Franklin Graham is the son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham. His style is to preach a simple, old-fashioned Gospel message. He tells people, “Repent from your sin, put your faith in Jesus Christ, be born again.” It really is that simple.
Some people turn up their nose at simple Billy Graham-style evangelism. But they are wrong to do so because the legacy of his work is undeniable. You don’t have to go very far in Christian circles these days to find someone who was converted in a Billy Graham Crusade.
Franklin Graham is going to the U.K. this year to preach in eight cities, but he has been banned by the venues in those cities.
First it was Liverpool that banned Franklin Graham from the council-owned stadium. Then it was Sheffield, also the result of pressure from the Sheffield City Council. Then it was Glasgow, the result of pressure from the Glasgow City Council. Then Birmingham, then Cardiff, then Milton Keynes and Newcastle. The London venue never was confirmed.
Let’s dig into the excuses employed by these various authorities. First we can turn to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson. He tweeted: “Our city is a diverse city and proud of our LGBTQ+ community and always will be. We cannot allow hatred and intolerance to go unchallenged by anyone, including by religious groups or sects. It’s right we have banned from the M&S Arena Franklin Graham. #Love conquers hatred always.”
In other words, he is saying, we’re so diverse that we don’t permit religious diversity or thought diversity. We’re so tolerant that we are intolerant of mainstream Christianity.
George Orwell couldn’t have put it any better. The Liverpool Arena also claimed that the event would have had a divisive impact on the city, which is also odd because every opinion, particularly opinions about ultimate issues and ultimate meaning, is divisive. They’re very happy to divide with their opinion; they just didn’t like his opinion and the division that it would cause, so it had nothing to do with preventing division.
In Sheffield, Council Leader Julie Dore said, “All my life I have worked hard to fight discrimination”—even if that requires discriminating, it seems—“to make sure that we have an inclusive, tolerant and cohesive city that embraces diversity,” etc., etc., the same old bilge. Inclusive? You mean exclusive. Tolerant? No, you mean intolerant.
And people say, “But he’s discriminating.” No. It’s one thing to speak and to fight ideas with ideas. That’s not discrimination. Discrimination is the act of saying, “You’re not welcome here. We’re going to ban you. We’re going to shut you out. We’re going to stop you.”
It’s denying accommodation to someone. It’s shutting someone out of the venue. It’s killing off someone’s job. It’s substantive acts. That’s discrimination. People seem blind to the fact that there is a difference between these substantive acts of discrimination and the mere expression of ideas. It’s an important difference, because, in reality, people like Franklin Graham are expressing ideas, while their opposers are the ones actually discriminating.
The same reasons are employed right across the board. You’ve got Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens party; Glasgow City Council leader Sue Aitken; assembly member for Newport West Jayne Bryant; Newport City Council leader Jane Mudd. They are all spouting the same Orwellian nonsense.
But their words cover over the real issue. It’s got nothing to do with diversity. Why? Because diversity of thought is not allowed. Ideas are not being fought with ideas at all. They’re being fought with bans. It’s got nothing to do with tolerance except as a display of intolerance—by actual discrimination, not by merely expressing opinions. It has nothing to do with division. They’re quite happy to divide with their opinions and actions. They’re just not happy for him to divide with his opinions and actions. It’s got nothing to do with inclusion. I could go on.
These are Orwellian terms that are what they claim not to be. Rather, it has everything to do with something very simple: the fact that they hate the message itself. That’s why I started by saying he is going to speak a simple Gospel message. That’s what they’re banning.
Yes, it’s dressed up in all kinds of trendy excuses and modern terminology and politically correct language. But put that aside. Put the theory aside and the PR spin aside, and ask what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening is that this man will be prevented from standing up in front of thousands of people to declare to them that Jesus died under the penalty of their sins on the cross and seeks to save them. That’s all. The end.
I was impressed with Franklin Graham’s response to all of this because he made a simple point. He said that he was coming to the U.K. to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the message he will bring is a good message that is needed by everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or whatever attribute you want to pull out of the ether. It’s not against any individual person. It’s a message for all, that all need. He told the truth, and he absolutely stood by his convictions.
Can I suggest that in this changing age we need to do a lot more of that? For too long we have only argued for freedom of speech or freedom of religion or appealed to some general principle of a pluralistic democratic society. But those arguments are unconvincing to a society that believes what you’re saying is evil. We need to talk about the fact that this is a message that is good and needs to be said.
When you get down into the brass tacks of the specific details of free speech, often there’s no agreement. Freedom of speech to spread reputation-destroying lies on the internet? Some defamation lawyers will say, “Of course not.” Others will say yes. Freedom to deceive? Freedom to verbalize hatred? Freedom to protest in a very inconvenient way that ruins people’s days? Bring it down to its practical details, and nobody agrees.
What are we actually fighting for? We are fighting to say, “Freedom of speech needs to include what we’re saying because what we’re saying is good.” And this is one of those disagreements about what’s good.
Do we actually believe in the value of what we’re saying? Or do we need to resort to general principle arguments rather than fighting for the goodness of the message itself?
Is it true or is it not? Is it the greatest need of the human race or is it not? Is it the message that God craves people to hear or isn’t it? Does it carry the answer to every darkness and pain and grief and evil that the world has ever seen or not?
If the answer is yes, yes, yes and yes, it’s time we fought for it and showed the world that this is good and needs to be heard. It’s time we fought not just for freedom but for truth.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 that we should pray for Christians to live in peace. Why? Because God desires all people everywhere to come to a knowledge of the truth. That’s His goal. That’s God’s desire, that this truth would be known.
I used to think that this was a fight for freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and all that. But I’ve since realized that’s not completely true. More important, it’s actually a fight, nine times in ten, for the truth.
It is true beliefs and true statements that tend to be ruthlessly censored and shut down and canceled and stopped and attacked. Most often, it’s not people who argue that gender is a social construct who get into strife. It’s not people who argue for pansexuality that are banned and canceled. It’s not people who stoke conflicts through rampant feminism who get into trouble. It’s not people who abuse and vilify and attack Christianity that are frowned upon. Rather, it’s the truth that’s frowned upon.
And you know what? There’s no clearer statement of that than banning Franklin Graham from coming and preaching the Gospel. “Oh, it’s because of what he said about Trump. Oh, it’s because—”
No. Look at what they’re actually doing. They’re banning the Gospel message. This is a fight for truth, and unless we have confidence in the truth and we live and we speak as those who believe it with our whole hearts, then we will remain in this great debate about what is good and true and what should be free. And we will remain totally unconvincing. ©2020 Martyn Iles
This article is adapted from the podcast “The Truth of it.” Used by permission.
Martyn Iles is managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2018 BGEA