Franklin Graham isn't preaching in England for another nine months, but already he's getting trashed

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I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how one-sided some British newspapers can be, since we're talking about a land in which advocacy, partisan journalism is the norm.

However, I kind of thought that The Guardian was a cut above the rest. But their religion correspondent’s hatchet job on the Rev. Franklin Graham’s upcoming crusade in Blackpool is tabloid-level coverage –- at best.

Last March, I wrote about the alarmist coverage of Graham’s Vancouver, B.C., crusade where everyone from the mayor on down predicted an orgy of anti-gay and anti-Muslim violence would break out on city streets if the evangelist was allowed to speak. When nothing happened, Graham’s detractors vanished and a lot of media simply refused to cover the peaceful event that the crusade turned out to be.

I don’t know Graham and I’ve only interviewed him once in my life, but I do know he’s not one to back down once a coalition of Christian leaders has invited him to show up. Which is why I wonder if all the ruckus in the U.K. is simply grandstanding. Here’s how the piece by Harriet Sherwood began:

Opposition is mounting to a planned visit to the UK by a leading American conservative evangelical Christian who has made Islamophobic and anti-gay statements, with critics saying it will promote prejudice and damage interfaith relations.
Several MPs, including a government minister, have urged the home secretary to consider refusing UK entry to Franklin Graham, with some suggesting his comments contravene British laws on hate speech. A petition against Graham being granted a visa has gathered more than 4,600 signatures.
Nina Parker, the pastor of Liberty church in Blackpool and the organiser of the petition, said: “As a Christian and as a leader of a church that particularly welcomes LGBT people, I’m horrified that other local churches are inviting someone with this record of hate speech.” …
Graham, 65, the son of the evangelical preacher Billy Graham, is to be the main speaker at the Lancashire festival of hope at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens in September 2018.

Blackpool is a resort town on the Irish Sea coast of England that The Guardian has called the least healthy place in the country to live. The place is a cesspool of alcoholism, drug abuse and poverty.

One might think that religious leaders should be thanking Graham for wanting to show up in such a disaster of a place, but no; the reporter went on and on describing Graham’s cultural and religious sins.

The evangelist, who backed Donald Trump in last year’s US presidential election, has described Islam as “an evil and very wicked religion” and has equated the actions of extremist groups such as Isis with the faith.

This is news? The whole world has pretty much admitted that ISIS is medieval Islam on steroids. The reporter should read the Atlantic’s famous March 2015 article “What ISIS Really Wants” for a primer on that movement’s cultural and theological roots.

He claimed that Barack Obama was “born a Muslim” and had allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the US government at the highest levels during his presidency. He also said the Obama administration was pushing “a gay and lesbian agenda”, and he has spoken out against LGBT rights, saying Satan is behind same-sex marriage.

Just to comment on one of her points: The Obama administration was the most pro-LGBT administration in American history. Was this reporter around when the White House was illuminated in rainbow colors on the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges?

Then follows several quotes by three local politicians and two Anglican clergy opposed to Graham’s visit.

That's fine. Here is the journalism problem: The local Anglican bishop and Anglican clergy favoring (and sponsoring) Graham’s visit were not quoted. The reporter says she tried eliciting comment, but I’m skeptical of how hard she tried.

There was one canned comment by a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesperson, but that was all. For a reporter who used to be the newspaper’s Jerusalem correspondent and is supposedly used to getting both sides of tricky question, leaving out one side of the story is inexcusable. Were her sources so bad within the British evangelical community that she could not get one person to talk? Is that a comment on this newspaper's consistent patterns of coverage and perhaps bias?

I’m not privy to conversations in that community, but when you’ve got a reporter whose recent article include remarks about how dangerous active Christians are, I can see why some folks might not return her calls.

I do want to say that, in this era of newspapers cutting back on full-time religion reporters, I’m happy to find someone who’s out there covering the beat. But when you’re covering something like crusades by Franklin –- or Billy –- Graham that have been massively reported on by other journalists across the pond, at least do some basic reporting before dumping a load of agitprop into your lead sentence. 

Or at least give us some context. Some Norwegians were opposed to Graham speaking at a rally last month in Oslo, but did the evangelist talk politics or religious hate during his message? Apparently not

So why assume that what's called the Lancashire Festival of Hope will be an anti-gay, pro-Trump rally? You tell me.

Photos courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

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