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(RNS) — The Winter Gardens Center in the seaside town of Blackpool is best known as the venue for stemwinding speeches by prime ministers at party conventions or for hosting the now annual BBC TV extravaganza “Strictly Come Dancing.”
But for three nights next weekend, people will pack the auditorium at Winter Gardens to hear the American evangelist Franklin Graham preach at the culmination of the Lancashire Festival of Hope.
Years - Graham - Father - Billy - Graham
It’s been 36 years since Graham’s father, Billy Graham, visited Blackpool, and more than 60 since his famous visit to Britain in 1954 when he filled London’s Harringay arena every night for three months.
According to the festival’s website, local Christians have been preparing for the younger Graham’s visit for the past two years, with prayer meetings, prayer walks and leadership training events.
Franklin - Message - Hope - Steve - Haskett
“Franklin will come with a positive message of hope,” said Steve Haskett, vicar of the Anglican church of St. John’s in Blackpool, one of 200 independent and Anglican churches that helped bring Graham to the festival. “There are few people around who can share the Christian message with the clarity and conviction that Franklin does and that’s why we’ve invited him.”
But many people in the town oppose Graham’s visit, citing comments he has made about gay people and Islam.
Graham - Samaritan - Purse - Work - Muslim
While Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse has done humanitarian work in Muslim countries, Graham, who now runs his late father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a history of calling Islam a “wicked and evil religion.” He has also called homosexuality a sin and has spoken against same-sex marriage and adoptions by gays.
In response to complaints, a local transit company in Blackpool removed advertising for the event from its buses, and some 8,000 people signed a petition requesting the home secretary to deny Graham entry to the country.
Blackpool - Ministers - Parliament
Blackpool’s two ministers to Parliament have also expressed their...
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