The US evangelist Franklin Graham has announced he will be touring the UK next year.
Liverpool, South Wales, Sheffield and London have been announced so far for the "God Loves You" tour which begins in May. These venues were among several - including Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham and Milton Keynes - which cancelled bookings for the tour last year after coming under pressure from campaigners and some religious leaders and politicians unhappy about Franklin Graham's traditional views on issues such as homosexuality and Islam.
At the time, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Pete Wilcox also joined the criticism saying: "Mr Graham's rhetoric is repeatedly and unnecessarily inflammatory and in my opinion represents a risk to the social cohesion of our city."
Disputing the claims at the time, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association issued a statement saying : "BGEA’s position remains that in nearly 70 years of public evangelistic outreach ministry, there is no evidence whatsoever that any event involving Franklin Graham has ever caused a danger to public safety or incited public disorder."
Following a legal claim by the BGEA against venues for breaking the terms of a contract, the dispute has been settled and the UK tour will go ahead in 2022.
Roger Chilvers, director of training and church ministry at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association UK, has been speaking to Premier.
"We are very pleased indeed," he said. "We planned to have a tour of this sort some while back but because of Covid etc we were not able to carry out that tour. So we're very pleased that we're now back on schedule. I'm looking forward to 2022. We haven't been able to reschedule some of the venues that we were hoping to go to but that's not off the agenda yet.
"They will be very large events in which Franklin Graham will be sharing with people and explaining what it means to be a Christian and what Jesus came to this earth for. But in addition to that, there'll be lots of music and fun and performance as well. So we're looking forward to that.
Legal action remains ongoing with a number of venues who cancelled Graham last year.
A spokesperson for BGEA said: “We are grateful to God for this renewed opportunity to proclaim the hope of Jesus Christ in the public square, and we remain open to a positive resolution for the cases involving other 2020 venues.
"Of course, the legal process takes time and those cases are still pending, but we remain confident in our position is the correct one. Christians and people of other faiths have every right to hold their events in these venues and express their beliefs publicly, even if they’re not popular.
"The message that we share is the same timeless message that Christians in the UK have been proclaiming for centuries, and this renewed tour opportunity is showing Christians they still have the freedom to share their religious beliefs publicly—they aren’t constrained to the walls of their church.”
Roger Chilvers says its time for the Church to step up against those who want to silence the Christians voice.
He said: "When you speak about Jesus and what Jesus came to do, that will always provoke controversy. There will always be people that object, always be people who don't like what we're doing. But it's part of the church's ministry to share what the Christian message is all about. So yes, we will probably face some difficulties from all sorts of quarters maybe. But the Church has always been under pressure and is under pressure these days, and it's not Franklin Graham or Billy Graham. It's the Church itself which is under pressure in these days.
"We're hoping that many people will come who are curious about Jesus. Franklin Graham will be explaining what the Gospel is all about and inviting people to respond to what Jesus did when he came to the Cross for us."
Franklin Graham is the son of the charismatic evangelical preacher Billy Graham, whose 12-week London "crusade" drew more than 2 million people in 1956.
Welcoming the announcemnt of the tour, he said: "We want all people to know that God loves them and everlasting life is available to anyone. This remains the purpose for every BGEA event, and it is why we have named the rescheduled tour the God Loves You Tour - UK."
More information can be found at www.GodLovesYouTour.org.uk