IF the Free Speech Union were to imitate Stonewall and start giving out awards, Sheffield’s evening paper, the Star, would deserve one.
Last month it published a letter of mine pointing out that the US evangelist Franklin Graham’s countercultural views on sexual ethics are actually in the Christian mainstream:
‘Your news report on Sheffield Cathedral’s decision to hold a service to counter the Franklin Graham “God Loves You” event at the Arena described his views as “extreme”.
‘The traditional Christian sexual ethic, which Mr Graham is unashamed to defend, is also upheld by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the majority of Anglicans around the world, and still officially by the Church of England.
‘I was a parish vicar in Sheffield Diocese for 19 years and attended many events at the Cathedral. It is sad to see it cutting itself off from the Christian mainstream and worshipping at the altar of neo-Marxist identity politics.’
Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is a faithful communicator of the Christian message. But he was admittedly imprecise in his language in his notorious tweet in 2019, to which the Star drew attention in its news report about Sheffield Cathedral’s decision to hold an ‘Affirming Prayer Vigil’ against Graham onthe night he preached in Sheffield (May 25). The Cathedral was holding the service, it said, because of his ‘statements over the years that are hurtful and damaging to many, especially to those who identify as LGBTQI+’.
His 2019 tweet said: ‘As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicised.’
Graham should have made clear that by homosexuality he meant the practice of it and not the ‘orientation’, to use late 20th century terminology.
The traditional Christian sexual ethic is that the choice for the follower of Christ is either heterosexual marriage or celibacy, but traditional Christianity has never taught that temptation to a particular sin is itself sinful, provided the temptation is resisted.
Surely the need for pastoral sensitivity, particularly towards young people growing up in the sexual chaos of the 21st century West, requires Christian leaders to be careful to class homosexual orientation as temptation and not as sin?
I remember Franklin’s father, the late Billy Graham (1918-2018), giving a BBC radio interview in the 1980s in which he was quizzed about his attitude to homosexuality. He said: ‘I have homosexual friends but I do not approve of that lifestyle.’ I was a new Christian at the time. That struck me as Christian communication that was both biblically faithful and gracious to people.
The stakes for a newspaper giving a platform to traditional Christian views are certainly higher than when I started as a trade paper reporter in 1988. Neo-Marxism has accelerated its march through the British institutions since then and the cancel culture which sought to ban Franklin Graham from speaking at various venues around the UK has become as inexorable as a Pride march. Even some Church of England bishops have been jumping on the bandwagon by denouncing Graham for his politically incorrect opinions.
The Sheffield Star is to be commended for its commitment to religious toleration, which is unfortunately more than can be said for the city’s Anglican Cathedral.