Why Billy Graham’s son is an Evangelistic Liability

It’s all over Canadian news: Franklin Graham isn’t being welcomed to evangelize Vancouver. And not just by some fringe folks who like to raise a stink whenever religious people dare speak publicly about Jesus. No, it’s actually Christians who are opposing Franklin Graham as the evangelism headliner.

And this is important to note: this is not some form of persecution. Rather, this is internal opposition, voiced by Christians themselves, ringing across the spectrum of evangelical, mainline and Catholic churches. And a mighty impressive group at that, with leaders representing over half of metro Vancouver’s Christians not often caught hand-holding in public.

Now why would they do that? Well, the simple, stated reasons are that Franklin’s public statements about Islam, the LGBTQ community, the election, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, among other things, has compromised his ability to speak authentically about the good news of our crucified and risen Messiah. Church leadership is worried that his political alignments will detract from our central message, even though he says he wouldn’t be making any political statements during his time in Vancouver. He’s become too aligned with worldly powers of our day to effectively witness to the One who died at the hands of the religious and political powers in his.

As the pastor of a local church far away from Vancouver, I am sympathetic to the opposition. Without attempting to argue about what Franklin Graham did or did not say, the fact remains that he has become more known as of late for his political statements than the good news message. Somewhere along the way, he chose to make headlines with messages other than the central truth of Jesus’ love for the world and his death to make things right.  

The great apostle Paul, even when given ample opportunity to do otherwise, kept the good news of Jesus central to his life and mission. He chose not to critique nor align with the political powers of his day, even when it may have been favourable to do so. When visiting Athens, Paul spoke respectfully and knowledgeably about their religious practices and texts, not because he did not think them wrong but because he knew overt criticism would bear no gospel fruit. You can’t win people over by smacking them around. In order to win them, he needed to keep the lines of communication open. And when he was done sharing about Jesus and the resurrection, some laughed at him but others wanted to hear more. Imagine if he’d decided to take his 5 minute opportunity to tell them what a disaster their religion was to Roman society. And while there will be times when we must speak truth to power, we must never lose our central, good news message of Jesus in the process.

Tasked with the responsibility of equipping local bands of Christians to represent Jesus in their lives and words, Christian pastors and leaders want to support events and speakers who will keep the main thing, the main thing–or more accurately, the Main Person, the Main Person. And whether he intended to or not, Franklin is now known less as a spokesman for Jesus and more of a mouthpiece of hate. Fair? Maybe, maybe not. But as a local pastor doing everything he can to make the gospel offensive only where it truly is offensive (the fact that we are sinners and need Jesus to save us), I would hate to bring someone in who would further ostracize some of the very people we are trying to win over with love.

In some ways, this isn’t even about parsing through the things Graham said, as I’m sure you’d find Christians opposed to his Vancouver gig who privately agree with at least some of his sentiments. Instead, this is a practical decision. Do you want to support an event with a speaker who will help people hear the good news of Jesus without extra distraction, or a speaker who could potentially alienate people from hearing the good news at all? And when put that way, I think the decision, though painful, is clear.  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association should send someone else in Franklin Graham’s place, someone who has stayed closer to his father and their founder’s vision to preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2 ESV).

14 thoughts on “Why Billy Graham’s son is an Evangelistic Liability”

  1. Thanks Tom. I have been following this (from a distance) with interest for a while and read a number of articles. Your words made so much sense. Also, I always wonder why we concede to the cult of celebrity when looking for a keynote speaker and why in Canada we always seem to have to find an American to lead the charge. Are there no Canadians to fill this kind of role (of course their are).

  2. sorry Tom for being so blunt but Are you not doing the same as Franklin when writing this post? You are talking about Franklin instead of Jesus in this post. Why react to his behaviour? I’m not understanding.

    1. That’s a great question, Val! I’m glad you asked. The reason I posted was because of many conversations I’ve been having and hearing that interpreted the opposition in Vancouver as either some form of persecution or a one-sided liberal agenda. I wanted to help interpret why, from my perspective, Christians of all stripes were opposing him as an evangelist. My goal was not to make this about him, but to help Christians think more clearly about these things, and relate that to our own daily witness.

  3. Yes, a very “sensitive” Preacher is needed after so much Religious persecution and with bombings and shootings, the Gay pride, the blacks targeted and so many Hate crimes everywhere. Jesus Loved them all and died for them all, and a very Gentle approach is a must now! I know that Franklin has been brought up watching his Bold and Fiery Preaching father and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is a bit Bold himself. I have been on both sides of the Extremes and now have found a “Balance”, not accepting watered-down compromising Teaching, But…. not accepting Arrogant, legalistic, pharaseeical Teaching either! The Boldness of calling Sin… Sin… has it’s place, but hurling it so the world and the Christians are so offended that they won’t listen to anymore of what Jesus taught is the wrong approach indeed…. your right there Tom! A Loving, gentle approach will go further with Franklin’s message of “Hope”….

  4. Hi Tom , We all have political points of view. I think those opposing Franklin are imposing their own political views. He stated that he wants to share the message of Jesus in Vancouver. Samaritans Purse( an organization he heads) is working throughout the world, including the Muslim world helping and feeding those in need. I pray Christians don’t boycott them also. I believe Franklin loves all people as Jesus does. I personally would love to hear him speak in Vancouver. As he stated below, He is not there to talk politics. (Franklin Graham) “I’m greatly looking forward to being in Vancouver to share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life… My message will be the … timeless message of God’s hope, love and redemption for all people regardless of ethnicity, age or gender identity – Christ died for all,” he 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.” Bless You Dave Wedge

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dave. I want to suggest that there are many within the BGEA or the larger evangelical community who could come and preach the good news in Vancouver, without all the political overtones. Maybe this will subside in time, but it seems that right now, he is too associated with one particular political agenda. It’s helpful to see that the Christians who are opposing him come from many different political and theological perspectives, from Baptist to Mennonite, Alliance, Anglican, etc, etc. It’s not just one side lobbing resistance to another, but a leadership concern that the good news message will be hampered by his appearance.

  5. I have to wonder if the good news message is more hampered by Franklin Graham’s political alignments or by the decidedly unloving spectacle of Christians lobbing grenades at each other in public for all the world to see. Now, not only can his detractors have more ammunition against him but they can point at all those other Christian leaders as well and wonder how much they love their own. If Graham is misguided then it is up to his brothers in Christ to gently bring him back in line and I doubt that would hit the headlines. http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/vancouver-christians-collide-over-televangelist-franklin-graham This is an interesting read. Would it be terrible of me to ask ( I am not comparing Graham to Paul) if the Apostle Paul would have been a welcome speaker? He wasn’t political but neither was he politically correct. He would have ruffled a lot of feathers. Just a thought.

    1. I think it’s all a tragedy, though I suppose you could argue that the public confrontation is a way of demonstrating the conviction of many Christians that Graham’s political convictions are not synonymous with all Christian convictions.

      As for your great question re: how welcome Paul would be today, I can only go on what we see in the book of Acts. Paul demonstrated great wisdom in being all he could be to as many people as he could. When he faced opposition, it was either stirred up by fellow Jews who rejected his message about the Messiah (most common), or it was stirred up by people who were being affected by the life change that the gospel was bringing to others (I’m thinking of the silversmiths in Ephesus). As I referenced in my post, Paul’s reception on Mars Hill seems to suggest that he was willing to publicly speak with wisdom and grace about the main thing (Jesus and the resurrection) while at the same time keeping private his own thoughts and convictions about the terribly idolatrous state of Athen (which provoked his heart deeply and motivated his mission, but was not the force of his message when he spoke).

      What do you think? Thanks for commenting, Arlene.

      1. I’m a little puzzled by the Mars Hill example. Is it possible Paul did not preach the same things that he wrote. He was calling people to repentance. From what was he telling them to repent? Everything that he wrote showed a man who did not shy away from the truth of God’s Word. The Greeks would have appreciated sound sound arguments and frank discussion…he reasoned with them but he also told them that idol worship was done in ignorance from which they needed to repent; that a judgement day was coming. That is not a soft delivery of the message.
        In Franklin Graham’s case he has come down hard on where he believes the USA has gone away from biblical principles but in an interview I read today he made it abundantly clear that his concern did not stretch to economic matters which were better left to the politicians. If what he says disagrees with biblical principles he should be dealt with in a biblical manner but I’m not sure that discussion has happened. If the matter under discussion is a matter of sin, is it okay for a Christian to decide it is okay to ‘keep private his own thoughts and convictions’? Do you really see Paul or Peter or even Jesus doing that in Scripture? They all said some very difficult things that caused a lot of people to turn away. Many of the people on Mars Hill just sneered at him for believing Jesus was raised from the dead.

        1. Good questions, Arlene. I do think what Paul wrote in his letters were specifically written to churches and what he said at Mars Hill (and a couple other short snippets we have of him speaking to other “pagans”) was addressing non-church “pagans” and that there were quite different. Yes, he called these Greeks to repentance and he did offer critique, of course, which some didn’t like but others were intrigued by — but he also didn’t even speak about the cross on Mars Hill, which is an interesting omission! I think he tailored his message, lead by the Spirit, so that he could have further conversation. As far as Graham goes, I don’t really know what Christians who are close to him have or have not said to him. Obviously, many Christians agree fully with not only what he has said, but how he has said it. We can speak difficult things, for sure, though as leaders we have to think carefully about the ways these things can be used helpfully or not, in the service of the gospel or not.

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