Another day, another facile banning suggestion

By now, I’m sure you know the drill. Someone holds views and says things our elites have told us not to say or think. Said person plans to come to the UK. Someone decides they should not be allowed to come because said visitor holds views and says things they don’t like. The complainant makes a big song and dance of their opposition to the nasty visitor with the horrible views to make sure everybody knows they subscribe to correct cultural thinking. Cue much hand-wringing from the government over whether they should permit free thought or bow to a baying crowd in the name of ‘hate speech’.

This time, the villain in question is Franklin Graham. Graham is the son of American evangelist, Billy Graham. The Guardian report that Graham has ‘made Islamophobic and anti-gay statements’. Such comments are being used by critics to claim Graham presents a potential danger to interfaith relations in the UK and may well fall foul of UK anti-hate speech laws. Several MPs have now joined in calls to have Graham banned from the UK.

The Guardian report his specific crimes thus:

The evangelist, who backed Donald Trump in last year’s US presidential election, has described Islam as “an evil and very wicked religion” and has equated the actions of extremist groups such as Isis with the faith.

Now, last time I checked, it was not illegal to support Donald Trump. What is more, it is pretty obtuse to see a problem with linking Isis with Islam. That is, indeed, what Isis themselves do, is it not? While we may like to call Isis a perversion of true Islam if we like, their theological views are drawn from the Wahabbi-Salafist school.

Isis are as much Muslims as Catholics are Christian (it’s sad to have to put this caveat in but, to be clear, I am not, of course, equating the two in any way). Those of us who don’t subscribe to Catholic theology might want to suggest that their theology and ecclesiology is a perversion of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (as they would ours), but there is no denying that they belong to a historic and biblically derived theological tradition within Christendom. They are, whatever we may think of their views, rightly termed ‘Christian’. Isis, similarly, derive their views from the well-established Wahabbi-Salafi school of Islam. Other Muslims, no doubt sincerely, denounce them as perverting the true faith; but Isis do act in line with a consistent theological interpretation of the Qur’an and are rightly called Muslims. For Graham to draw this link is not illegitimate.

No doubt the real issue centres on his claim that Islam is ‘an evil and very wicked religion’. There is much we could say about this but I will limit myself to the following two points. First, this is an opinion he holds. We may, or may not, like that opinion but it is his right to hold it. To ban somebody from entering the country on the grounds that he has expressed an opinion you do not like seems seriously problematic. Second, as the case of pastor James McConnell showed, such opinions are not illegal in the UK. If anything, pastor McConnell’s views were stated more forcefully and were, on the face of it, more offensive than those attributed to Franklin Graham.

Graham is similarly being lined up for a banning because it has been suggested he declared a view that Satan was behind same-sex marriage. Again, the case of pastor McConnell suggests that the attribution of Satan to a particular thing does not necessarily render it hate speech.

What is more, it surely comes as no surprise to anybody that the Bible states that homosexual practice (as opposed to ‘being gay’), and thus by extension gay marriage, is sinful. Whilst a few voices say otherwise, the historic teaching of the mainline churches is still in effect and stands with scripture on this issue. It should also come as no surprise that most Christians believe Satan is active in the world and, to some degree, behind much sin in the world. Certain denominations and theological strains emphasise his role more or less than others, but all agree that sin may be directed by him. For Graham to state (rightly or wrongly) that Satan stands behind gay marriage is not exactly a view that would be unheard of in certain Christian circles.

What is meant by such comments re Satan would differ between denominations too – it is actually more theologically nuanced than it may sound to some. For example, has Satan directly caused the sin, tempted people into sin or is it simply biblical terminology for all sin in general, that is all sin may be called ‘Satanic’.

In any case, you may or may not think Satan stands behind gay marriage. Franklin Graham does. You may consider him foolish; you may think there is something in his comments. Frankly, it is immaterial. For he has expressed a view which, whilst offensive to some, should surely not result in his being banned from travel to the UK.

The point is quite simple really. You may not like Franklin Graham – that’s OK; you don’t have to. You may not agree with him. You might find him quite offensive. These, however, are not reasons to ban him from entering the UK.

Let me put it this way. We have routinely welcomed those on state visits who have perpetrated heinous acts of cruelty. Robert Mugabe has been here – he did some horrible things. President Xi of China has come, who isn’t exactly on board with our values and is happy imprisoning those who demur in his home country. There are plenty of other examples. In each case, these are people who have committed real atrocities. They haven’t just said some things we don’t like; they have acted in ways that can only be described as heinous. Yet they still came and we welcomed them.

Franklin Graham, by contrast (and, whilst we’re on state visits, Donald Trump), have not broken international law. Both, certainly the former, have merely said some things lots of people don’t like. The latter has said some particularly stupid, and downright unpleasant, things. But words are not a reason to ban someone from entering your country.

And, before you jump to tell me some of the terrible things you think Donald Trump has done, yes, he has enacted some policies I find atrocious. But trying to remove Obamacare is not the same as setting up internment camps and imprisoning dissidents. It is bad in the same way the Conservatives trying to implement their ill-conceived Universal Credit rollout is bad. Unwise, yes. Uncaring, perhaps. Breaking international law, no. Evil? Doesn’t that depend on your view of evil? Much like, for example, Franklin Graham’s comments on gay marriage? What is more, in Graham’s case, I’m not sure he has done anything. He has simply expressed some views that many (most?) people don’t like. This is no reason to ban him from entering the country.

So please can we stop with the calls to ban anyone and everything that dares to dissent from mainstream thought? If you don’t like what he says, then don’t listen. If you want to argue against what he says, then – by all means – do that with whatever platform you are afforded. But don’t ban him. It is puerile.

What is more, refusing to ban him is the only guarantee you have got that you won’t be similarly banned (or worse) when your views inevitably fall foul of cultural orthodoxy one day. To paraphrase Jesus, those who live by the ban will die by the ban. Those who call for banning today will be tomorrow’s banned.

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