Demonizing Franklin Graham: There are strange holes in Vancouver Sun's crusade story

Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, has always been known as somewhat of an iconoclast, but the introduction he got in a recent article in the Vancouver (BC) Sun may as well have put horns atop his head.

The article, which comes with an unattractive photo of a heavenward-gazing Graham with one upraised forefinger cocked like a demented schoolmaster, seems bent on portraying the evangelist as an addled nitwit.

And that’s just the photo. Get a load of the intro:

Metro Vancouver Christians are colliding over the coming crusade of televangelist Franklin Graham, who is known for criticizing homosexuals, Muslims and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Saying that Graham is often “incendiary and intolerant,” some evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics are opposing his participation in the three-day Festival of Hope event at Rogers Arena in early March, 2017, that many of the city’s mega-churches are supporting .
“Rev. Graham is a polarizing figure. … His ungracious and bigoted remarks have the potential to generate serious negative impact on the Christian witness in Vancouver,” says a statement from five prominent evangelical and Catholic leaders (see full letter at bottom).
“We … denounce the frequent incendiary and intolerant statements made by Rev. Graham, which he unapologetically reiterates,” said the letter, signed by Marjeta Bobnar of the Catholic archdiocese, City in Focus president Tom Cooper, Tenth Church pastor Ken Shigematsu, Calvary Baptist pastor Tim Dickau and First Baptist pastor Tim Kuepfer.

Yes, this includes the local Catholic archdiocese with 400,000 adherents, but the other signatories only represent four churches. With 2.1 million residents, there’s probably quite a few other churches in Vancouver.

What’s also intriguing is that the letter was dated June 16. The article ran Aug. 18. Why did it take two months for the Sun to report on this? Clearly there are valid stories here to be covered. The issue is whether is interested in listening to Graham's supporters, as well as his critics. Oh, and how is the newspaper defining the crucial term "evangelicals"?

Later on in the report, the Sun listed seven ethnically-mixed congregations that support the crusade, but then said the following:

Earning more than $1 million a year as an evangelist and head of the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Graham led a crusade in Toronto in 2014 that was attended by 40,000 people of diverse ethnic origins.
After the Toronto event, Samaritan’s Purse terminated a Canadian volunteer because she refused to sign a standard statement opposing abortion and homosexual marriage.

I don’t have issues with reporting on controversy surrounding Graham’s appearance but I do have problems with stacking the deck. Was it necessary to add what Graham’s salary is? As for the above-mentioned Canadian volunteer, why would the crusade fire her after the event? Wouldn’t her duties be over, anyway?

And if the man is such a monster, why was he chosen to speak there in the first place? I looked up the opening event for the crusade last March  and noticed that the main speaker (Billy Graham’s grandson Will) and the worship leader (Jon Neufeld of Portland, Ore.) were both Americans. Weren’t there any decent worship leaders or speakers from the Vancouver area?

Or maybe Franklin Graham was chosen by Canadians who were quite familiar with his controversial remarks, but figured he’d definitely draw a more of a crowd than a tamer speaker? There are key sources there to interview.

Notice this interesting tidbit:

While the opposition statement was signed by Catholic ecumenical relations official Bobnar, Paul Schratz confirmed the archdiocese also formally declined an invitation to take part in the Festival of Hope.
“Initially we were supportive of next year’s event, since it was intended to draw a large number of people to hear the gospel and grow closer to Jesus,” said Schratz, spokesman for the archdiocese, which includes more than 400,000 Catholics.
‘We had second thoughts about participating when we noted that American evangelicals … were criticizing Mr. Franklin for … stances that didn’t promote religious tolerance,’ says Paul Schratz of the Catholic archdiocese.
“While we obviously acknowledge Mr. Graham’s zeal in preaching the Gospel we had second thoughts about participating when we noted that American evangelicals, whom we were trying to work with on this event, were criticizing Mr. Franklin for various comments and stances that didn’t promote religious tolerance.”

I wish the writer had looked into the local Catholic opposition a bit more, as I find it odd that the archdiocesan spokesman was taking his marching orders from American evangelicals. What about American Catholics? And if you google “Franklin Graham crusades Catholics,” you get a bunch of links criticizing Franklin for compromising with Catholics, so he seemingly can’t win.

We’ve talked in the past at GetReligion about Graham coverage elsewhere and how he’s not the easiest character to accurately describe. He clearly wants to be different than his father and he’s come to terms with the fact that to preach the Gospel in the 21st century means being on a war footing. The Canadians knew this when they invited him.

I think a better story would have been about the ferment these defections must be causing among the organizing committee for the crusade. To lose the local Catholics is a big deal. I’ve covered three Graham crusades and it’s no mystery who’s on that committee. 

No Catholics were on it, according to the crusade's web site, but Ken Shigematsu of Tenth Church in Vancouver, who was one of the five Protestant church leaders who broke ranks, is still listed as a co-leader for the organizational committee. What’s that all about? 

Clearly, a lot more is going on than meets the eye.

Reporters may personally not like Franklin Graham and the man is clearly no diplomat. But it’s our job to give everyone a fair hearing, whether we agree with them or not.

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