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Vancouver mayor asks Christian event to drop contentious pastor

Rev. Franklin Graham speaks during the Decision America Tour 2016 outside the State Capitol building in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.

Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has asked the organizers of a coming Christian festival to consider dropping headline speaker Rev. Franklin Graham, an evangelical pastor who has made controversial statements about Muslims, people of colour, and gays and lesbians.

Mr. Robertson, Councillor Tim Stevenson and several other city staff members met with Festival of Hope organizers at City Hall on Wednesday. They outlined their concerns over Mr. Graham, the son of revered evangelist Billy Graham, and suggested the festival consider replacing him for the free event, which is expected to draw thousands to Rogers Arena on March 3-5.

However, the festival is not expected to budge.

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The mayor is concerned about the "extraordinarily derogative" comments the pastor has made, especially after the attack on a Quebec City mosque last month that left six men dead and 19 others injured, Mr. Stevenson said.

"Why would they have invited this person in the first place, knowing that he's said these things about Muslims, knowing that he's said these things about the LGBTQ community?" said Mr. Stevenson, who in 1992 became the first openly gay person ordained in a Christian denomination in Canada.

"Why would they not invite a different evangelist, one that isn't controversial?"

In Facebook posts alone, Mr. Graham has decried the use of same-sex couples in advertisements as a "tide of moral decay," called Planned Parenthood "a Hitleristic organization," voiced support for business owners who choose not to serve gay and lesbian clients, and said "Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else" could avoid most police shootings if they simply listened to police.

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Mr. Graham, who spoke at U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration, has also called Islam "evil" and "a danger to our security." He has called for a Muslim ban for years, writing in a July, 2015 post: "Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized – and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad."

Rev. Tom Cooper, a minister and president of City in Focus, is one of 14 local Christian leaders who have come together to oppose Mr. Graham's visit. Mr. Cooper praised Mr. Graham's work with Samaritan's Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, and acknowledged the Christian community is diverse, but said that much of Mr. Graham's social and political commentary has made him "a lightning rod for a lot of division"

Mr. Cooper is one of five signatories on a June, 2016 letter to the festival's leadership committee that expressed concern with Mr. Graham's visit and suggested alternative speakers to consider. That proposal went unanswered, Mr. Cooper said.

"The real curiosity for us is, why not go to someone more neutral?" he said. "The question for them is: 'Do you believe all the intolerant things he has said? If you don't believe it, why are you bringing him? And if you do believe it,' we have a whole bunch of other questions for them."

Rev. Giulio Gabeli, executive leader of the festival, said he believes concerns presented about Mr. Graham's comments "have generated a fear and concern that have been exaggerated." There is a large Christian community in Vancouver that is supportive of the pastor, whose "sole purpose [in Vancouver] is to clearly present a message of hope," Mr. Gabeli said.

"We understand some of the concern, and we understand where they are coming from, but we disagree with their concerns and fears about Franklin Graham," he said. "He is not coming to incite hate; he is coming to proclaim a message of peace."

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Mr. Graham acknowledged the "recent discussion and debate" about his Vancouver appearance and said his message "will be the simple Gospel message."

"Politics, policies, economics and commerce are significant matters, but for these three days, we will come together in Vancouver to focus on the most important thing of all: God's love for each and every one of us," he said in a statement issued Monday.

Jeff Adams, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Canada, confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Graham will be in Vancouver next week.

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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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