Franklin Graham at the Odyssey, Belfast. WHY???

bannerbutton.jpgOK. Here is a post guaranteed to irritate some local friends. Evangelicals from a wide spectrum of churches are financing a high profile series of rallies with Franklin Graham this weekend in Belfast . It’s billed as a message of hope for a new Northern Ireland in a post-conflict era, and I have a whole series of questions I want to get off my chest.

1. in 2008, what is the point, other than serving some ego needs or of shoring up an increasingly desperate and marginalised church.

2. where were they when the conflict was at its height?

3. what is their understanding of hope and how does it differ from what might be culled from any self-help paperback on the delirious shelves of our book shops?

4. by what measure do they justify the colossal expenditure? This really makes me angry. I mean, these events are scheduled for the Odyssey Arena, which I can see from my office in one of the most deprived and marginalised communities in the whole of NI.

When I’m feeling really cynical (and honestly, I do try to fight the impulse and I don’t want to be hurtful for the sake of it) it strikes me that hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent on these events so that essentially middle class church members can ferry in, in their 4*4s and their people movers and enjoy ‘praise’ music and a cheering talk.

To get there, they will by-pass areas like this, much as the priest and the levite did the injured man. They will congratulate themselves on their capacity to substantially fill the arena, revel in their cultural awareness (!) and high-tail it back out, lest someone from Short Strand or the Lower Newtownards Road damage their cars. Oh yes, and they’ll avert their eyes discreetly from the scantily clad clubbers making their way to more secular celebrations.

5. who was the genius who came up with the idea that a new era for post-Conflict NI could be celebrated hopefully by an invitation to a man who consistently attracts criticism for his intolerant attitudes towards Islam and his pronounced support for war in Iraq? Does anyone sense an irony here? (sorry that was two questions).

I despair.

But I feel better with that off my chest.

Oh, and did I say I won’t be there? Not that I’ll be missed.