A notable number of Christian leaders are protesting or boycotting an upcoming rally in Vancouver by U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham, due to his controversial, "abusive" public comments about various types of faiths and society groups. In defense, Graham points to Jesus' sometimes harsh words.
The Festival of Hope rally scheduled to be in Rogers Arena, which is expected to attract 25,000-plus people from March 3-5, has divided Vancouver's Christian population, reports Christian Today. The event is to be hosted by Leland Klassen and Jasmine Tate.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is in contact with Catholic, evangelical and other mainstream Protestant figures regarding concerns about Graham's visit after his provocative comments and perceived divisive rhetoric about Muslims, gay people, Democrats and atheists. As many as 14 Christian leaders attended a meeting about this issue on Feb. 10, including the Catholic Archbishop Michael Miller, Regent College academic dean Paul Spilsbury, Richard Topping, president of Vancouver School of Theology, Jonathan Bird, president of the evangelical organization City Gate Leadership Forum and Peter Elliot, Dean of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral. Others stated they wanted to remain anonymous.
Graham recently defended his judgmental rhetoric by pointing to Jesus' harsh words. He justified calling transgender people 'weirdos' by saying: "Jesus wasn't real loving sometimes. He called the Pharisees vipers, snakes, whitewashed tombs."
Some evangelical clergy, such as Norm Funk, Wayne Lo, Sandro DiSabatino, Daniel Chung, David Koop, Cheryl Koop, Darin Latham and Yani Lim reportedly continue to promote the rally event.
"The mayor is concerned about safety. The kind of statements Graham makes about Muslims and gays can really inflame the situation," said city councilor Tim Stevenson, who coordinated the meeting and is also the first openly homosexual person ordained by the United Church of Canada.
Similar privacy concerns relate to a petition circulating among clergy calling for the event's organizers to find a replacement for Graham.
"Franklin Graham's recent public comments compromise Jesus' mission of justice and love for all," the petition reads. "For instance, he 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.
"He dehumanizes the LGBTQ community, urging that gays not be allowed to enter churches or even come as guests into Christian homes."
Tim Kuepfer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Vancouver, and Tim Dickau, pastor of Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, joined three other local religious leaders in publicly declining a request by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that they endorse the Festival of Hope, reports Baptist News Global. The pastors said they "unreservedly oppose" the invitation to Franklin Graham, citing public comments by the evangelist they say are a poor witness for the gospel message.
"Given that the express goal of this event is evangelism, with the commitment of new believers to Christ, we do not believe that Rev. Graham, with his expressed broader belief system, should be the exemplar that impresses itself upon these new believers."
Some Canadian Christian leaders called Graham a polarizing figure, indicating he is "incendiary and intolerant."
Graham recently posted on his Facebook page that the NFL is trying to push homosexuality through a new pro same-sex ad. "In this ad they show two men kissing each other and two women kissing each other on the 'kiss cam.' They're trying to define sin as love and make it acceptable," he stated. "This generation is being bombarded with an upside-down version of truth and love. Don't fall for it. We have to love people enough to tell them the truth about sin and warn them of its consequences as defined by God, not man."
Regarding the Hope rally in March, Graham said he's looking forward to being in Vancouver to share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He claimed 327 churches of various denominations are supporting the Festival. "My message will be the simple Gospel message: a timeless message of God's hope, love and redemption for all people regardless of ethnicity, age or gender identity - Christ died for all. If anyone is searching for answers, wondering if their life has meaning and questioning if they are loved, I will have good news to share."
Graham also said "politics, policies, economics and commerce are significant matters, but for these three days we will come together in Vancouver to focus on the most important thing of all: God's love for each and every one of us."