By Tim Funk, The Charlotte Observer
In the 1950s, when Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham preached in England, he would sometimes have an audience with Queen Elizabeth II. She invited him to give sermons at Windsor Castle and went on to become his lifelong friend.
Now, Graham’s son Franklin, who is scheduled to speak in Britain later this year, is facing calls for him to be banned from the the country because of his past condemnations of Islam and LGBTQ persons.
A petition calling for the government to deny the younger Graham a visa has been signed by more than 7,500 people. Also weighing in, according to the Guardian newspaper, are some members of Parliament.
“I think frankly the evidence is piling up that his visit to the UK … would not be a good thing and not probably in my view a very Christian thing,” said Gordon Marsden, a member of Parliament from Blackpool, the seaside resort town where Graham is planning to stage a festival, or crusade, Sept. 21-23. Marsden charged on BBC Radio Lancashire that Graham’s statements against Muslims and against gays, lesbians and transgender persons were “incompatible with what Jesus said in the Bible,” the Guardian reported.
A spokesman for the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which Franklin Graham now heads, said in a statement that the group is working “in partnership with local churches” and that the event “will be positive and encouraging.”
There’s also a counter-petition to support Graham’s plan to headline what is being advertised as the Lancashire Festival of Hope.
Contrast this controversy with the uplifting way Billy Graham is being portrayed in “The Crown,” a popular Netflix series dramatizing Queen Elizabeth’s reign, starting in the early 1950s.
Queen and evangelist
Graham and the queen, the titular head of the Church of England, developed a spiritual connection, which plays out in “The Crown” during a private meeting between them after he preaches at the royal family’s chapel at Windsor.
“I enjoyed that very much,” the queen tells Graham (played by actor Paul Sparks) in episode six of season two. “You do speak with such wonderful clarity and certainty. … In an increasingly complex world, we need certainty. And you provide it.”
Elizabeth (played by actress Claire Foy) tells Graham that “the great joy I felt today (in hearing Graham preach) was that of being a simple congregant, being taught, being led.”
Though screenwriters take liberties in fashioning dialogue, the scene seems consistent with Graham’s own writing about his friendship with Queen Elizabeth. In his 1997 autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he wrote about her deep Christian faith and about his “warm, informal” meetings with her. Graham is now 99; Queen Elizabeth is 91.
In “The Crown,” the queen stands up for Graham in the face of condescending put-downs from other members of England’s royal family.
Watching Graham’s London crusade on black-and-white TV with her daughter, the Queen Mother is distressed that so many of her countrymen have turned out to hear the then-young American evangelist, who’d dabbled in sales before going into the ministry.
“I think moral authority and spiritual guidance should come from someone with a little more life experience,” she says. “Not from someone who learned their trade selling brushes door-to-door in North Carolina.”
Later, the Duke of Windsor, the queen’s uncle, in a letter to his wife, expresses outrage at Graham’s appeal among so many Brits.
“What has happened to the people of this country?” he reads. “Turning like lemmings to this crusading showman from Charlotte for their inspiration?”
But the queen is clearly taken with Graham’s preaching, his style, even his movie star-looks.
After she compliments his speaking, Graham tells her about the first time he spoke in public, as a shy 12-year-old at his Charlotte school.
“The school principal told my mother he thought I was a natural (speaker),” he tells the queen. “That, of all things, I had a gift.”
Uproar over son’s words
Meanwhile, the uproar over Franklin Graham’s upcoming visit to England is showing no signs of letting up.
The Blackpool Gazette reported that the local town council will honor the booking of a local venue for Graham’s festival. But the council also made clear that its opposition to discrimination is “robust and clear.” The newspaper reported that the council is forwarding concerns about Graham’s history of comments to the country’s Home Office to decide whether the evangelist’s words have violated England’s law against inciting hatred.
The petition seeking to ban Graham cited his 2001 comments calling Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” It also quoted Graham as approving of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown of LGBTQ people in that country.
Graham’s condemnation of Islam caused the Pentagon to dis-invite him from speaking there in 2010. But, last year, Graham was invited by President Donald Trump to give one of the prayers and Scripture readings at his inauguration.
Graham’s spokesman said in the statement that, at the festival in England, Graham will offer a message “about the hope that can be found through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It will be free and everyone is invited to attend.”