American Evangelism Meets Gay Activism in Iceland

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: What if you held a revival meeting but no one showed up? The American evangelical leader Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, should be prepared for that possibility. He is set to headline a religious extravaganza in Iceland next month and the event sold out, but it is possible many of the seats will be empty. It seems that some people in Iceland have taken issue with some of Graham's anti-gay comments in the past and they have gone on social media to urge others to reserve seats, but not show up. Sigurdur Holm Gunnarsson is a board member of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association.

Sigurdur Holm Gunnarsson: Local churches including the Icelandic state church promoted this event with Franklin Graham on the eve of a Reykjavik Gay Pride, something that did not go very well with the majority of Icelanders.

Werman: Right, and we should point out that Gay Pride, Gay Pride Day and the parade in Iceland is a huge event.

Gunnarsson: Oh yes, it is. I think it's safe to say that the majority of Icelanders, I would say 80 to 90 percent support gay rights and only a small minority speak against gay rights and those who do usually come from some kind of religious organizations. Today, the gay pride celebration in Reykjavik, Iceland is one of the biggest celebrations each year, sometimes even bigger than our Independence Day. So, when people here in Iceland found out that Icelandic religious organizations were promoting this event with Mr. Graham just a few days before Gay Prides, many became quite angry.

Werman: What has Franklin Graham said that has upset people there?

Gunnarsson: Maybe it's not unusual in the States but it's unusual to hear people from the clergy talk negatively about gay people or quoting scriptures about values. For example, here in Iceland, almost everybody support gay marriage and Graham has spoken a lot against that. So, most Icelanders find this kind of talk just not very nice.

Werman: Well, as you say, Iceland approved gay marriage in 2010 and you say there is overwhelming support for gay rights in Iceland. Why did the churches endorse the Franklin Graham visit?

Gunnarsson: That's a good question especially if we ask the state's church. The day after they promoted the event and everybody found out and everybody became angry, they apologized and took down the promotion and said that it was inappropriate to promote this event on the eve of Gay Pride.

Werman: I have been in the Laugardalshöll in Reykjavik where Franklin Graham is supposed to speak and it's not big but if there aren't that many people there it will definitely be crickets. On the other hand, I've also been to a Lutheran church in Reykjavik and there were some pretty observant Icelanders. Sigurdur, what do you think is actually going to happen? Will Franklin Graham arrive to an empty arena in Reykjavik or will protestors be coming out during the event?

Gunnarsson: Yes, I think they will. What happened when people found out they went on to the internet and they reserved tickets for this event and a few hours later it was sold out. Mostly, I think these were people that wanted tickets so that Graham would have no seats full. I am not sure, personally, if that is a good idea to do that because I think everybody has a right, of course, to come here and preach but I think many people will write articles and people will come forward and say that this kind of talk is not right. Nobody knows that Mr. Graham is going to talk about gays or gay rights here in Iceland but that is not the point. The point is that he frequently talks about gay people that most of Icelanders don't find appropriate and I think people will complain about that.

Werman: Well, if Franklin Graham can't get his plane ticket back, at least Iceland is beautiful in September.

Gunnarsson: Oh, it is. I would be glad to meet him and talk to him about religion and human rights.

Werman: Sigurdur Holm Gunnarsson on the board of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, thank you very much for your time.

Gunnarsson: Thank you.

Werman: We contacted Franklin Graham's organization to get his perspective. He was on the road but his office sent a written statement. It said the festival is "open to everyone and is about the good news that unites us through Jesus. All are welcome."