Evangelist Franklin Graham scrambles to rebook tour after all U.K. venues cancel

All 8 of the locations the controversial American pastor reserved for an upcoming tour of the country backed out over his anti-LGBTQ track record.
By Tim Fitzsimons

Evangelical preacher Franklin Graham is scrambling to find new venues in the United Kingdom after all eight of the locations he reserved for an upcoming tour of the country backed out over the controversial American pastor’s stances on LGBTQ issues.

ACC Liverpool, an arena northeast of England, was one of the eight venues to cancel Graham’s tour stop, noting it had been made aware of a “number of statements which we consider to be incompatible with our values.”

“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. We have informed the organizers of the event that the booking will no longer be fulfilled,” ACC Liverpool told the Guardian.

President Donald Trump and Franklin Graham attend ceremonies in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda as the remains of the late Rev. Billy Graham lie in honor on Feb. 28, 2018.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

“This attack on me is an attack on religious freedom and freedom of speech,” Graham said in an interview with Religion News Service. “For any Christian group that wants to rent a venue that believes the Bible is the word of God, they’re in danger of being canceled.”

Graham promised to file lawsuits against seven of the eight venues for allegedly breaching signed contracts. He also vowed to find new venues for his Graham Tour, which originally was set to start in late May and include eight events in eight British cities.

“It is said by some that I am coming to the UK to bring hateful speech to your community. This is just not true,” Graham wrote on Facebook in late January after the first few venues canceled. “The rub, I think, comes in whether God defines homosexuality as sin. The answer is yes.”

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A petition started by advocacy group Northern Pride that called for ending Graham's U.K. tour garnered nearly 6,000 signatures as of Friday.

"The controversial speaker has publicly promoted homophobia, claiming that homosexuality is a 'sin,' that Satan was the architect of same-sex marriage and LGBT+ rights and that gay people are causing a 'moral 9/11,'" the petition states.

When Graham was due to visit the U.K. in 2018, a petition calling on the British government to deny him a visa, citing his "hate speech against minorities," garnered over 8,000 signatures.

In an interview with Premiere Christian News that was posted to YouTube on Friday, Graham said, “I would certainly apologize to anyone who feels that I am against them, or hates them. People who use these words like homophobic or Islamophobic — I'm not sure what those terms even are.”

Faizan, co-founder of the queer Muslim support group Imaan, said his organization "would be happy to explain what those terms mean, because we've had long experience in both of these forms of hate.”

“It's entirely right that bigotry is stopped in its tracks as it appears to have been on his failed U.K. tour,” Faizan, who requested his last name not be published due to safety concerns, told NBC News.

While his father, evangelist Billy Graham, was warmly welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1955, Franklin has earned a reputation in the U.S. and abroad for controversial remarks against gays and Muslims.

In 2010, Graham, now a close ally of President Donald Trump, said former president Barack Obama was “born a Muslim,” echoing the racist “birther” conspiracy theory that the first black president was born somewhere outside the United States and was lying about his religion.

Following the 2017 repeal of North Carolina’s transgender "bathroom bill," which banned trans people from using restrooms matching their gender identity, Graham tweeted, “Thanks to the gov, people of NC will be exposed to pedophiles & sexually perverted men in women’s public restrooms.”

And just last year, Graham denounced the sexuality of presidential contender Pete Buttigieg, saying the Bible defines homosexuality as “something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.”

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The Associated Press contributed.