The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is, quite possibly, the largest evangelism organization in the world.
They seek to teach the gospel and make Jesus known to everyone. Sound controversial? Not for Scotland, the “Land of the Book”.
However, over the past decade, things have changed dramatically in the UK’s religious climate.
In case you have missed the recent series of events, here’s a short recap: Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, has continued on Billy Graham’s Ministry after his death a couple of years ago. Franklin was scheduled to tour the UK and preach the gospel to people in numerous cities. However, all of the venues which previously had agreed to host him have since cancelled his speaking engagements there.
Each place cites Franklin’s beliefs as reason to not host him. He is known to hold very strong right-wing beliefs, including speaking out against LGBTQ issues, condemnation for Islam, and support for Donald Trump. The ACC Liverpool Venue said in a statement:
“In light of this we can no longer reconcile the balance between freedom of speech and the divisive impact this event is having in our city.” 1
There are several sides that one can take in this argument.
Some would say that it is a good thing because Franklin is known for being so outspoken and therefore should not represent the Christian faith here in the UK. Others would say that this is a horrible crime against free speech, and that the church should be afraid for our rights. However, I would like to present a third option: that this occurrence is beneficial because it could strengthen the church. Let us go back to the Bible.
1. The New Testament tells us that persecution is normal.
Jesus gets killed for speaking the truth about who he is. Peter and John get beaten for preaching the Gospel. Paul is jailed and shipwrecked and beaten. The early church considered it normal to be persecuted for the Gospel. In fact, James urges his fellow believers to take joy in all sufferings (James 1:2-4). Of course, the reason that believers can be thankful in all things is that Jesus has already overcome everything. Persecution is not in vain; rather, it is a way to bring God glory through devotion to him. To follow Jesus is a radical movement away from our own comfort.
2. Many parts of the world-wide Church which are growing the fastest are also facing the most persecution.
China and Iran are two of those places. In 1949, there were approximately four million Christians in China. Today, there are at least sixty million Christians there. 2
The Iranian church is growing at an incredible rate, despite having no central leadership. Largely led by women, the pockets of the church there are holding on to the Gospel despite its high price- life.
One believer shared, “We know that if they get us, the first thing they will do to us as a woman is rape us and then they will beat us and ultimately they will kill us. This is the decision we have made that we want to offer our bodies as sacrifices. Because I have this thought when I wake up, that when I leave, that door I might not come back.” 3
And yet, despite this (or perhaps because of it), the church there is growing astronomically.
True Gospel-centered belief is willing to lay down its life for Jesus. Have we lost that in the UK?
3. Occurrences like this help us decide what we believe about freedom of speech.
Do we truly believe that every voice deserves to be heard?
The church in the UK needs to decide this: Do we want the ability to teach and express what we believe in? And more importantly, do we believe that the gospel is worth fighting for?
If the church wants the right to say what it believes, it also must be willing to hear the opinions of those who disagree, who offend us and who contradict what we believe.
But as a nation, we need to decide: are we so against being offended that we will shut down the speech of anyone who disagrees with us?
All this being said, as Christians, our hope is not merely in a human. It is in salvation, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The rules around what the church is “allowed” to say can and will change. It has in the past, and it will in the future.
The Gospel, however, never changes.
Perhaps Franklin Graham’s banning will be a wake-up call to the church in the UK. Take up your cross, and follow me. 4
4 Matthew 16:24