow citizens are given the impression that such remarks are representative of Christianity.
Christians can legitimately disagree with one another on many issues of political and religious policy, and we do engage in ongoing conversation about these issues. Biblical ethics do not sort neatly into "conservative" and "progressive" circles, even less so among Canadian Christians than our American counterparts.
We have attempted to resolve this matter through dialogue with Festival organizers, who we had hoped would be open to inviting a speaker with a message that more clearly aligns with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful. So with heavy hearts we have taken this unusual, painful step to speak publicly about our differences.
We continue to respect Franklin's father, the prominent evangelist Billy Graham, and we appreciate the life-saving work that Franklin's international relief agency, Samaritan's Purse, does in some of the world's most challenged regions. It is not our intention to vilify the Festival's organizing committee. We simply believe it is a mistake to think Franklin Graham's political stances are immaterial to his presenting the Gospel. We want to continue to work with all our sisters and brothers in the faith, even in the wake of this controversy. We do not want disagreement on this one initiative to reverse the tide of cooperation that has been building for years now.
As followers of Jesus, then, we commit to:
1 Joyfully sharing Jesus's Gospel that calls us to serve and love our neighbours of differing ethnic or religious commitments;
2 Creating a society that includes people from every nation, in line with God's abiding passion for reconciliation;
3 Encouraging our elected leaders when they work for a just and peace-filled society that comes closer to God's vision of flourishing life, while challenging them when they enact policies that oppress others.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Most Reverend J Michael Miller, CSB, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver
The Rev Cari Copeman-Haynes, President-Elect, BC Conference of the United Church of Canada
The Rev Garry Janzen, Executive Minister, Mennonite Church British Columbia
The Rev Dr Laura Nelson, President of the Board of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada and Pastor of Olivet Baptist Church
The Right Reverend Melissa Skelton, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster
Pastor Randy Barnetson, Vancouver Foursquare Church
The Rev Dr Jeremy Bell, Executive Minister, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
The Rev Geoff Chapman, University Chapel
The Rev David Chow, Killarney Park Mennonite Brethren Church
The Rev Albert YS Chu, The Tapestry
The Rev Lydia Cruttwell, First United Mennonite Church
The Rev Geoffrey DeJager, Vancouver First Church of the Nazarene
The Rev Dr Darrell Johnson, Pastor and Professor
The Rev Dr Tim Dickau, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church
The Very Reverend Peter G Elliott, Rector of Christ Church Cathedral and Dean, Diocese of New Westminster
The Rev Mike Hsu and The Rev Mark Swanson, Grace Vancouver Church
The Rev Heather Joy James, Cambie Village Church
The Rev Matt Kitchener, Pastor, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada
Silas Krabbe, Community Theologian and Coordinator, Mosaic Church
The Rev Tim Kuepfer, Mennonite Church of BC
The Rev Gordie Lagore, Vancouver East Vineyard Church
The Rev Daniel Louie, Urban Village Church
The Rev Janina Mobach and The Rev Mary-Lee Bouma, Downtown Friends Christian Reformed Church
The Rev Dr Ted Ng and Diana Gee, Pastors, Faith Community Christian Church
The Rev. Jesse Pals, The Tapestry Marpole
The Ver Reverend Dr. Gary Paterson, St Andrew's Wesley United Church
Dr. Cam Roxburgh, astor of Southside Community Church
The Rev Dr Ken Shigematsu, Tenth Church
The Rev Trevor Vanderveen, First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver
Jonathan Bird, Executive Director, CityGate Leadership Forum
The Rev Dr Tom Cooper, President, City In Focus
Prof Ron Dart, Dept of Political Science/Philosophy/Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley
Dena Nicolai, Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer, Christian Reformed Churches of Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland
The Rev. Dr. Richard R. Topping, Principal, Vancouver School of Theology
 quoted by NBC Nightly News, November 16, 2001
See the petition here: www.change.org/p/no-thanks-franklin-graham/w?source_location=petition_show