Canadian Christianity has never experienced something like the divide under way over Franklin Graham’s preaching at Vancouver’s Festival of Hope March 3-5. Leaders from conservative evangelical churches, liberal Anglican, Catholic congregations and many more have posted a widely circulated public letter asking the world famous evangelist to step aside from preaching in Vancouver.
“We simply believe it is a mistake to think Franklin Graham’s political stances are immaterial to his presenting the Gospel” says a letter which claims to represent 60% of Christians in the metro area. Meanwhile, just as many other Christians are cheering Franklin Graham on, including a wide contingent of Vancouver’s ethnic churches, and will no doubt fill seats at all three nights of preaching and song at the Rogers Stadium.
It’s a great controversy, in fact, it’s super publicity for a healthy dialogue on what “the Gospel” means for Canadians. Rev. Franklin Graham follows the trailblazing steps of his father, Billy Graham, now 99 years of age, who preached to over 200 million people in 185 countries at huge stadium events, and those sermons are still in highlight reruns on weekly Canadian TV. Billy Graham was also politically connected and was called upon for personal counsel by every American President from Truman to George W. Bush. Occasionally, the elder Rev. Graham had to apologize when his political views strayed from the teachings of Jesus, and in the days when there was no Facebook page to emote on, press management of the conservative Rev. Graham was a much simpler thing.
Franklin Graham navigates the family pulpit in a vastly different way, he took the complicated work of being a global humanitarian and blended it with the power of a microphone for the Christian gospel. In January, Franklin Graham answered a plea from the World Health Organization for help in war torn Mosul, and opened an emergency clinic and figured out a way to care for both wounded civilians and ISIS fighters in the same facility. When the Ebola outbreak hit west Africa in 2014, Doctors without Borders handed over management of their overwhelmed clinics in Liberia and Monrovia to the Graham led charity, Samaritans Purse, for relief. Franklin Graham called his vast network of Christians to pray for Ebola to end, even as an ailing Samaritans Purse doctor, Kent Brantley, became the first person to use the experimental vaccine that eventually helped find the cure. I could go on to south Sudan, or Haiti where Franklin Graham led work has been the most trusted source to deliver United Nations food aid, but suffice it say, I think all these actions matter in evaluating Franklin Graham just as much as do his nasty statements about LGBT and Islam.
If we were perfect, we would not need Jesus. Therein lies the irony of watching a cowboy styled, gun slinging (Iiterally), President Donald Trump fan and advocate, step into the biggest pulpit in Canada for a Festival of Hope. If Franklin Graham is good enough for God’s hope, so am I. The views of the dissenting church leaders are completely valid, free speech in a world of God’s diversity is healthy, welcomed and since Christian community is to be marked by love, we should be able to be honest with our differences.
Rev. Franklin Graham and I are friends, we’ve been open with each other about the fissure in our approaches and if we had the time, I think we’d both quote Matthew 12:36 at each other; on judgement day, we will give account for every careless word we speak. For me, that’s how it works in the mystery of the larger story of God’s love for people. We live as a mess, all rather broken and reaching for something to get it right. Vancouver’s differences simply magnify the familiar ground of interpreting the gift of Jesus through our own lens of experiences and opinions. The wonder of it all is that God’s Holy Spirit will still be in the room, the press and the protest to draw people to Jesus.