The Rev. Franklin Graham has responded to the removal of bus ads promoting his upcoming evangelistic festival in England amid outcry from LGBT activists, saying he's "sorry that some see hope as offensive."
"I'm sorry that some see hope as offensive, but I can assure you that tens of thousands of people in Blackpool and across the United Kingdom are searching for hope," Graham wrote on Facebook.
Blackpool Transport, the company that oversees the buses, banned the ads this week, claiming they "resulted in heightened tension" due to apprehensions that Graham might preach "hate and homophobia" at the event planned for September, according to Premier.
"Sex, drugs, money, even religion — none of these are the answer. I'm coming to share with everyone in Blackpool, Lancashire, and across North West England that there is One who can give you hope," added Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, on Facebook Friday. "Hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity. His name is Jesus Christ!"
Graham urged his followers to "pray with me for this event in September and for God to work in a mighty way to transform hearts and lives across this region."
Graham's Lancashire Festival of Hope is scheduled to take place at the Winter Gardens Blackpool on Sept. 21–23. The event's leadership has called the ban a "travesty."
Graham, like many evangelicals, has backed the biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. He has also warned against the "dangers of the teachings of Islam" in the wake of terror attacks around the world.
In December 2017, members of the U.K. parliament and some thousands of citizens signed a change.org petition to bar Graham from entering the U.K. over "hate speech."
The city council of Blackpool has said that it's up to the country's authorities to determine whether Graham's views amount to hate speech that would bar him from entering the country.
"I think, frankly, the evidence is piling up that his visit to the U.K. ... would not be a good thing and not probably in my view a very Christian thing," Gordon Marsden, a member of Parliament who represents Blackpool, told BBC Radio Lancashire at the time, claiming that Graham's beliefs were "incompatible with what Jesus said in the Bible."
In response to backlash from LGBT activists, a spokeswoman for Blackpool Transport issued a statement, saying they've "recently been made aware of an advert in place on the side of some of our double decker buses," according to the Blackpool Gazette. "In light of customer feedback and reactions on social media which has resulted in heightened tension, we have taken the decision to remove all adverts relating to the 'Time for Hope' Festival with immediate effect. We will reimburse any income back to the advertising company."
Jane Cole, managing director at Blackpool Transport, further explained their decision to pull the bus ads. "Blackpool Transport is a proud ongoing supporter of the Pride and LGBT+ communities and in no way did we intend to cause any distress or upset," Cole stated. "All buses carrying the advert will remain off the road until they have been removed."
In January, Graham said that he is not coming to the U.K. to preach against Islam or gay people. "I'm not coming to preach hate, I'm here to preach about a savior, Jesus Christ who can make a difference in our lives if we put our faith and trust in Him," Graham told Premier in a video. "We're not here to preach against anyone, we're here to talk about God."