It’s all got a bit animated in the UK evangelical church this last few weeks. The announcement that the venues booked to host Franklin Graham’s mission to the UK have all been cancelled due to his outspoken views. Some articles called this as a ‘seminal moment’ or a ‘watershed’ and will mark the decline of the Christian faith in the public square.
Church folk and UK evangelical leaders are incensed at what they see as the suppression of the gospel, it feeds into the narrative that British society is marginalising the church and the gospel. The fear is that Christians are not allowed to express their faith in what should be a Christian country. Many believe that freedom of speech is being curtailed, we should be able to say things that others don’t like.
The venues were not cancelled by the owners because Graham was preaching the gospel but it was because of his outspoken views on LGBT+ issues, and possibly the alignment he has made to Donald Trump. Graham is on record many times to describe homosexuality as a sin and that any marriage between same sex couples as wrong. He believes, like many other Christians that this view is biblical, and unfortunately has promoted this view to the centre ground and has made it gospel. Graham should have the freedom to say these unpopular things.
I don’t really want to go into the various biblical perspectives on homosexuality, suffice it to say that parts of the church believe it is wrong and parts of it do not. For most of the people that Graham is trying to reach it is probably a non-issue, the overwhelming majority of the British public think people should be allowed to live how they want, its only a relatively small minority that are still obsessing about who you sleep with!
The evangelical church outrage to this issue has conflated the core message of the gospel with issues of sex. LGBT+ is not a central theological issue, it is not the gospel, it is something that that the church has to grapple with and needs to find a response to modern society. Whether the church likes it or not, being gay is today a protected characteristic in law and same sex marriage is legal. The church needs to move on from its obsession with all things sex and concentrate on more important issues.
I think Franklin Graham needs to decide whether he is an evangelist, the heir to his father’s legacy, or whether he is a politician/social commentator. Graham has courted the media because he needs a media platform to do what he does. Media interest in him is critical if he is to fill stadiums with hungry seekers, so make controversial statements and the media will cover you. If you are going to make controversial statements on LGBT issues, which are highly offensive to members of these communities, then you shouldn’t be surprised that there is a backlash. If I owned a venue who had been booked to host the Graham crusade and this media storm was brewing, I too would cancel him, you can do without alienating your customer base.
This is not an assault on the gospel, it is a rejection of the language of intolerance, and probably commercial self interest of the venues! Graham is probably a pretty decent individual who has a heart for people, however some of his views are just not acceptable in contemporary society. In the wake of the national trauma of Brexit, we want messages to our fractured British society that articulate tolerance, love and healing, not division. My understanding of the message of Jesus is just that, its a pity Graham’s views dilutes and confuses the message of Jesus.