Last weekend Hátíð vonar (‘Festival of Hope’) was held in Reykjavík. Essentially a good thing, it was a religious festival held in collaboration between Christian churches and congregations in Iceland.
The National Church of Iceland was involved too with Bishop of Iceland Agnes Sigurðardóttir giving an address.
This is all good and well and the event probably wouldn’t have proven so controversial had it not been for U.S. evangelist and missionary Franklin Graham being the main speaker and his Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism one of the organizers.
Holding a free event of this magnitude—2,600 people are reported to have attended the festival in Reykjavík’s Laugardalshöll arena—is not cheap and judging by how extensively it was advertised on billboards across the city, large sums of money must have been involved.
I wonder where the money came from… I’ve not been under the impression that religious associations in Iceland are exactly wealthy.
Again, judging by the billboards, the main star of the show was said Rev. Graham, who has repeatedly come under criticism for prejudiced preaching.
Albeit later apologizing for his comments, Graham last year questioned U.S. President Barack Obama’s Christian faith in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in 2012, associating him with Islam, a religion he has branded as “evil” and “wicked.”
“All I know is that under Obama, President Obama, the Muslims of the world he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered,” Graham was quoted on washingtonpost.com.
“Under Islamic law, under Sharia law, Islam sees him as a son of Islam because his father was a Muslim, his grandfather was a Muslim, his great-grandfather was a Muslim. So under Islamic law the Muslim world sees Barack Obama as a Muslim, as a son of Islam. That’s just the way it works,” Graham went on to comment.
“That’s the way they see it. But of course [Obama] says he didn’t grow up that way, he doesn’t believe in that, he believes in Jesus Christ so I accept that. But I’m just saying that the Muslim world, Islam, they see him as a son of Islam,” Graham stressed.
Another group to receive their share of bashing from Graham are LGBT people, as the preacher has been very vocal in his opposition of same-sex marriage.
“God is the one who defined marriage, not government, but it’s God. And it’s between one man and one woman,” Graham said in an interview on Piers Morgan Live on CNN earlier this year.
“So, to come and try to redefine what God has ordained, and what God has blessed, and what God has given, would be a great mistake for our government and a great mistake for this nation,” he concluded of the U.S.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Iceland—in 2010, the then Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was among the first to take advantage of one marital law for all, wedding her long-time partner Jónína Leósdóttir—and approved of by the National Church of Iceland.
Even so, the National Church chose to associate itself with the Festival of Hope.
The church’s highest representative, Bishop Agnes Sigurðardóttir, reasoned her decision to speak at the event by saying that she prioritizes the collaboration of Christian congregations over one man’s opinions.
Unsurprisingly, the LGBT community in Iceland was outraged. And not just the LGBT community—a great number of people booked free tickets for the event with the intent of not showing, forcing organizers to shut down the online booking system.
But the event was still held and successfully so, according to organizers. Its opponents protested peacefully with a human rights festival opposite Laugardalshöll and rainbow-colored zebra stripes outside the arena—which mysteriously disappeared, at least on one of the two occasions.
Agnes did iterate the National Church of Iceland’s stand on same-sex marriage when she met Graham but I still think her participation in the event was distasteful to say the least.
Especially since Rev. Graham didn’t keep his opinions to himself. His preaching at the festival included more or less the same philosophy as expressed in the interview on CNN: that God does not approve of marriage between two men or two women.
Is he entitled to his opinions?
I agree with chair of Samtökin 78 – The National Queer Association Anna Pála Sverrisdóttir, who told me when I interviewed her for the October-December issue of Iceland Review that when a person’s opinions violate the human rights of another, they can no longer be justified.
And being who you are and marrying whom you love is certainly a matter of human rights, human rights that most Icelanders have accepted.
Even so, 2,600 people attended an event with such backwards thinking, denying people of their human rights, telling a certain group of people that because of their sexual orientation God does not approve of them.
Does such an event really belong in a modern liberal society, as Iceland claims to be?
Absolutely not. And especially not with the country’s National Church as a participant.
I’m not a member of the church but my tax money goes into supporting it—which in the new budget bill will get increased funds from the state next year, while healthcare must make further cutbacks—so that makes its business very much my business.
I’m not religious and to me, people can practice whatever religion they like, as long as they don’t think of themselves as all-important and all-knowing, preaching what they say is God’s will, excluding the groups in society they dislike.
If there is a God, all should be equal before him and his love should extend to all people. One woman’s reasoning for not attending the Festival of Hope was that she doesn’t approve of ‘putting God in a box’… well put.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org