The fate of Christian evangelist Franklin Graham’s eight-date tour through the United Kingdom is currently up in the air after the preacher was dropped by all of his scheduled venues for making homophobic and Islamophobic comments.
Franklin, who is the son of the late prominent Christian evangelist Billy Graham, was expected to tour the U.K. in May, June, and October, making stops in Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Cardiff, Birmingham, and London, according to his website.
However, this week, all eight venues canceled his upcoming appearances due to previous controversial comments that Franklin, 67, had made, CNN reported.
Some of those remarks included how same-sex marriage was a “sin,” that the Islam religion was “behind the violence” around the world, and that conversion therapy is possible through accepting Jesus, as those in the LGBTQ community were “misled.”
Following the cancelations, Franklin’s team addressed the status of the Graham Tour on his website, telling his followers that his appearances would still take place on their original dates but that they were considering and “finalizing” new sites.
In part of a statement to PEOPLE, Franklin confirms that his mission to speak in the U.K. will continue onward and that “everyone is absolutely welcome,” regardless of their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or background.
“We’re not going to speak against anybody,” he says. “We are bringing a message of hope for everybody.”
“We’ve had some opposition and some have worked very hard to cancel our venue contracts but we are not going to cancel the mission,” Franklin says of the cancelations. “Other venues are now being considered and will be announced at a later date.”
Franklin has been the center of controversy for years, especially as of late while openly supporting President Donald Trump and his policies.
The preacher has been vocal about his anti-LGBTQ views, claiming that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle that “takes the family away,” will lead one to hell, and poses a “full-scale assault against Christianity” that is orchestrated by Satan and equated with senseless violence, according to GLAAD.
To his 8 million followers on Facebook in April 2017, Franklin outwardly supported conversion therapy amid a new bill proposing to ban the practice and referred to homosexuality as a “sin” and “abomination.”
“Now Democrats are proposing a bill to ban conversion therapy in the United States, saying that LGBTQ people were born perfect,” he wrote. “Actually, they are very misled. We were all born imperfect, with sinful natures—yet loved by God who offers us forgiveness and wholeness through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Last April, Franklin also received criticism when he attacked presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Twitter for being a gay Christian, claiming that his homosexuality was “something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.”
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Franklin, who is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, has also previously called Islam a “wicked and evil” religion, according to CNN.
In a Facebook post from July 2016, Franklin suggested that the “world is at war” because of the Islam religion, which he claimed causes “soldiers to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Great’ in Arabic) as they behead, rape, and murder.”
“Religion is behind the violence and jihad we’re seeing in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and here in this country. It’s a religion that calls for the extermination of ‘infidels’ outside their faith, specifically Jews and Christians,” he wrote. “Radical Islamists are following the teachings of the Quran. We should call it what it is.”
Additionally, during Barack Obama‘s presidency, Franklin supported the “birther” conspiracy that falsely suggested that Obama was not an American citizen and falsely said Obama was “born a Muslim,” according to CNN and The New York Times.
In the wake of these comments, a petition was created by Northern Pride, an annual LGBTQ Pride festival hosted in Newcastle. As of Thursday, over 5,700 people calling for Franklin to end his U.K. tour had signed the virtual document, which eventually caught the attention of Newcastle’s Utilita Arena, where the preacher was scheduled to appear.
The organization said it was “shocked and saddened to hear that anti-LGBT+ evangelist Franklin Graham has a scheduled tour date on June 3 at Newcastle’s Utilitia Arena,” going on to note his comments over the years.
“We believe an event of this kind with anti-LGBT+ rhetoric has no place in a tolerant and accepting city like Newcastle, which is gearing up to welcome tens of thousands of people for UK Pride this summer,” Northern Pride wrote ahead of the arena’s cancelation.
Here is Franklin’s statement to PEOPLE in its entirety:
God laid it on my heart several years ago to come to the UK to preach the Gospel, so we’ve been praying about this and planning for some time. Hundreds of churches across the UK are partnering with us and are excited to see what God is going to do.
It has been over 20 years since my father came to the UK. A lot has changed since then but the needs of the human heart haven’t changed. People are still searching and looking for meaning to life. They try to fill the void they feel with drugs, alcohol or money but it is a void that only God can fill and that comes from having a relationship with God.
We’ve had some opposition and some have worked very hard to cancel our venue contracts but we are not going to cancel the mission. Other venues are now being considered and will be announced at a later date.
The people who are critical, I don’t think they have ever been to one of our events. First of all, we invite everybody. We want everyone to know about God’s love for sinners. I would love for the LGBTQ community to come. Regardless of their faith or belief system, everyone is absolutely welcome. We’re not going to speak against anybody. We are bringing a message of hope for everybody.