Earlier this month, the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy, wrapped up the Hong Kong Franklin Graham Festival, his largest evangelistic event. Over the course of four days he preached to 423,335 people in Hong Kong and Macau. The two cities are special administrative regions on the southern periphery of the People’s Republic of China.
“I feel as though I am an ambassador for Christ, to bring this wonderful message to this part of the world,” Graham said. The famous preacher was undoubtedly happy that 33,464 souls accepted Jesus in his presence, yet he had a higher calling in mind. As he noted, “We pray that God will open up other doors.”
Which other doors, we might ask? Graham said he will go to Beijing in May to see if he can stage one of his extravaganzas on the mainland. “When I look at China and there’s a billion people and God loves each and every one of them; that is a wonderful truth and that is a great message that we are here to share with this city and this great nation,” he said. China, with a rapidly aging population, is religion’s most fertile ground today.
He’ll need God’s help to accomplish this. So far, the Chinese central government, which is officially atheistic and deeply hostile to religion, has confined prayer meetings to churches and prohibited the mass gatherings that Graham has in mind. Billy’s son should be glad that he is at least getting an audience with China’s Communist leaders. Those leaders have persecuted and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians of all denominations.
Officially, Beijing says it guarantees freedom of religion, but it tolerates only seven “patriotic” religious organizations run by the state, and it has carried on long-running disputes with religious figures such as the Dalai Lama and the last six popes. An untold number of Chinese have died because they prayed in the way they chose.
Five mainland officials attended the Hong Kong event at Graham’s invitation, and due to his family’s long-standing connections to China—his mother was born there, for instance—he has a better chance than most of being able to stage some sort of event. Yet the Communist Party is an insecure mass organization that has lost the loyalty of most of its people and will not tolerate any organization it does not control. It will not allow a charismatic reverend to convert millions of Chinese at one time. Among other things, that would be too embarrassing.