Compared to Franklin Graham’s evangelistic rallies in far-off countries, his upcoming event in Vancouver is relatively close to home. But the diverse, mostly secular Canadian city is culturally a world away from the Bible Belt.
That’s partly why a group of fellow evangelicals has joined local Christian leaders asking him not to speak at the Festival of Hope, a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association event scheduled to take place next week in the Vancouver Canucks’ arena.
For months, a group of Vancouver pastors have raised concerns about Graham’s “contentious and confrontational political and social rhetoric,” particularly his characterizations of the LGBT community, Muslims, and immigrants.
Context matters for evangelism, and they worry that a figure who has made such controversial remarks won’t be a good fit to share the Good News with the more progressive people of Vancouver. Especially not right now.
“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 … should be the exemplar that impresses itself on these new believers,” wrote four evangelical pastors and a Catholic leader who were invited to endorse the March 3–5 event, but opposed Graham’s place as keynote speaker.
The latest statement against Graham’s appearance was released Friday afternoon and signed by leaders representing 60 percent of Vancouver’s Christians. Pastors from Baptist, Reformed, Foursquare, Vineyard, and nondenominational churches signed the letter, along with representatives from Catholic and mainline churches.
“Hopefully it will differentiate the mainstream Christian vision from what Franklin Graham has said,” Tim Dickau, senior pastor at Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, told CT. “We’re not opposed to the festival. But it’s important to distinguish that, ‘No, we disagree with these aspects of his statements.’”
President Donald Trump’s election in the United States has put Canadian evangelicals in a sensitive spot. Evangelicals make up only about 10 percent of Canada’s population, compared to 25 percent in the US, and number even fewer in Vancouver. Trump’s perceived association with evangelicals has only made their reputation worse among the people they seek to reach.
“There’s a real sense of conflating Trump with evangelicals,” which doesn’t go over well in liberal Vancouver, said Ken Shigematsu, pastor of Tenth Church, one of the largest and most diverse congregations in Canada.
And while Graham did not endorse Trump, he prayed at his inauguration, appeared alongside the president during his victory tour, and has championed his recent policies.
Shigematsu was a sponsor of the Festival of Hope, and knows its organizers through his mentor Leighton Ford, Billy Graham’s brother-in-law and a Toronto-born evangelist. But the Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor ultimately decided to withdraw his involvement from the event. Shigematsu said Franklin Graham’s political positions, particularly on refugees and immigrants, were “at odds with our church’s vision and ethos.”
About 1 in 4 evangelicals in Canada today are immigrants, a demographic credited with recent church growth in the country, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). The Vancouver Sunreported that “Graham’s crusade runs the danger of dividing the city’s ethnically diverse Christian population of roughly 850,000, since it continues to be actively promoted, including on bus ads, by dozens of prominent evangelical clergy.”