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EXCLUSIVE... Franklin Graham: my apology to the LGBT community, why I'm taking legal action over cancellations and plans to make UK tour bigger

by Marcus Jones

US evangelist Franklin Graham has told Premier he won't let venue cancellations stop him preaching the good news to the UK this summer.

The preacher, son of the late great Billy Graham, is due to visit eight cities across the country but has been dealt a number of blows as all eight venues have cancelled, citing the division that his appearance would cause.

The concern is linked to previous comments Graham has made about homosexuality.

A number of LGBT groups have petitioned to encourage venues to cancel, while a number of bishops have opposed the visit.

Unrepentant, the 67 year old told Premier his views aren't different to most Christians.

"I believe the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "That's the Church of England's position. I think Her Majesty the Queen, that's her position and it's the position of the Church, pretty much worldwide. This is what the Bible teaches and that's what I believe."

Addressing the 'friendly fire' which has seen numerous church groups speak out against him and those who traditionally would have supported his visit - such as the Evangelical Alliance and the Archbishop of Canterbury - refusing to give their public support, he said: "That's certainly their right to do that. But at the same time, by telling people not to come, sometimes that encourages people to come and I hope that's the case."

Graham has questioned the appetite of the Church of England for evangelism.

"I think there's a number of churches that feel that proclamation evangelism, like what we do, like my father did is old school, old fashioned and it doesn't work in today's culture.  

"I'm here to say it does work if it's done correctly with churches praying. God will use this. Peter stood up on Pentecost and preached and 3000 were added to the church in one day, Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and preached and people were saved. God uses all forms of evangelism."

LGBT groups have spoken about their hurt about comments made by Graham.

Media reports suggest he's said that homosexuality leads to the "flames of hell" and that gay people are led by the enemy.

While Graham says not all reports are accurate he wants to say sorry to those who feel hurt. 

"I don't know what they've heard or what they've experienced but I would certainly apologise 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. But I would certainly apologise if there was someone who's afraid or hurt because of something that they think I have said. I'm here to say that God loves you. God is willing to forgive sin. If we will repent and believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, we will be forgiven."

The evangelist says the tour will go ahead regardless of cancellations and he's even looking at bigger venues than those originally booked.

"There are other venues. It's a little bit of a headache. We've certainly talked to other venues and many of them have indicated it wouldn't be an issue with them. Some of the venues that we will probably book will be actually larger venues than we had previously. Give it a few more weeks and we should be in a position to name those venues."

Graham's also suggested that he's looking to bring legal action against the venues, not just for himself but for UK Christians who could also see their freedom of speech under threat.

"This is a religious freedom issue and it's also a free speech issue. It doesn't just affect me. There are churches that meet in public arenas for Sunday services; schools and so forth. If a small group of people can force a cancellation of an event where thousands of Christians are participating, I think there is no question about the danger in the future to others.

"We did have a contract signed with these venues and they have breached that contract. I haven't broken any laws and I'm not guilty of anything. We just have to look at what our options are but even though we can assign other venues, which we will do, I'm thinking of the church in the future."

A number of groups, supporters and critics of Graham have raised concern over the threat to freedom of speech.

Graham told Premier this is an issue all Christians should be invested in.

"We are at a pivotal moment as it comes to free speech - and free speech, remember, is for all of us. It's one of our most cherished freedoms, so I would certainly encourage people to push back and to guard and protect your right to free speech and then also for our religious beliefs. I hold firm to my religious beliefs and to be discriminated against because of those religious beliefs - we need to be very careful and protect what we can."

Franklin Graham is set to begin in his tour in Glasgow in May and finish in London in October.

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