Franklin Graham has a long career of bigotry. He has repeatedly made homophobic statements, including endorsing North Carolina’s amendment to solidify the state’s ban on gay marriage, and labeling gay equality part of moral decline. He has used his family name and pulpit to denigrate people because they have a different sexual orientation than him. As a Christian Unitarian Universalist (CUU), I will go on record of saying that Graham and other like him may well have caused more people to reject Christianity than Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins ever did. However, it seems that he is now getting a receipt for his years of bullying.
I should disclose that I am something of an Icelandophile. I think that this small, Northern European island is a model to the world for freedom and equality. Gays and lesbians have equal rights, including the freedom to marry, and the nation has elected a lesbian prime minister. Iceland has been ranked the best country for women to live. During the horrors of apartheid, Iceland was a major player in opposing the oppression of black South Africans, while the United States coddled the white supremacist regime until activists and Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act–over Ronald Reagan’s veto, of course. I was reminded today of why I love Iceland when I read about Franklin Graham’s proposed trip there. When some Icelandic Christians invited the minister to hold a festival, many Icelanders were outraged by Graham’s bigoted history. Apparently, his reputation precedes him. So, a bunch of these socially conscious individuals began reserving tickets to the event, with no intention of showing up. The goal is that, when the time for his festival rolls around, Graham will be without an audience. And since the event is free (I will at least give the evangelist credit for that), these activists will not be putting any money in Grahm’s pocket. Now, all the available tickets have been reserved for the event, there is probably no legal way for their reservations to be cancelled, and anyone who now decides they want to attend cannot buy a ticket. While some Western European nations have banned bigoted public figures from visiting to give speeches, I think the way that Graham’s visit was handled was much better. Everyone has the right to free speech, even homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, or racist speech. Banning certain types of speech is the lazy solution. In this case, Graham’s right to express his opinions was respected, but a group of Icelanders made it clear that the opinions themselves were not respected. They also demonstrated the importance of the foot soldiers, not just the leaders, in equality movements, like in the case of the “Lynn petition” when thirteen hundred Massachusetts antebellum women demanded that their state legislature legalize interracial marriage. I don’t know how much else I can say about this, except, good for Iceland. The country has once again demonstrated why it is great. Also, I hope that Franklin Graham enjoys his stay in Iceland and takes a good, hard look at the country. He might just learn something.