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Franklin Graham’s Border Tour Sparks Pushback

Petition with 20,000 signers is demanding tour’s cancelation

(RNS) — A liberal faith-based organization has launched a petition against the Rev. Franklin Graham’s southern border tour, calling on venue organizers to withdraw their invitations.

The petition, drafted by Faithful America, has so far garnered nearly 21,000 signatures.

The social justice non-profit has gone after Graham with several previous petitions, mostly condemning Graham for his views on LGBTQ issues and calling out his support for former-President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection.

This time, Faithful America is denouncing what it says are Graham’s “anti-immigrant” views.

“The upcoming ‘frontera’ iteration of Graham’s tour feels especially distasteful and hypocritical given that, in an effort to dismiss criticisms of Donald Trump’s immigration policies, Graham once falsely claimed that immigration is ‘not a Bible issue’ — yet there are few topics the Bible addresses more,” the petition reads.

“Frontera,” which means “border” in Spanish, is the latest of Graham’s “God Loves You” tours. The tour, a kind of Christian worship event, features Christian musicians, prayers from local pastors and a short sermon from Graham.

The 10-city tour begins Feb. 24 in Brownsville, Texas, and then heads to McAllen, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Presidio and El Paso, before heading to Arizona and concluding March 9 in Chula Vista, California.

“We are taking the God Loves You Tour to the southern border this year because it is one of the neediest areas of our country at this time, and people need to hear a message of hope from God’s Word,” the 71-year-old Graham said in a statement.

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is hoping to strike a deal with the Biden administration that would enact sweeping new border controls, including the authority to pause asylum processing — a move the former president also enacted.

But in recent days, Trump has vowed to kill the measure, if it ever passes.

“It’s not going to happen, and I’ll fight it all the way,” Trump said Saturday in Nevada.

Graham does not typically speak about political or social issues during his preaching tours, a fact Faithful America acknowledged. “But every time he goes to one of these cities we’ve noticed he gives all sorts of local, radio and TV, news and newspaper interviews where the politics does come out,” said Rev. Nathan Empsall, Faithful America’s executive director.

The group is planning some on-the-ground events in some of the same cities Graham will be speaking in, but it has no specific dates yet.

Several of Graham’s recent U.S. events have been named after the regions where they take place, such as the Tidewater Tour and the Route 66 Tour.

In a statement, Graham denied he was going to the border because 2024 is an election year.

“I’m not going to welcome people to the U.S. or to tell them to go back,” Graham said. “I’m not going there to speak against our policies at the border. The politicians know these policies are broken. There are a lot of hungry hearts and hurting people, so I’m going to the border to tell them about God’s Son Jesus Christ and how He can make a difference in our lives if we put our faith and our trust in Him.”

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is sponsoring the tour and partnering with 1,000 churches in Texas, Arizona and California, according to the press statement. Graham is president and CEO of the association.

Main photo: Franklin Graham speaks in Israel on Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

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Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is a North Carolina-based reporter who has written about religion for more than 17 years. She is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.