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To counter Franklin Graham, Rochester churches fly inclusive message

Members from about a dozen churches countered Graham's evangelical event Sunday with an inclusive, pro-LGBT demonstration.

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Cindy Smith, left holds a sign and Anne Marie Griffin, right, waves a rainbow flag at a "Love Your Neighbor" demonstration in response to Rev. Franklin Graham's "God Loves You" stop at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — As hundreds of people filed into Soldiers Field Park Sunday, Oct. 2, for an evangelical revival hosted by Rev. Franklin Graham, some Rochester pastors wanted to make sure visitors received a warm welcome.

Even if it was contrary to Graham’s message.

Representatives from almost a dozen different congregations lined the north entrance to the park at the memorial. They held signs proclaiming God loves everyone — including LGBTQ people.

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Franklin Graham
Contributed / Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Graham's rally in Rochester Sunday was the final stop of his nationwide “God Loves You” tour.

Bob Werner, a member of Peace United Church of Christ, said his standing demonstration outside Graham’s event was to show visitors to the city and remind residents that Graham’s message doesn’t resonate with everyone in Rochester.

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“Franklin Graham is flying into Rochester on his private jet, he’s going to preach his message and leave,” Werner said. “But he’s not from Rochester and he doesn’t represent the people here.”

Kim Allen, who attended the Graham event, said she didn’t find much contradictory with a message of love in Graham’s sermon and speech.

“We try never to judge,” Allen said. “That’s God’s job.”

Her husband didn’t see anything exclusionary about the event.

“Everybody was accepted here today,” he said.

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People attend Rev. Franklin Graham's "God Loves You" stop at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, has equated LGBTQ people with immorality and perversion. Has also perpetuated the baseless claims that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election which prompted thousands of Christians to call for Graham to step down as president of Christian charity organization Samaritan’s Purse.

Attendees of Graham’s event estimated the crowd at about 3,500 people. Event staff said they estimated more than 4,000, but didn’t have an official head count.

Kim Allen said all Graham has said about sin and sinners is from the Bible and that some people on different paths of faith can tend toward harsh judgment of others.

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“Being judgmental of people is also a sin,” she said.

The Rev. Paul Bauch, the lead pastor at Peace United Church of Christ, spearheaded the “Love Your Neighbor” demonstration and said it wasn’t meant as a judgment of people attending the Graham event. Just a clear, unedited message that LGBTQ people are welcome in their congregations and are loved for who they are.

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Rev. Justin Chapman, rector at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rochester, left, stands with congregation member Shanna Altrichter at a "Love Your Neighbor" demonstration in response to Rev. Franklin Graham's "God Loves You" stop at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

About 120 people attended the “Love Your Neighbor” event. They stood quietly along the sidewalks and street waving flags and holding signs at Zumbro Lutheran Church Sunday afternoon.

Bauch said messages like Graham's are pushing people away from churches. He said he wanted to make sure people saw a more welcoming version of Christianity on display.

“The Christian message that’s being broadcast is a different message than the Christian message of love and inclusion,” Bauch said.

Rev. Justin Chapman, rector at St. Luke's Episcopal Church stood at the event. He said he considered ignoring Graham’s presence in Rochester but decided instead he also wanted to publicly show support for the LGBTQ community and to show other church leaders don’t support exclusionary rhetoric.

Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, of First Unitarian Universalist Church, agreed, adding he felt compelled to attend.

“Part of our faith calls us to not let things go by,” Steven-Royer said.

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Sara Patalita holds a sign at a "Love Your Neighbor" demonstration in response to Rev. Franklin Graham's "God Loves You" stop at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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