Franklin Graham’s God Loves You Tour has traveled a long road in the U.K.—in more ways than one. The Tour was originally scheduled to take place in seven cities in May and June 2020, with an eighth stop to follow in October. But about four months before the Tour was to begin, the venues—bowing to pressure from LGBTQ activists—began to fall like dominoes.
Over the span of 11 days, venues in the initial seven cities all backed out of signed contracts: Liverpool canceled on Jan. 25; Glasgow on Jan. 29; Sheffield, Birmingham and Milton Keynes all canceled on Jan. 30; Cardiff/Newport on Jan. 31; Newcastle on Feb. 4.
BGEA explored alternate venues in each city. But with news and social media full of stories about the cancellations—as well as accusations of hateful preaching—no suitable venues were willing to step up and host a Tour event.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up around the world. By mid-March, a number of large U.K. sporting events were postponed, most U.K. schools shut down, and on March 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown.
The lockdowns would have been a perfect excuse for BGEA and the hundreds of participating churches to simply give in and cancel the Tour. But there was much more at stake than seven arena events.
“There was a very clear sense that we had to stand up and say no, this isn’t acceptable,” said BGEA General Counsel Justin Arnot. “If we didn’t, the opposition would be emboldened, and other venues and vendors would think that this kind of action is OK. This wasn’t just about Franklin Graham and BGEA; this was about the larger question of whether free speech is valued by our culture.
“And for us at BGEA, it was sort of an existential issue: If we are an organization that proclaims the Gospel publicly, and if opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in the public square are in jeopardy, that’s a real threat.”
After the furor died down but with COVID restrictions still looming, BGEA began new discussions with the venues that had broken their contracts. The ministry’s position was eventually bolstered by a court ruling that stemmed from a Franklin Graham Festival in Blackpool, England, in 2018. Leading up to that Festival, the Blackpool Borough Council and its public transportation company removed Festival ads from buses after receiving complaints about Franklin’s Biblical views on marriage and sexuality.
Festival organizers sued, and a judge ruled “overwhelmingly in favor” of the Festival, adding that the Blackpool Council and its bus company “had a wholesale disregard for the right to freedom of expression possessed by the [Festival]. It gave a preference to the rights and opinions of one part of the community without having any regard for the rights of the [Festival] or those who shared its religious beliefs.”
One by one, most of the God Loves You Tour venues have come back on board. Liverpool, Sheffield and Cardiff/Newport events were finally held in May 2022. And last October, a judge in Scotland issued a strongly worded ruling that Franklin Graham and BGEA were unlawfully discriminated against when the Glasgow venue canceled that Tour event.
“The law cannot endorse an outcome whereby a mainstream Christian religious gathering cannot be held because some members of the community, however vehemently, disagree with religiously based beliefs to which they take objection,” the judge said. “Such objectors in a democratic society undoubtedly have a right to freedom of expression and of assembly to protest against others’ religious views. What they do not have is a right to silence them or to stop religious assemblies from being held.”
Following that ruling, BGEA and the venue reached an amicable settlement regarding costs, and a Glasgow event is now scheduled for June 2024. Discussions with two other venues are continuing.
Christians in the U.K. have expressed gratefulness that BGEA had the courage and resources to pursue a legal remedy after the cancellations.
“I loved the fact that Franklin Graham said they weren’t going to back down,” said Ayo Ogunnubi, pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Milton Keynes, England. “And I love the fact that BGEA was still able to dialog with the venues, which eventually listened to their plea.
“When I saw the number of souls that were saved during the Tour events last May, I was thinking in my heart that these were the people Satan had wanted to remain in perpetual darkness. Thanks be to God Almighty who gave Christianity a voice in the U.K. through BGEA.
“The Word of Jesus is forever settled: ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). Jesus overcame for BGEA and Christianity in the U.K.” ©2023 BGEA
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
BGEA has produced a television program, Unsilenced, detailing the events surrounding the God Loves You Tour in the U.K. To stream the program, visit BillyGraham.org.
Photo: Ron Nickel/©2018 BGEA